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Fiction and Thought-Experiments

Lecture by ICE Fellow Tasneem Zehra Husain

Carpenter 13, Dartmouth College
In the rich mental worlds they inhabit, and the elaborate thought structures they create, theoretical physicists and fiction writers have much in common. Each, in their own way, contemplate questions that cannot be settled physically, in situations that are wildly impractical—or downright impossible—to manifest. What would the world look like if I rode a beam of light? wondered Albert Einstein. What might unfold if a prince and a pauper, the very image of each other, traded places? asked Mark Twain. In this talk, we examine the striking similarities between novels and thought-experiments and the crucial role of consciousness in animating both. We explore the tangible outcomes of these imaginary constructs, and discuss how (and why) truth can be excavated from mental models and made-up stories.