We have a few of question on the site that are purely hypothetical, more like thought experiments. I don't want to pick on anyone specifically, but I'll add some examples to make clear what kind of questions I mean:

Should these question be on-topic here? Where do we draw a line here?


1 Answer 1


It depends.

Thought experiments require broad knowledge in the specific domain, that makes these question non-trivial. In contrast to "look-up questions" (like this about galls) that theoretically can be answered by mere googling and reading available sources, the "though experiment" questions often require a solid knowledge base and those types of questions, in my opinion, are very much welcome here.

On the other side some questions might be too speculative (if there is too little known in the domain), non-ethic (experiments on humans, eugenics etc.) etc. But any question might be of these type, not specifically "mind experiment" questions.

This is why, at least in my opinion, there is no way to elaborate an unambiguous rule how to distinct "good" and "bad" questions in this case -- let's decide individually in every single case.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Agree. The first question isn't a thought experiment, because it happens in real life (I'll answer it later). The question is more of an opportunity to correct a misinterpretation or incorrect assumption. The third question has an evidence-based answer, which gives a good deal of information and required the person answering to explore literature not available to most people. The second is more of a question about principles of biology, and is also valid. I think all three cases are fine, and we couldn't design a rule to choose bad 'though experiment' questions. $\endgroup$ Feb 20, 2012 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ The spider question is just framing concrete issues about metabolism within a scenario that would tax the organism and put those assumptions to the test. The answer would be the same for the situation "trapped in a corner of a house for N days with no insect life around." $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Feb 23, 2012 at 8:36

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