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What is it?
A thought experiment thinks through consequences because it may not be possible or there be any need to actually do the experiment.
Why is it useful?
Given the structure of the experiment, it may or may not be possible to actually perform it, and, in the case that it is possible for it to be performed, there need be no intention of any kind to actually perform the experiment in question. The common goal of a thought experiment is to explore the potential consequences of the principle in question.
How do I use it?
A thought experiment or Gedankenexperiment (from German) considers some hypothesis, theory, or principle for the purpose of thinking through its consequences. There are many different kinds of thought experiments. All thought experiments, however, employ a methodology that is a priori, rather than a posteriori, in that they do not proceed by observation or physical experiment.
A famous example, Schrödinger’s cat (1935), presents a cat that might be alive or dead, depending on an earlier random event. It illustrates the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation applied to everyday objects.Famous examples of thought experiments include Schrödinger’s cat, illustrating quantum indeterminacy through the manipulation of a perfectly sealed environment and a tiny bit of radioactive substance.