My mind wanders, occasionally down familiar paths, back to work, or to old friends. I like to explore new ideas and difficult problems, however improbable or unrealistic. This sort of cognitive tendency can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s given me some of my best ideas; on the other hand, I occasionally lose track of the now while focusing on the what if.
What if I started that new business?
What if a star-sized disco ball collided with a black hole?
What if zombies attacked right now?
Some places to where the mind can wander are more useful destinations than others. The answers to some questions hold significant value while other answers do not. The thought process, though, remains the same. The ability to conduct a gedankenexperiment remains constant.
GEDANKENEXPERIMENT: noun \gə-ˈdäŋ-kən-ik-ˌsper-ə-mənt also -ˌspir-\
Definition: an experiment carried out in thought only
Origin: German, from gedanke (thought) + experiment (experiment)
First Known Use: 1941
Albert Einstein often related how, at the age of sixteen, he imagined himself riding a wave of light. He indicated that this gedankenexperiment was integral to his development of the special theory of relativity.
My gedankenexperiments don’t carry the gravitas of Einstein’s, but I conduct them nonetheless. And heck, at least I know what I’d do if zombies attacked. Hint: I’d survive.