The Infinite Tortoise: The Curious Thought Experiments of History's Great Thinkers

The Infinite Tortoise: The Curious Thought Experiments of History's Great Thinkers

by Joel Levy


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A clear, concise and fascinating guide to philosophical thought experiments and how they’ve shaped our understanding of the world
From Plato’s Cave to Descartes' Demon, great thinkers have used thought experiments and paradoxes to try and work out complex ideas in the simplest way possible. Among the most famous thought experiments is Zeno’s Achilles and the Tortoise: if Achilles is faster than the tortoise, why will Achilles never catch up with the tortoise when it starts ahead of him? Zeno proposes that, when Achilles reaches the point where the tortoise started the race, the tortoise will have already moved on. And as Achilles runs on to where the tortoise was last, when he reaches that point the tortoise has moved again. Therefore poor Achilles will never catch up with the tortoise as the distance he must run gets smaller and smaller and each time he has less and less time to run. Starting in Ancient Greece, Joel Levy guides us through the mind-bending world of thought experiments and their role in revealing the complexity of morality, exploring the limitations and the infinite possibilities of the human mind.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781782436379
Publisher: Michael O'Mara Books
Publication date: 06/01/2018
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 1,164,305
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Joel Levy is a journalist and author specializing in science and history. His books include Why We Do the Things We Do, A Curious History of Mathematics, and Why? Answers to Everyday Scientific Questions

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

The Natural World 3

Zeno's Paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise (c.420 BCE) 3

Galileo's Balls (1628) 9

Newton's Cannon (1687) 13

The Watch on the Heath (1802) 17

Laplace's Demon (1814) 21

Darwin's Imaginary Illustrations (1859) 25

Maxwells Demon (1867) 30

What Would It Be Like to Chase a Beam of Light? (1895) 34

A Man Falling From a Roof (1907) 40

The Grandfather Paradox (post-1915) 45

The Ontological Paradox (post-1915) 50

Schrödingers Cat (1935) 54

How Does The Mind Work? 59

Leibniz's Mill (1718) 59

The Missing University (1949) 63

Turing's Imitation Game (1950) 66

Beetles in Boxes (1953) 69

What Is It Like to Be a Bat? (1974) 73

The Chinese Room (1980) 76

Mary the Colour Scientist (1982) 83

Philosophical Zombies (1996) 86

How to Be Good 93

Buridan's Ass (c. seventeenth century) 93

Pascal's Wager (1662) 96

Locke's Locked Room (1690) 99

The Prisoner's Dilemma (1950) 102

The Trolley Problem (1967) 105

What's the Fairest Way to Cut a Cake? (1971) 110

Judith Jarvis Thomsons Unconscious Violinist (1971) 114

Lifeboat Earth (1974) 118

Take My Leg… Please! (1980) 123

Minority Report (2001) 128

What Can We Know? 133

Plato's Allegory of the Cave (c.380 BCE) 133

Descartes' Evil Genius (1641) 137

Molyneux's Blind Man Made to See (1688) 141

The Surprise Examination Paradox (1943-4) 145

Newcomb's Paradox (1960) 148

What Makes Us Who We Are? 153

The Sorites Paradox (4 BCE) 153

The Ship of Theseus (1 CE) 156

Putnam's Twin Earth (1973) 160

Robert Nozick's Experience Machine (1974) 163

The Teleporter Duplicate Paradox (1984) 166

Further Reading 171

Index 177

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