Thought experiment

Thought experimentIn experiments, thought experiment refers to any of various hypothetical or applied conceptualizations of possible processes or applications and the theoretical ramifications that follow. Often is the case that very simple thought experiments may lead to the development of entire libraries of new scientific branches.

Social chemistry experiment
An example of an outline of a ‘thought experiment’, concerning what would result if one was to apply basic chemist theory to social interactions, was given in 1962 by Austrian social economist Werner Stark in questioning why English biologist Thomas Huxley’s 1871 call for the development of the field of social chemistry has never actuated: [1]

“Why should no social chemistry ever been developed? Nobody would suggest that the social scientists should imitate meteorology, for this discipline does not appear to have got very far … but what about chemistry? A sociology based on chemistry [has] in fact been called for, but, significantly, [this call has] found no echo. It would have been easy to take up this suggestion and develop it further. An intending social chemist would have found it one whit more difficult to manufacture a sociological parallel to the Boyle-Charles law than Haret did to the Newtonian propositions. But the experiment appears never to have been tried. Why?”

Of note, in 1952 English C.G. Darwin did take up this call by devoting the first thirty pages of his book The Next Million Years to outlining the sociological parallel of Boyle's law, in which he considered a society to be a relatively closed system of human molecules governed by the laws of statistical mechanics, but Stark seems to have been unaware of this effort and it is certainly not 'easy' as Stark seems to think as evidenced by the fact that in 1910 American historian Henry Adams, after struggling with this type of application for some fifty years (e.g. commenting to his wife in 1885: “social chemistry—the mutual attraction of equivalent human molecules—is a science yet to be created, for the fact is my daily study and only satisfaction in life”), concluded in the end, after writing several books on this subject, that the solution would "require the aid of another Newton."

Famous experiments
Some other famous thought experiments in chemistry and thermodynamics are listed below.


Goethe 75 newJohann Goethe180859Love thought experiment: while writing a story called “The Renouncers”, which was about a hero simultaneously in love with four women; the synopsis of which, in his view, was that “each in her own way is lovable; whichever one he is drawn to in the mood of the moment, she alone is lovable”, he contemplated who to use the "determinate power" (Bergman, 1775) of the science of affinity chemistry to correctly "choose" who to love.Goethe took it up again early the next year, after which the tale ballooned into a novel, progressed quickly, and before the end of the year (Oct 3, 1809) it was in print under the enigmatic title Elective Affinities, thus launching the science of human chemistry.
Clausius (75px)Rudolf Clausius184927Wondered how Carnot’s 1824 incorrect supposition, that at the end of a heat cycle a body returns unchanged to its original state (or atomic position), could be amended in light of the mechanical equivalent of heat. Led to the founding the science of thermodynamics, in the 1865 book The Mechanical Theory of Heat
Maxwell 75 youngJames Maxwell186736Wondered if an intelligent agent at the boundary between a hot and a cold gas vessel, could circumvent the second law, by selectively choosing which speed particles can pass through the boundary. Led to the century-long debate over the concept of 'Maxwell's demon'.
Boltzmann 75 (young)Ludwig Boltzmann186824Speculated on what would happen to a volume of gas rising in earth’s gravitational field. [2]Led to the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution
Einstein 75 (age 14)Albert Einstein189516While daydreaming, began to ponder “what would it be like to run beside a light beam, at the speed of light.” [3]Led to the development of the special theory of relativity.
Thims 75 newLibb Thims199523Love thought experiment: while daydreaming in a chemical engineering thermodynamics class, began to wonder how the spontaneity criterion of chemical thermodynamics could be used to predict reactions between people, as is done with simple chemical reactions, particularly in application to mate selection, in order to "choose" who to correctly marry.Led to the writing of the 2007 textbook book Human Chemistry, the 2008 booklet The Human Molecule, and Hmolpedia (2,300+ articles).

1. (a) Stark, Werner. (1962). The Fundamental Forms of Social Thought. (pgs. 261-63). Routledge.
(b) Huxley, Thomas. (1871). “Administrative Nihilism”, Fortnightly Review, pg. 536. Nov. 1.
2. Lindley, David. (2001). Boltzmann’s Atom: the Great Debate that Launched a Revolution in Physics (pg. 18). The Free Press.
3. (a) Wenger, Win and Poe, Richard. (1996). The Einstein Factor, (pg. 11). Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing.
(b) Pais, Abraham. (1982) Subtle is the Lord, The Life and Science of Albert Einstein, (pg. 131). New York: Oxford University Press.

Further reading
● Massey, Gerald, etc. (1985). Thought Experiments in Science and Philosophy. CPS Publications.

External links
Thought experiment - Wikipedia.

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