Thought Experiment One: The Glove Game

Close your eyes and imagine an ordinary, small, red ladies glove. Imagine that in the wrist part of the glove is a slit and one side of this is a small red button. Imagine that on the other side of the slit is a small loop that can go around the button, to hold the glove in place on a hand.

You have just imagined a glove. Now I want you to imagine this glove floating in a void of nothingness. No other things, no time, no light, no observer, just the glove. I want you to imagine The Glove Universe.

In fact, you cannot imagine a universe that’s just a small red ladies glove. For a number of reasons:

You can’t imagine something being “small” if thats’ the only thing there is. Smallness is a relative property, it needs more things to be realised.

You can’t imagine something as being red if there is no light and no observer. “Colour’s” don’t make sense in the glove universe (Though you can imagine the surface of the Glove has properties that were it on your hand right now would make it red).

You can’t imagine just a glove because gloves are what’s called “enantiomorphs” (One of my favourite words), this means that they are left or right handed structures that cannot exist without a “counterpart.”

Perhaps, even without the above three issues, we just cannot imagine universes in anything like the same way we can imagine tomorrows weather or the things we can imagine. Perhaps we can’t imagine the unimaginable.

Luckily. We don’t need need to imagine the unimaginable to be able to think about it discuss it and learn from it. Too see this point and too see some other things we are going to play an imaginary game, but one we could all play any time.

The Glove Game: Round One

Start a document that has room for three lists. You can use pen and paper, bullet points, mental notes, whatever, it really doesn’t matter. I will use bullet points for my side of the game.

Label the first List, “True List.”

All you have to do to win Round One is add more True statements about the Glove Universe than I do. When we say “True” in the context of this game we mean:

True: “A statement is True about the Glove Universe if what it describes can be found within the Glove Universes.”

Here is my first Truth List:

  • True:

    • The Glove has four fingers and a thumb.

When I look at the imaginary universe I see that this is True. The meanings of the words are from outside of the Universe but what they represent can be found inside the Glove universe. If you’re going to try to imagine a six fingered glove, then you lose the game because the game requires an “ordinary, small, red ladies glove.”

It isn’t hard to come up with True statements about the glove as my “True List” shows:

  • True

    • The Glove has four fingers and a thumb.

    • The button is not between the index finger and the thumb.

    • The little finger is not longer than the middle finger

    • The thumb is not between any fingers.

You can add to your list and I can add to mine and on and on we go. Sometimes we may come up with statements where it isn’t so clear if the statement is True. For example, what do we say about?:

It is possible the tip of the thumb could touch the tip of the index finger if the rest of the glove remained the same.

I don’t know what to say about this. It mentions possibility and conditionals (“if the…”) that don’t seem to belong. We shall discuss these in Round Three, for this round, its pretty clear, none of us can win.

If you want to imagine that the loop is has a tangent that intersects the seam of the thumb at 23% degrees, that’s fine, it’s your thought experiment and so long as your Stipulation of any single fact is consistent with your stipulations of the other facts, you can “imagine” it. And this means the Truth List is just a repository for facts that are consistent with a universe that consists of just an “ordinary, small, red ladies glove.”

The Glove Game: Round Two

For the next round, we have to start on the second List. Label this the “False List”.

The winner of Round Two is the person who comes up with the longest statement list of False statements about the Glove Universe. To see if a statement is False just see if the thing it describes is to be found in the Glove Universe, if it is not, then the statement is False.

Here is the start of my “False List” (Comments are in the lines below):

  • False:

    • The volume of the thumb is greater than the volumes of the other fingers combined.

      • Although we can easily imagine gloves with very big thumbs, that would be outside of the rules of this game which requires “a small red ladies glove…”.

    • The glove has symmetry.

    • It is possible to weave the thumb through the other fingers

    • The glove has the same topology as a doughnut.

It’s pretty easy to come up with False Statements about the Glove Universe. And like with True Statements, when seeking False Statements we also find some statements that don’t seem to be False. For example:

    • The Glove Is underneath a Hat.

Seems to be False because the Glove is not underneath a hat. However, it’s not False and yert equally it doesn’t to be a True (That is, Not Flase.). These statements that don’t fit on either list will be discussed in Round Three.

The Glove Game: Round Three

The Third List in the game is the “Meaningless List” and it will take only statements that are meaningless relevant to the Glove Universe. This will take a little bit more to appreciate before we play.

A statement is Meaningless relative to the Glove Universe Game if it is nether True nor False about the Glove Universe. You might like to think of Meaningless statements as containing things that simply cannot be found in any possible Glove Universe.

  • True statements describe things that exist within the Glove Universe.

    • By “things” here we mean structures, relations, properties that are contingent upon the stipulation of the universe.

  • False statements describe things that do not exist within the Glove Universe.

  • Meaningless statements describe things cannot exist in the Glove Universe.

    • That is, “cannot exist” without cheating and stipulating something other than a “”a small red ladies glove…”.

With an idea of what it means to be “Meaningless,” here is my Meaningless List:

  • Meaningless:

    • Paris is the Capital of France.

    • Mars is often called “The Red Planet”

    • The glove is larger than an elephant.

    • All gloves are smaller than houses.

    • The glove belonged to Audry Hepburn.

    • The Glove is left handed.

    • We understand this experiment.

    • All games are not fun.

This game is rubbish!

Nobody could win Round One, nor Round Two and it now it looks like nobody can win Round Three. In fact, it strikes me that there are always going to be more meaningless statements because most possible statements simply won’t refer to things in the Glove Universe and thus, are meaningless.

Conclusion to the First Thought Experiment

This experiment has highlighted a number of things. Perhaps most importantly it’s shown what a Thought Experiment is, in case you didn’t already know. A thought experiment is simply a stipulated possible Universe that is created to be experimented on or questioned about.

We make Thought experiments all the time, “If I won the lottery I would..”, “Imagine all the people, living in Harmony…”

It’s also shown that thought experiments are about what’s relevant to them by stipulation, not by assumption. You can imagine things that are not really possible to exist or imagine and yet, you can see how still we can ask relevant questions about them.

But with the Glove Game we have employed a useful tool in the Truth Lists that allows us to speak about the possible universe in a pretty precise and useful way. I hope in the next experiment you will have an even more intuitive understanding of the potential.

The last thing we saw from this experiment is that all possible statements seem to fit into only one of three categories, True, False or Meaningless and that which list any statement belongs on depends on the stipulated nature of the relevant universe. This will become very important in future experiments.

The next Experiment will be published here shortly.