Try These 4 Trippy Thought Experiments to Expand Your Mind

By Tara MacIsaac, Epoch Times
September 19, 2014 Updated: September 19, 2014

In a thread on the social media site Quora, users shared the best thought experiments they know of. Epoch Times has collected four especially impressive experiments. 

1. Seize the Day

Sal Khan, a famed educator and entrepreneur named one of Time Magazine’s top 100 influential people in 2012, offered the following inspirational thought experiment during his commencement address to MIT’s class of 2012. 

Quora user Gagan Gupta posted the transcript of this experiment. 

Sal Khan
Sal Khan (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The New York Times)


Transcript: Imagine yourself in 50 years. You’re in your early 70s, near the end of your career. You’re on your couch, 2062, having just watched the State of the Union holographic address by President Kardashian.

You begin to ponder your life. The career successes, how you’ve been able to provide for your family. You’ll think of all the great moments with your family and friends. But then you start to think about all of the things you wished you had done just a little differently, your regrets. I can guess at what they might be.

Sitting in 2062, you wish that you had spent more time with your children. That you had told your spouse how much you loved them more frequently. That you could have even one more chance to hug your parents and tell them how much you appreciate them before they passed. That you could have smiled more, laughed more, danced more and created more. That you better used the gifts you were given to empower others and make the world better.

Just as you’re thinking this, a genie appears from nowhere and says, “I have been eavesdropping on your regrets. They are valid ones. I can tell you are a good person so I am willing to give you a second chance if you really want one.” You say “Sure” and the genie snaps his fingers.

All of a sudden you find yourself right where you are sitting today.You are in your shockingly fit and pain-free 20-something body and begin to realize that it has really happened. You really do have the chance to do it over again. To have the same career successes and deep relationships. But, now you can optimize. You can laugh more, dance more and love more. Your parents are here again so it is your chance to love them like you wished you had done the first time. You can be the source of positivity that you wished you had been the first time around.

Khan begins the experiment at approximately the 15.50-minute mark in this video:


2. Who’s Observing Whom?

Conceptual image of an atom via Shutterstock


One of the founding fathers of quantum physics, Niels Bohr, once said: “A physicist is just an atom’s way of looking at itself.” 

Jayadev Vijayan, who posted this quote on Quora, also wrote: “Give it a moment to sink in.”

Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr (Wikimedia Commons)


3. How a Higher Intelligence May View Us

(Andrey Pavlov/iStock/Thinkstock)
(Andrey Pavlov/iStock/Thinkstock)


Quora user Ross Heyman shared the following thought experiment by Neil deGrasse Tyson, famed astrophysicist and host of the TV show “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey”:

There’s a worm in the street, you walk by it. Does the worm know that you think you’re smart? The worm has no concept of your smarts. Because you’re that much smarter than the worm. So the worm has no idea that something smart is walking by it. Which makes me wonder whether we have any concept—if a super species walked by us. Maybe they’re uninterested in us because we’re too stupid for them to even imagine having a conversation. You don’t walk by worms and go, “Gee, I wonder what the worm is thinking.” This is just not a thought that you have! So one of the best pieces of evidence for why we haven’t been visited by aliens is that they have actually observed us, and concluded there is no intelligent sign of life on earth.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. (Valerie Macon/Getty Images)


4. Rewinding War, You Get Peace

Artist impression of a scene from the Battle of Britain in 1940 during WWII. British fighters attack German bombers. (Shutterstock)
Artist impression of a scene from the Battle of Britain in 1940 during WWII. British fighters attack German bombers. (Shutterstock; effects added by Epoch Times)


Quora user Carl Hiscox shared the following experiment from the novel “Slaughterhouse 5”:

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses, took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.