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Johann Witt-Hansen established that Hans Christian Ørsted was the first to use the Latin-German mixed term Gedankenexperiment (lit. Ørsted was also the first to use its entirely German equivalent, Gedankenversuch, in 1820.

Much later, Ernst Mach used the term Gedankenexperiment in a different way, to denote exclusively the imaginary conduct of a real experiment that would be subsequently performed as a real physical experiment by his students.

Schrödinger's cat (1935) presents a cat that is indeterminately alive or dead, depending on a random quantum event.

It illustrates the counterintuitive implications of Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation when applied to everyday objects.

Perhaps the key experiment in the history of modern science is Galileo's demonstration that falling objects must fall at the same rate regardless of their masses. But if this is true, and if a large stone moves with a speed of, say, eight while a smaller moves with a speed of four, then when they are united, the system will move with a speed less than eight; but the two stones when tied together make a stone larger than that which before moved with a speed of eight.

This is widely thought to have been a straightforward physical demonstration, involving climbing up the Leaning Tower of Pisa and dropping two heavy weights off it, whereas in fact, it was a logical demonstration, using the 'thought experiment' technique. Hence the heavier body moves with less speed than the lighter; an effect which is contrary to your supposition.

Given the structure of the experiment, it may not be possible to perform it, and even if it could be performed, there need not be an intention to perform it.

The 'experiment' is described by Galileo in Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche (1638) (literally, 'Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations') thus: Salviati. Thus you see how, from your assumption that the heavier body moves more rapidly than the lighter one, I infer that the heavier body moves more slowly.

If then we take two bodies whose natural speeds are different, it is clear that on uniting the two, the more rapid one will be partly retarded by the slower, and the slower will be somewhat hastened by the swifter. Although the extract does not convey the elegance and power of the 'demonstration' terribly well, it is clear that it is a 'thought' experiment, rather than a practical one.

In law, they were well-known to Roman lawyers quoted in the Digest.

In physics and other sciences, notable thought experiments date from the 19th and especially the 20th century, but examples can be found at least as early as Galileo.

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