Learning by Thinking: Thought Experiments as a Window onto Human Understanding


ACLS Fellowship Program


Psychology and Philosophy


What does it mean to learn something new? Canonical cases of learning, including learning from observations or from the testimony of others, involve the acquisition of new information from the external world. But many cases of learning, such as learning from thought experiments or from fiction, defy this simple picture; genuinely novel insights can emerge in the absence of information obtained “outside the head.” This project explores thought experiments and other cases of learning by thinking, such as learning through mental simulation, explanation, analogy, or fiction. Uniting philosophical analyses with research on human cognition, the resulting work will present a novel framework for understanding learning and how it bears on the nature of human understanding.