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The Trolley Problem 电车难题


One of the most well known thought experiments in the field of ethics is the “Trolley Problem” which goes something like this: a madman has tied five innocent people to a trolley track. An out of control trolley car is careening toward them, and is moments away from running them over. Luckily, you can pull a lever and divert the trolley to another track. The only problem is that the madman has also tied a single person to that track. Considering the circumstances, should you pull the lever?


电车难题最早由哲学家Philippa Foot提出,是用来批判伦理哲学主要理论的,特别是对功利主义的批判。功利主义认为,大部分道德决策都是根据“为最多的人提供最大的利益”的原则做出的。从一个功利主义者的观点来看,明显应去拉拉杆,只杀死一个人来拯救五个人。但是功利主义的批判者反驳说,一旦拉了拉杆,你就变得不道德——你要为另一条轨道上那一个人的死负担部分的责任。然而,其他人认为,这种状况下要求你要有所作为,什么都不做也是不道德。总之,不存在完全的道德行为,这也就是重点所在。许多哲学家都用电车难题作为例子来表现现实生活中经常强迫一个人违背自己道德准则的状况,并且有的时候根本没有完全道德的做法。


The Cow in the Field 空地上的牛奶


One of the major thought experiments in epistemology (the field of philosophy that deals with knowledge) is what is known as “The Cow in the Field.” It concerns a farmer who is worried his prize cow has wandered off. When the milkman comes to the farm, he tells the farmer not to worry, because he’s seen that the cow is in a nearby field. Though he’s nearly sure the man is right, the farmer takes a look for himself, sees the familiar black and white shape of his cow, and is satisfied that he knows the cow is there. Later on, the milkman drops by the field to double-check. The cow is indeed there, but it’s hidden in a grove of trees. There is also a large sheet of black and white paper caught in a tree, and it is obvious that the farmer mistook it for his cow. The question, then: even though the cow was in the field, was the farmer correct when he said he knew it was there?

认知领域中一个重要的思想实验就是“空地上的奶牛”。实验是这样的,一个农民担心自己获奖的奶牛走丢了。一个送奶工来到农场后,他让农民不要担心,因为他看到那头奶牛就在附近。虽然农民很愿意相信送奶工,但他还是自己去看了下,他看到了熟悉的黑白相间条纹,为自己的奶牛在那里感到很满意。过了一会,送奶工到那里再次进行了确认。那头奶牛确实在那里,但它躲在了树林里,而且有一大张黑白相间的纸缠绕在了一棵树上,显然,农民把这张纸错当成自己的奶牛了。问题于是来了, 就算奶牛一直在那里,但农民说自己知道那头奶牛在那里时是否正确?

空地上的奶牛最初被Edmund Gettier用来批判主流对知识定义的JTB(justified true belief)理论,即当人们相信一件事时,它就成为了知识;这件事事实上是真的,且可以被充分验证。实验中,农民之所以相信奶牛在那里,是送奶工证词和他自己所见黑白相间物所共同构成的结果。而之后送奶工的确认,这件事也碰巧是真实的。尽管如此,农民并非真正知道奶牛在那里,因为他认为奶牛在那里的结论是建立在错误的前提上的。Gettier利用这个实验和其他一些例子,说明了将知识定义为JTB的理论需要修正。


 The Ticking Time Bomb 定时炸弹


If you’ve paid any attention to political discourse over the past few years—or ever seen an action movie, for that matter—then you are no doubt familiar with the “ticking time bomb” thought experiment. It asks you to imagine that a bomb or other weapon of mass destruction is hidden in your city, and the timer on it will soon strike zero. You have in your custody a man with knowledge of where the device is planted. Do you resort to torture in order to get him to give up the information?




Einstein’s Light Beam 爱因斯坦的光线


It’s a little known fact that Albert Einstein’s famous work on special relativity was spurred by a thought experiment he conducted when he was only 16 years old. In his bookAutobiographical Notes, Einstein recalls how he once daydreamed about chasing a beam of light as it traveled through space. He reasoned that if he were able to move next to it at the speed of light, he should be able to observe the light frozen in space as “an electromagnetic field at rest though spatially oscillating.” For Einstein, this thought experiment proved that for his imaginary observer “everything would have to happen according to the same laws as for an observer who, relative to the Earth, was at rest.”




The Ship of Theseus 忒修斯之船


One of the oldest of all thought experiments is the paradox known as the Ship of Theseus, which originated in the writings of Plutarch. It describes a ship that remained seaworthy for hundreds of years thanks to constant repairs and replacement parts. As soon as one plank became old and rotted, it would be replaced, and so on until every working part of the ship was no longer original to it. The question is whether this end product is still the same Ship of Theseus, or something completely new and different. If it’s not, at what point did it stop being the same ship? The Philosopher Thomas Hobbes would later take the problem even further: if one were to take all the old parts removed from the Ship of Theseus and build a new ship from them, then which of the two vessels is the real Ship of Theseus?

史上最为古老的思想实验之一便是被称为忒修斯之船的悖论。这个实验最早出自普鲁塔克的记载。它描述了一艘可以在海上航行几百年的船,这归功于不断的维修和部件的替换。只要一块木板腐烂了,它就会被替换掉,以此类推,直到所有的部件都不再是最初的那些。问题是,最终产生的这艘船还是原来的忒修斯之船,还是一艘完全不同的新船?如果不是原来的船了,那么从什么时候开始它不再是原来的船了?哲学家Thomas Hobbes后来对此进行了更深刻的探讨:如果有人用忒修斯之船上取下来的老部件来重新建造一艘新的船,那么两艘船中哪艘才是真正的忒修斯之船?



Galileo's Gravity Experiment 



One of the earliest thought experiments originated with the physicist and astronomerGalileo. In order to refute Aristotle’s claim that the speed of a falling object is dictated by its mass, Galileo devised a simple mental example: According to Aristotelian logic, if a light object and a heavy object were tied together and dropped off a tower, then the heavier object would fall faster, and the rope between the two would become taut. This would allow the lighter object to create drag and slow the heavy one down. But Galileo reasoned that once this occurs, the weight of the two objects together should be heavier than the weight of either one by itself, therefore making the system as a whole fall faster. That this is a contradiction proved that Aristotle’s hypothesis was wrong.




Monkeys and Typewriters 猴子和打字机

Another thought experiment that gets a lot of play in popular culture is what is known as the “infinite monkey theorem.” Also known as the “monkeys and typewriters” experiment, the theorem states that if an infinite number of monkeys were allowed to randomly hit keys on an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite amount of time, then at some point they would “almost surely” produce the complete works of Shakespeare. The monkeys and typewriters idea was popularized in the early 20th century by the French mathematician Emile Borel, but its basic idea—that infinite agents and infinite time will randomly produce anything and everything—dates back to Aristotle.

另一个在流行文化中获得广泛关注的思想实验是“无限猴子定理”,也叫做“猴子和打字机”实验。该定理认为,如果有无数多的猴子在无限久的时间里,在无数多的打字机上随机打字,那么在某个时间点,它们“几乎必然”会打出莎士比亚的全部著作。猴子和打字机的设想在20世纪早期由法国数学家Emile Borel推广,但其基本思想,即无数多的人员和无数多的时间能产生任何/所有东西的理论,可以追溯至亚里士多德。



The Chinese Room 中文房间


The Chinese Room is a famous thought experiment first proposed in the early 1980s by John Searle, a prominent American philosopher. The experiment asks you to imagine that an English speaking man has been placed in a room that is entirely sealed, save for a small mail slot in the chamber door. He has with him a hard copy in English of a computer program that translates the Chinese language. He also has plenty of spare scratch paper, pencils, and file cabinets. Pieces of paper containing Chinese characters are then slipped through the slot in the door. According to Searle, the man should be able to use his book to translate them and then send back his own response in Chinese. Although he doesn’t speak a word of the language, Searle argues that through this process the man in the room could convince anyone on the outside that he was a fluent speaker of Chinese.

“中文房间”最早由美国杰出哲学家John Searle于20世纪80年代初提出。这个实验要求你想象一位只会说英语的人身处一个几乎完全密闭的房间中,房间门上有一个小窗口。他有一台具有英汉翻译功能的电脑,房间里还有足够的纸、铅笔和文件柜。随后写着中文的纸片通过小窗口将被送入房间中。根据Searle的理论,房间中的人可以翻译这些文字并用中文写上他的回复。虽然他完全不会中文,但Searle认为通过这个过程,房间里的人可以让任何房间外的人以为他会说流利的中文。 



Schrodinger’s Cat 薛定谔的猫


Schrödinger’s Cat is a paradox relating to quantum mechanics that was first proposed by the physicist Erwin Schrödinger. It concerns a cat that is sealed inside a box for one hour along with a radioactive element and a vial of deadly poison. There is a 50/50 chance that the radioactive element will decay over the course of the hour. If it does, then a hammer connected to a Geiger counter will trigger, break the vial, release the poison, and kill the cat. Since there is an equal chance that this will or will not happen, Schrödinger argued that before the box is opened the cat is simultaneously both alive and dead.




 Brain in a Vat 缸中的大脑


There has been no more influential thought experiment than the so-called “brain in a vat” hypothesis, which has permeated everything from cognitive science and philosophy to popular culture. The experiment asks you to imagine a mad scientist has taken your brain from your body and placed it in a vat of some kind of life sustaining fluid. Electrodes have been connected to your brain, and these are connected to a computer that generates images and sensations. Since all your information about the world is filtered through the brain, this computer would have the ability to simulate your everyday experience. If this were indeed possible, how could you ever truly prove that the world around you was real, and not just a simulation generated by a computer?




原文作者:Evan Andrews




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