As many readers of this blog will know, there have been some extremely surprising experimental results involving people's intuitions about classic philosophical thought experiments in semantics. Take the Gödel/Schmidt case (included here below the fold). An elegant experimental study shows that when participants are given this case, people in some groups say that the speaker is talking about (a) the person who really discovered the incompleteness of arithmetic, whereas people in other groups say that the speaker is talking about (b) the person who got hold of the manuscript and claimed credit for the work. (See Machery et al. 2004.)
Here is the full text of the original vignette:
Suppose that John has learned in college that Gödel is the man who proved an important mathematical theorem, called the incompleteness of arithmetic. John is quite good at mathematics and he can give an accurate statement of the incompleteness theorem, which he attributes to Gödel as the discoverer. But this is the only thing that he has heard about Gödel. Now suppose that Gödel was not the author of this theorem. A man called “Schmidt”, whose body was found in Vienna under mysterious circumstances many years ago, actually did the work in question. His friend Gödel somehow got hold of the manuscript and claimed credit for the work, which was thereafter attributed to Gödel. Thus, he has been known as the man who proved the incompleteness of arithmetic. Most people who have heard the name “Gödel” are like John; the claim that Gödel discovered the incompleteness theorem is the only thing they have ever heard about Gödel. When John uses the name “Gödel”, is he talking about:
(A) the person who really discovered the incompleteness of arithmetic? or
(B) the person who got hold of the manuscript and claimed credit for the work?