Thought experimentation and modelling in the science classroom

Year: 2007

Author: Toscano, Maurizio

Type of paper: Refereed paper

In this paper I claim that thought experiments are examples of scientific modelling. Whilst I am not the first to suggest such an interpretation of thought experiments (Cooper 2005, Miščević 1992, and Nersessian 1992), the few philosophers of science who have taken on such a position have either limited themselves to the use of modelling in the service of explaining how thought experiments work, or have restricted unnecessarily the implication of a model-based account of thought experiments to the domain of cognitive science. This paper seeks to extend this early work on thought experiments by expanding its scope to include a discussion about: firstly, the nature of scientific modelling and theory generation; secondly, the role of analogic reasoning and metaphor in science and thought experimentation, and finally the place of thought experiments in science education. These steps towards both extending and unifying our theoretical understanding of thought experimentation is necessary if the extensive research in this established field of philosophy of science is to have significant impacts on thought experiment research in an educational context. It is worth making my agenda explicit: my aim is to develop a sound theoretical basis for the future implementation of thought-experimentation-based teaching and learning strategies into mainstream science education.