weekly mental model

for May 28 to June 3

Thought Experiment

We can explore a theory by imagining an experiment for it and thinking through its potential consequences.


A thought experiments is a technique used to explore a hypothesis, theory or principle by thinking through what its consequences would be. These experiments are not actually performed and are often impossible to set up. The intent is not to prove something, but rather to explore difficult questions through speculation and logical thinking. Hopefully, the results of this thinking will lead us down interesting paths we might otherwise miss. Some examples are: "What will happen if this event occurs?", "If B happened instead of A, how might things differ?", "If something happens in the future, what might cause it?".


  • Einstein imagined what would happen if someone chased a light beam and caught up. The results of this thought experiment lead him to special relativity. Note that this experiment was not actually performed and the theory was proven using other empirical means.

  • The trolly problem is a famous thought experiment in the field of ethics. It's often referenced with thinking about the design of self-driving cars.