Intelligent Design Physics

Sabine Hossenfelder: Einstein’s greatest legacy was the thought experiment

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Not, she says, General Relativity, the photoelectric effect, or slices of his brain but the“thought experiment,” for example:

But the maybe most influential of his thought experiments was one that he came up with to illustrate that quantum mechanics must be wrong. In this thought experiment, he explored one of the most peculiar effects of quantum mechanics: entanglement. He did this together with Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, so today this is known as the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen or just EPR experiment.

How does it work? Entangled particles have some measureable property, for example spin, that is correlated between particles even though the value for each single particle is not determined as long as the particles were not measured. If you have a pair of particles, you can know for example that if one particle has spin up, then the other one has spin down, or the other way round, but you may still not know which is which. The consequence is that if one of these particles is measured, the state of the other one seems to change – instantaneously.

Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen suggested this experiment because Einstein believed this instantaneous ‘spooky’ action at a distance is nonsense. You see, Einstein had a problem with it because it seems to conflict with the speed of light limit in Special Relativity. We know today that this is not the case, quantum mechanics does not conflict with Special Relativity because no useful information can be sent between entangled particles. But Einstein didn’t know that. Today, the EPR experiment is no longer a thought experiment. It can, and has been done, and we now know beyond doubt that quantum entanglement is real.

Sabine Hossenfelder, “Einstein’s Greatest Legacy: Thought Experiments” at BackRe(Action)

She notes that one needs evidence from real experiments to demonstrate that the outcome of a thought experiment is real. But it is significant that the human mind is capable of developing the basis for momentous discoveries even before we commit to stuff that requires a budget.

See also: Sabine Hossenfelder asks: Do we need a theory of everything? Hossenfelder: So this whole idea of a theory of everything is based on an unscientific premise. Some people would like the laws of nature to be pretty in a very specific way… This is simply not a good strategy to develop scientific theories, and no, it is most certainly not standard methodology.

6 Replies to “Sabine Hossenfelder: Einstein’s greatest legacy was the thought experiment

  1. 1
    Belfast says:

    Well, that was a treat.
    Thanks for putting it up.
    Interesting how Dr Hossenfelder does not interlaid with personal asides (“when I was an undergrad in X, I …. etc…)

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    Nonsense. Neither the thought experiment nor the practical experiment is new. Both are an intrinsic part of thinking and living, and both always work together to solve a problem.

    Philosophers and scientists and inventors always do FORMALIZED thought experiments before trying the idea with real stuff. Most patents are thought experiments. Writers of fiction are performing thought experiments.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    In 1921, Einstein wondered,,,,

    “How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality?”
    Albert Einstein – Geometry and Experience – 1921

    In 1952, after a few decades of thinking the matter over, Einstein concludes that the ability of our mind to comprehend the universe is a miracle

    “You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world (to the extent that we are authorized to speak of such a comprehensibility) as a miracle or as an eternal mystery. Well, a priori one should expect a chaotic world which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way. One could (yes one should) expect the world to be subjected to law only to the extent that we order it through our intelligence. Ordering of this kind would be like the alphabetical ordering of the words of a language. By contrast, the kind of order created by Newton’s theory of gravitation, for instance, is wholly different. Even if the axioms of the theory are proposed by man, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That is the “miracle” which is being constantly reinforced as our knowledge expands.
    There lies the weakness of positivists and professional atheists who are elated because they feel that they have not only successfully rid the world of gods but “bared the miracles”
    – Einstein – Letter to Solovine – 1952

    Einstein basically reached the same exact conclusion that Kepler did 3 and 1/2 centuries before Einstein reached it.

    “Geometry is one and eternal shining in the mind of God. That share in it accorded to men is one of the reasons that Man is the image of God. ”
    — Johannes Kepler
    Conversation with the Sidereal Messenger [an open letter to Galileo Galilei], Dissertatio cum Nuncio Sidereo (1610),

    Supplemental note:

    KEEP IT SIMPLE by Edward Feser – April 2020
    Excerpt: Mathematics appears to describe a realm of entities with quasi-­divine attributes. The series of natural numbers is infinite. That one and one equal two and two and two equal four could not have been otherwise. Such mathematical truths never begin being true or cease being true; they hold eternally and immutably. The lines, planes, and figures studied by the geometer have a kind of perfection that the objects of our ­experience lack. Mathematical objects seem immaterial and known by pure reason rather than through the senses. Given the centrality of mathematics to scientific explanation, it seems in some way to be a cause of the natural world and its order.
    How can the mathematical realm be so apparently godlike? The traditional answer, originating in Neoplatonic philosophy and Augustinian theology, is that our knowledge of the mathematical realm is precisely knowledge, albeit inchoate, of the divine mind. Mathematical truths exhibit infinity, necessity, eternity, immutability, perfection, and immateriality because they are God’s thoughts, and they have such explanatory power in scientific theorizing because they are part of the blueprint implemented by God in creating the world. For some thinkers in this tradition, mathematics thus provides the starting point for an argument for the existence of God qua supreme intellect.

    Shortly after discovering the laws of planetary motion, Kepler stated,

    “O, Almighty God, I am thinking Thy thoughts after Thee!”
    – Kepler – The Harmonies of the World (1619),

  4. 4
    Querius says:

    If one has any interest in quantum mechanics, Dr. Hossenfelder’s videos are always a treat! She blames the current lack of significant progress in the field on too much theorizing and reliance on mathematical “beauty” rather than data from experiments.

    While neither Einstein nor Maxwell originated thought experiments, the term was supposedly coined by Hans Christian Ørsted in 1811.

    The first practical scientific experiment is unknown, but the first recorded practical scientific experiment is actually described in the Bible, perhaps 2,600 years ago. The experiment in human nutrition is recorded in Daniel 1:11-16 and includes the following components:

    • A hypothesis
    • A set period of time
    • More than one experimental subject
    • Both an experimental group and a control group
    • Well-defined parameters
    • A change in a single variable
    • An independent evaluator
    • Observation and analysis—subjective in the absence of blood tests
    • A written record

    A friend of mine suggested that I should consider adding another bullet, namely a grant. Daniel and his friends were granted a vegetarian diet.


  5. 5
    BobRyan says:

    Trial and error can be found throughout history, even if none of the evidence of trials has even been discovered. China was the first to have moveable type, beating Gutenberg by centuries. The terracotta soldiers show evidence of mass production. Egyptian core 7 proves the Egyptians could drill through granite with hundreds of times more force than we are able to do today.

  6. 6
    Querius says:


    Indeed! I’ve always been intrigued with ancient construction techniques, especially megalithic structures, cyclopean walls, and what seems to be artificial stone cast in place using geopolymers.


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