The best thought experiment books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about thought experiment and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Schrödinger's Caterpillar

By Zane Stumpo,

Book cover of Schrödinger's Caterpillar

Here's a little-known gem that is clever and witty, packed with funny incidents and terrible puns. It’s about downsizing consultant Graham Paint who owns the eponymous insect. Much to his inconvenience, the caterpillar (which, like its namesake cat, exists in a state of quantum uncertainty) starts spawning alternative realities, each with their own copy of Graham – causing havoc for him, and the police. The storyline has echoes of the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors, but is much funnier and smarter. Oh, and check out the book’s trailer on YouTube.


Who are we?

Who, apart from the innately humorless, doesn’t like a good laugh? We do, whether it’s at Mark Roman’s opera singing or at Corben Duke’s naked balloon dance. We also enjoy funny science fiction books. We’ve tried writing them, too, but it’s devilishly difficult. So, time and time again, we turn to the masters in the field to see how they did it, studying the words they used, the way they joined them together, and where they inserted the punctuation marks. Most instructive. Here are our top five and their funny SF books.


We wrote...

The Worst Man on Mars

By Mark Roman and Corben Duke,

Book cover of The Worst Man on Mars

What is our book about?

Blunt Yorkshireman Flint Dugdale has used his large frame and ‘persuasive personality’ to take charge of Britain’s first mission to Mars. He’ll wish he hadn’t bothered for, unbeknownst to him, the base – built by an advance party of inept robots – is not finished, having no food, no water, and no doors. Worse, as Dugdale and his oddball crew and quirky colonists prepare to make History, the ship’s scanners detect Life down on the surface. What form will it take? And will it be pleased to see them?

Vehicles

By Valentino Braitenberg,

Book cover of Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology

The author’s opening line calls this slim volume “fictional science”, a genre all of its own. It remains a unique and compelling book, a set of simply stated ideas that show how apparently complex behaviour can emerge from the simplest of brains. On another reading, it is a parts list for what functions brains must have evolved. However I read it, it’s been instrumental in shaping how I think about the brain.


Who am I?

I’m a British neuroscientist and writer who’s been using computers to study the brain since 1998, and writing about it since 2016. How I ended up a neuroscientist is hard to explain, for my formative years were spent devouring science books that were not about the brain. That’s partly because finding worthwhile books about the brain is so hard – few delve into how the brain actually works, into the kinds of meaty details that, for example, Hawking offered us on physics and Dawkins on evolution. So I wrote one to solve that problem; and the books on my list are just that too: deep, insightful works on how the brain does what it does.


I wrote...

The Spike: An Epic Journey Through the Brain in 2.1 Seconds

By Mark Humphries,

Book cover of The Spike: An Epic Journey Through the Brain in 2.1 Seconds

What is my book about?

We see the last cookie in the box and think, can I take that? We reach a hand out. In the 2.1 seconds that this impulse travels through our brain, billions of neurons communicate with one another, sending blips of voltage through our sensory and motor regions. Neuroscientists call these blips “spikes.” Spikes enable us to do everything: talk, eat, run, see, plan, and decide. In The Spike, Mark Humphries takes readers on the epic journey of a spike through a single, brief reaction. In vivid language, Humphries tells the story of what happens in our brain, what we know about spikes, and what we still have left to understand about them.

Drawing on decades of research in neuroscience, Humphries explores how spikes are born, how they are transmitted, and how they lead us to action. 

A Primer for Forgetting

By Lewis Hyde,

Book cover of A Primer for Forgetting: Getting Past the Past

A fascinating collection of miscellanea, which constitute ‘a thought experiment seeking out places where forgetting is more useful than memory’. Thoroughly entertaining and full of eye-opening anecdotes.


Who am I?

Guy Beiner specializes in the history of social remembering in the late modern era. An interest in Irish folklore and oral traditions as historical sources led him to explore folk memory, which in turn aroused an interest in forgetting. He examines the many ways in which communities recall their past, as well as how they struggle with the urge to supress troublesome memories of discomfiting episodes.


I wrote...

Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster

By Guy Beiner,

Book cover of Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster

What is my book about?

Forgetful Remembrance examines the paradoxes of what actually happens when communities persistently endeavour to forget inconvenient events. The question of how a society attempts to obscure problematic historical episodes is addressed through a detailed case study grounded in the north-eastern counties of the Irish province of Ulster, where loyalist and unionist Protestants--and in particular Presbyterians--repeatedly tried to repress over two centuries discomfiting recollections of participation, alongside Catholics, in a republican rebellion in 1798.

Tuck Everlasting

By Natalie Babbitt,

Book cover of Tuck Everlasting

So, this book was made into two movies, the first in 1981 and the other in 2002, but I first experienced this story by reading the book when I was a young girl in sixth grade in 1978. I remember reading the epilogue over and over again—it broke my heart to think how the greed of one man could ruin something so magical. I pondered whether it was a blessing or a curse to live forever, and the town of Treegap felt like it could exist in any wooded place. Whenever I find myself in a thick forest, I still search for springs that bubble up from the ground, taking me right back to those emotions when reading this great classic.


Who am I?

Like most writers, I am extremely interested in the “what if” factor. What if food ingredients could make a person feel specific emotions? What if drinking from a spring in the woods could give you a superpower? What if fairies really do take care of and grow all plants and trees in the world? I love to read and write about ordinary people, living everyday life, who encounter threads of magic. Influenced by reading books in the genre of “magical realism,” I love to explore how a dab of magic can be used in realistic fiction to emotionally affect the characters and story arc.


I wrote...

The Fairies of Turtle Creek

By Jill K. Sayre,

Book cover of The Fairies of Turtle Creek

What is my book about?

Thirteen-year-old Claire is a science-minded girl who has deep concerns about her brother who is away fighting in the Iraq War. When her quirky and estranged grandmother comes to live with her, Claire is even more uneasy—especially since the elderly woman believes in fairies. In fact, they are nearly all she talks about. However, it's through Grandma Faye's stories of being a thirteen-year-old in Dallas, Texas in the 1920s that teaches Claire about love, growing up, and the importance of believing in things only seen with her heart.

God's Debris

By Scott Adams,

Book cover of God's Debris: A Thought Experiment

I like short books that don’t feel too daunting to read. This very readable, brief tale, described by Adams as a thought experiment wrapped in a story, reminds us how to see the world differently. Something we could all do with, to challenge our prejudices and lift us from our echo chambers. 


Who am I?

I am a film director and producer, specialising in science and history. I write books between making films. 


I wrote...

Where Once We Stood: Stories of The Apollo Astronauts Who Walked On The Moon

By Christopher Riley,

Book cover of Where Once We Stood: Stories of The Apollo Astronauts Who Walked On The Moon

What is my book about?

My most recent book – Where Once We Stood, was written for the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo Moon landing. Using the actual words spoken by the first humans to reach the surface of the Moon, it captures the first-hand accounts of an extraordinary chapter in our history. Interwoven with a unique series of illustrations by artist Martin Impey, it offers a rare insight into what it really felt like to live and work on another world; something that those who’d experienced it often found hard to convey. 

Reasons and Persons

By Derek Parfit,

Book cover of Reasons and Persons

Arguably the greatest work of moral philosophy of the 20th Century.  It’s rich with vivid thought experiments – including Parfit’s famous tele-transporter, which can make an exact copy of us and transport us to another planet. Is this copy of me the same person as me? The book makes us question some of our deepest assumptions - such as what it means to say that David Edmonds today is identical to David Edmonds yesterday or tomorrow. Parfit was my first supervisor, and I’m now writing his biography.


Who am I?

David Edmonds is a philosopher, podcaster, and curry fanatic. A distinguished research fellow at Oxford’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, he is the author of many books including Wittgenstein’s Poker (with John Eidinow), The Murder of Professor Schlick, Would You Kill The Fat Man?, and Undercover Robot (with Bertie Fraser). If you eat at his local restaurant, The Curry Paradise, he recommends you order the Edmonds Biriani.


I wrote...

Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers

By David Edmonds, John Eidinow,

Book cover of Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers

What is my book about?

On October 25, 1946, in a crowded room in Cambridge, England, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper came face to face for the first and only time. The meeting did not go well. Their loud and aggressive confrontation became the stuff of instant legend. But precisely what happened in those ten minutes remains the subject of intense disagreement. Almost immediately rumors spread around the world that the two great philosophers had come to blows, armed with red hot pokers. What really went on in that room? And what does the violence of this brief exchange tell us about these two men, modern philosophy, post-war culture, and the difference between global problems and logic puzzles?

As the authors unravel these events, your students will be introduced to the major branches of 20th-century philosophy, the tumult of fin-de-si cle Vienna--the birthplace of Popper and Wittgenstein, the events that led to the Nazi takeover of Austria, and Cambridge University, with its eccentric set of philosophy dons, including Bertrand Russell, who acted as an umpire at the infamous meeting.

Baby Loves Quantum Physics!

By Ruth Spiro, Irene Chan (illustrator),

Book cover of Baby Loves Quantum Physics!

Baby Loves Quantum Physics is a cute book about Schrodinger’s Cat, which was featured in a “thought-experiment” nearly 100 years ago about what quantum physics ought to look to big things like humans or cats. The illustrations are engaging for young readers and the language is pitched at a suitable level. This a great step on baby’s quantum quest!


Who am I?

I am a professor of quantum physics—the most notoriously complicated science humans have ever invented. While the likes of Albert Einstein commented on how difficult quantum physics is to understand, I disagree! Ever since my mum asked me—back while I was a university student—to explain to her what I was studying, I’ve been on a mission to make quantum physics as widely accessible as possible. Science belongs to us all and we should all have an opportunity to appreciate it!


I wrote...

Quantum Physics for Babies

By Chris Ferrie,

Book cover of Quantum Physics for Babies

What is my book about?

Quantum Physics for Babies is a colorfully simple introduction to the principle that gives quantum physics its name. Babies (and grownups!) will discover that the wild world of atoms never comes to a standstill. With a tongue-in-cheek approach that adults will love, this installment of the Baby University board book series is the perfect way to introduce basic concepts to even the youngest scientists. After all, it’s never too early to become a quantum physicist!

Thought Experiments

By Roy A. Sorensen,

Book cover of Thought Experiments

This is the book that got me thinking about thought experiments. It really opened up my eyes to a whole new way of thinking – mainly by introducing me to the wonderfully playful, indeed modern style of writing that Galileo used to present his groundbreaking scientific theories – way back in seventeenth-century Italy!

Sorenson is a philosophy professor and goes on a bit, but his book was also groundbreaking in a way. My own books owe him a debt and for scholarly types, he also suggests a general theory "of" thought experiments: meaning what they are, how they work, and what is good - and bad - about them.


Who am I?

Most of my books (101 Philosophy Problems, Wittgenstein's Beetle, Critical Thinking for Dummies, and so on) are on thinking skills, in the broad sense. However, I'm always a bit uncomfortable when I'm presented as an expert on thinking, as people tend to imagine I must have some brainy strategies for thinking better when my interest is also in the ways we "think badly." Because logic is really a blunt tool, compared to the brilliant insights that come with intuition. Yet how do you train your intuition? So the books I've chosen here are all ones that I've found don't so much tell you how to think, but actually get you thinking. And that's always been my aim in my books too.


I wrote...

Rethinking Thinking: Problem Solving from Sun Tzu to Google

By Martin Cohen,

Book cover of Rethinking Thinking: Problem Solving from Sun Tzu to Google

What is my book about?

Everyone, as the French philosopher René Descartes pointed out long ago, thinks. That’s the easy bit. The harder part, and what this book is really about, is how to make your thinking original and effective. And here the problem is that too often we don’t really engage the gears of our brain, don’t really look at issues in an original or active way, we just respond. Like computers, inputs are processed according to established rules and outputs are thus largely predetermined. Yet that’s not what makes us human and that’s not where the big prizes in life are to be found.

The Gate to Women's Country

By Sheri S. Tepper,

Book cover of The Gate to Women's Country

The Gate to Women's Country is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which women and (most) men live largely separated from each other in town and garrison. (Can you tell yet that I like thought experiments that deal with sexual roles and mores?) The men are responsible for war and defending the city, while the women raise the children and try to protect what is left of civilization. The final revelation is both disturbing and thought-provoking.


Who am I?

Since discovering Ursula K. Le Guin in high school, I have loved the kind of science fiction that is more about thought experiments than rocket ships and space exploration. When I went on to get a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, I often encountered skepticism regarding this predilection, but I continued studying and teaching speculative fiction anyway. Now I am no longer in academia, and I write science fiction and fantasy myself. Looking Through Lace is my attempt at the kind of thought experiment I've been such a fan of for so long.


I wrote...

Looking Through Lace

By Ruth Nestvold,

Book cover of Looking Through Lace

What is my book about?

As the only woman on the first contact team, xenolinguist Toni Donato expected her assignment on Christmas would be to analyze the secret women's language—but then the chief linguist begins to sabotage her work. What is behind it? Why do men and women have separate languages in the first place? What Toni learns turns everything she thought they knew on its head.

Originally published in Asimov's in 2003, "Looking Through Lace" was a finalist for the Tiptree and Sturgeon awards. The Italian translation won the Premio Italia for best work of speculative fiction in translation in 2007.

New book lists related to thought experiment

All book lists related to thought experiment

Bookshelves related to thought experiment