Thought Experiment = 思想實驗? Is there a better translation? How about 假想實驗?

May 29, 2019

I love interesting and challenging translation question like “「撒嬌」有沒有英譯 ?” which I shared 10 years ago with some thoughtful comments under it that worth checking out. Now as I was looking for a Chinese translation for “Thought Experiment“, a quick check with Google Translate got me “思想實驗”. You see, there is even a Chinese Wikipedia entry for “思想實驗” if you click 中文 (Chinese) (on the left column) along the English Thought Experiment Wikipedia entry.

Now, I don’t like Thought Experiment being translated as “思想實驗” even it seems to be the “accepted norm” given Google Translate (widely used by people) and the formidable Chinese Wikipedia entry for “思想實驗”.

Translating “Thought Experiment” as “假想實驗”

I don’t know if anyone else has translated this earlier but I found in the “譯海泅泳-原文是海,語文素養是泳技” Facebook page a fascinating post “thought experiment 是甚麼東西? ” that detailed the author’s insightful analysis (see below included post).

After reading the cool analysis, I tend to agree with the author and think that “假想實驗” is quite a good translation for “Thought Experiment”. Now, having said that, I’m afraid the tide of “Computational Translation”, “Machine Translation“, and “Machine-Aided Human Translation (MAHT)” are over taking us humans who are more “expert” or have better “taste” in translating. As more and more people are getting or suggested with “思想實驗”  by the likes of Google Translate and Chinese Wikipedia, I’m afraid the linguistic tide is drowning us with mediocre existing translation and they will soon become the norm too strong to ignore.

I hope I’m wrong and I will try to insist using “假想實驗” for “Thought Experiment” but then I’m a rebel. Lots of other English or Chinese speakers won’t even have second thoughts in using “思想實驗”

Again, I will keep using “假想實驗” for “Thought Experiment” and I hope you will too.


thought experiment 是甚麼東西? (Facebook link) – 譯海泅泳-原文是海,語文素養是泳技 October 4, 2015

(NOTE & Thanks: I acknowledge the original author of this post owns its copyright and thank the author’s contribution to the discussion. I include this full post here for completeness and ease of reading as I thought it extremely thoughtful and insightful. If the author doesn’t like to have the whole post included, I can excerpt portions of it according to “fair dealing/fair use” provisions of copyright law.)

thought experiment=想像實驗、思想實驗、思考實驗、思惟實驗、理想實驗、假想實驗、臆想實驗?
很多中文人口看到thought experiment這個詞,往往搞不懂這是甚麼東西(其實就算是英文人口,也有不少人無法一看就懂,因為這不是日常用語)。憑著大家所背單字的意思,一個「思想」,一個「實驗」–這是甚麼東西?這是因為我們只看到個別文字的意思,卻看不到文字背後真實情境的緣故。借用禪宗的話說就是,我們只看到指月的手,卻沒有看到手所指的月。用現在的話來說的話,這就是「去脈絡」的結果。探索事物而去脈絡,即無真相,即無實相可言。
thought experiment是運用思考,依據邏輯推理,在腦筋裡–在想像中–進行的實驗(見圖左、右上, 由左至右)。所以thought experiment不是在化學實驗室或粒子加速器實驗室進行的實驗,所以是一種非實體實驗。
史丹福哲學百科全書(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)在”thought experiment”這個條目之下記述說:

Thought experiments are devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things. They are used for diverse reasons in a variety of areas, including economics, philosophy, and the sciences, especially physics. Most often, thought experiment are communicated in narrative form, frequently with diagrams. Thoughts experiments should be distinguished from the thinking about experiments, from merely imagining any experiments to be conducted outside the imagination, and from psychological experiments with thoughts. They should also be distinguished from counterfactual reasoning in general, as they seem to require an experimental element, which seems to explain the impression that something is experienced in a thought experiment.

這裡面說,thought experiments 是以想像力為器具,用以研究事物性質。又說,對於「實驗」一事的思考,或是純粹只是想像一項實驗實際(outside the imagination)在進行,都不是(“…should be distinguished from “) thought experiments; 心理學家以人的thought為實驗素材進行的實驗也不是thought experiments。
這樣,知道thought experiment是什麼東西,不是甚麼東西之後,那麼中文要怎麼翻譯呢?直譯為「思想實驗」嗎?意思並不清楚。英譯中的時候,很多英文詞彙或語句要是直譯,其譯文常常語意不詳或與原意差很多,這是大家都知道的。譬如,英文有個複合形容詞,叫作self-conscious。有的譯者望文生義,直譯為「自我意識的」或「自覺的」;並且由於單字意思都對,便認為self-conscious這樣翻譯是正確的。但接著卻發現「自我意識的」或「自覺的」和上下文意思兜不起來。這樣子,我們便知道self-conscious這個形容詞恐怕就不是我們想當然爾的「自覺的」、「自我意識的」了。這個英文形容詞的意思其實是「(因為知道別人對自己的看法或擔心別人不知道對自己有甚麼看法而導致的)害羞的,尷尬的,不好意思的」,另外一個意思是「(做事情時因為過於刻意或雕琢過度而導致)洩露意圖或行跡敗露的」—-你看,「自我意識的」、「自覺的」和這個意思差多少!
所以,從以上我們所列的七種譯法中,我們在這裡就先把「思想實驗」、「思考實驗」、「思惟實驗」三者排除。「理想實驗」自然不對。「臆想實驗」亦然—-除了語意不清楚之外,真正的thought experiment是不做「臆想」(猜測)的。這樣的話,就剩下「想像實驗」和 「假想實驗」兩個了。這兩者,我個人傾向「假想實驗」。我以為,若譯為「想像實驗」,一個文字理解上有問題,一個是並非一看就知道那是甚麼東西。前者,在中文裡,「想像」常做動詞用。那麼,「在想像實驗」會是甚麼意思就不清楚了。在這裡,我們需要名詞,但是這裡卻跑出一個像是動詞的東西。再者,我把這幾種譯法拿去問過三個人,請他們選看看哪一個「名詞」看了知道是甚麼東西。其中有兩人提出「假想實驗」,問我那是不是甚麼甚麼…講的正是thought experiment那一回事。所以,雖然我自己本來就譯成「假想實驗」,但是經過這樣的 poll 之後,我更加篤定要翻譯成「假想實驗」。
說到「假想實驗」,史上最有名的「假想實驗」莫過於「薛丁格的貓」(Schrödinger’s Cat)(圖右中)、「愛因斯坦的升降機」(Einstein’s Elevator)(圖右下)、「猴子與打字機」(Monkeys and Typewriters)(圖右下二)等幾個。筆者少年時代曾經看過一本講愛因斯坦相對論的概論書,是一本英譯中著作。其中提到愛因斯坦的「升降機」這項「假想實驗」。這是我平生第一次看到「假想實驗」這個詞彙,當時閱讀的感覺是毫無窒礙,並未有「那是甚麼東東?」的疑惑。「猴子與打字機」這個假想實驗背後的概念可以直溯到亞里斯多德的「無限次數的作用在無限時間之內幾乎一定會產生一切事物」這種說法,說「無限隻猴子在無限台打字機上隨意敲打,最後一定會在某個時候打出全本莎士比亞全集」。這個假想實驗相當有趣。原始進化論者主張生命的發生純屬偶然,是機率問題。反對此說者有的借用「猴子與打字機」這個假想實驗,計算出來說,一千隻猴子隨便(=偶然)在一千台打字機上敲打,恰好(=機遇)打出一部莎士比亞戲劇(有秩序的宇宙)的機率是一萬兆兆兆分之一;等於每十億個十億年才發生一次,但是我們這個宇宙到目前為止也才不過一百二十億年而已。「假想實驗」是個有趣的題目,有時間可以聊聊。


21 June, 2019 update: I added a new comment to the above thought experiment 是甚麼東西? (Facebook post), here is it.

Allow me to go off a tangent a little. I think both you and I are probably not fan of translating “police state” as 警察國家 because “極權國家” seems SOOOO much better. But 警察國家 is a “reality” we face in our age of Google Translate and Wikipedia (yes, both translate and has an entry of “警察國家” for police state. And if language/dictionary is nothing else other than a recording of how people use a language, I think “警察國家” may soon kick out “極權國家”. In economics there is 劣幣驅逐良幣! Then may be we will have 劣翻譯驅逐良翻譯 soon! The translator’s version of Gresham’s law (Bad money drives out good)!

Ref usage: I can’t really say I don’t like the fitting use of “警察國家” for police state (probably what he said) in this sentence in this news report (with photos). And I LOVE the photos and story it tells. //他對《立場新聞》記者表示,自己來港 12 年,6 月 12 日當天目睹警察用過度武力鎮壓示威者,尤如警察國家。//

Tuna and BBQ pork buns (+ sausage, spam & egg, raisin, raisin + oatmeal, dry fruits) 吞拿魚 + 叉燒包 (+腸仔, 餐肉蛋, 提子, 提子+燕麥, 乾果包)

May 29, 2019

6 June, 2019 Update: Tweaked and recipe and making process still a bit more. Now the Tuna and the spam & egg buns are super soft. 1) Double proof. 1st proof, 1hr 15 mins. Then 2nd proof (45 minutes) after the buns are shaped. Will probably tune the recipe and process a bit some more before if the buns will come out soft consistently.

2 June, 2019 Update: Yeah, I just made another (my third) batch of buns. Look and taster are pretty good. Still some room for improvements obviously. #ExperimentalBaking #實驗焗包 Five types of buns: sausage, spam & egg, raisin, raisin + oatmeal, dry fruits 一種麵包, 五種味道: 腸仔, 餐肉蛋, 提子, 提子+燕麥, 乾果

pix 01 - #ThoughtExperimentalBaking #假想實驗焗包

#ThoughtExperimentalBaking #假想實驗焗包 Originally only three types of buns: sausage, spam & egg, raisin 一種麵包, (原本) 三種味道: 腸仔, 餐肉蛋, 提子

Pix 02 - Five types of buns: sausage, spam & egg, raisin, raisin + oatmeal, dry fruits 一種麵包, 五種味道: 腸仔, 餐肉蛋, 提子, 提子+燕麥, 乾果

#ExperimentalBaking #實驗焗包 Five types of buns: sausage, spam & egg, raisin, raisin + oatmeal, dry fruits 一種麵包, 五種味道: 腸仔, 餐肉蛋, 提子, 提子+燕麥, 乾果


20190528 Tuna and BBQ pork buns

20190528 Tuna (Left) and BBQ pork (Right) buns

Here is my second attempt of making Tuna and BBQ pork buns 吞拿魚 + 叉燒包! I like the texture of my second batch much better than the first batch of Tuna buns I made. Both Tuna and BBQ pork buns 吞拿魚 + 叉燒包 tasted OK. Still some room for improvement when I make them again. I think I was a bit too greedy and put too much filling so I might cut that down.

And I might double proof my bread. May be cutting the first proof time from 60 minutes to 30-45m, and then add a second proof after I insert the fillings and shape the buns. Giving the buns time to rise again a little. Will see.

201904 最近看的紀錄片 Recently watched documentary

April 12, 2019

#最近看的紀錄片 #RecentlyWatchedDocumentary

4) People’s Republic of Desire (trailer) directed by Hao Wu (full film @kanopy)

3) Dear Mr. Watterson – The Era of Calvin & Hobbes (trailer) (full film @kanopy)

2) The Road to Fame (trailer) directed by Hao Wu (full film @kanopy)

1) A Better Man (full film @NFB, free in Canada. Free overseas?)

Synopsis: //Illuminating a new paradigm for domestic-violence prevention, A Better Man offers a fresh and nuanced look at the healing and revelation that can happen for everyone involved when men take responsibility for their abuse. It also empowers audience members to play new roles in challenging domestic violence, whether it’s in their own relationships or as part of a broader movement for social change.//

What an insightful and well made documentary!

A Better Man Trailer:


201903 最近看的紀錄片 Recently watched documentary

March 29, 2019

最近看的紀錄片 Recently watched documentary

10) (Trailer) Kusama: Infinity (2018) The Life and Work of Artist Yayoi Kusama (Kanopy) (Yayoi Kusama (草間 彌生)) Here you can find Miss O’Keeffe’s 1955 Dec 3th reply to Kusama in her own handwriting. #awesome

9) (Trailer) Sam Klemke’s Time Machine (Kanopy)



Additional references

(#10) re Yayoi Kusama (草間 彌生)

PBS News, “Need to escape reality? Step into infinity with Yayoi Kusama

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Yayoi Kusama Interview: Earth is a Polka Dot


文化沙龍 – 黃耀明:這個璀燦都市光輝到此?

February 26, 2019


LOVE this talk by Anthony (黃耀明 Wong Yiu Ming)!

Jin Yong . Louis Cha:between the myth and the man (金庸.查良鏞--江湖與現實)

November 8, 2018

Nov 13, 2018 Update: Here is the video: 【第十一講】吳靄儀:金庸.查良鏞--江湖與現實

0:00 周保松’s Introduction
4:08 吳靄儀’s (Margaret) planned talk begin
11:35 Margaret mentions John Minford’s (English co-translator of 鹿鼎記 The Deer and the Cauldron) Ming Pao tribute “To Mark the Passing of Louis Cha” to 查良鏞
20:22 The world of 武林 is a bit cartoonish as killing has no consequences not unlike the world of Tom and Jerry.
29:34 金庸 re 功夫/芭蕾舞
35:40 金庸’s revisions including the 明河版 version
41:25 查良鏞’s book of editorials (1980-84)
52:50 Ming Pao as the only HK newspaper allowed in China
58:02 Cha’s decision of resigning as a 基本法草委
1:08:05 Margaret’s planned talk end
1:08:10 周保松’s comments
1:14:18 吳靄儀’s reply to 周保松’s comments
1:15:02 Beginning of Q&As
1:16:28 Cha’s business approach as a newspaper owner: “hard-nosed”, salary unfairness
1:20:23 區家麟’s question re “查良鏞曾經講過, 報紙是老闆的私器” How did Ming Pao reporters react internally?
1:22:20 to 1:26:06 新華社社長許家屯聲稱有人”不按本子辦事”. Cha wrote an editorial of which Margaret refuted point-by-point with her own 3000 – 4000 words articles.
1:40:45 The dubious practice of Cha “interviewing” himself
1:48:26 Cha’s own views and his possibly unintended/unplanned inspirations for his employees
1:55:45 Democracy is taken and never given (恩賜)
1:58:30 周保松 asks Margaret to share more as she read his fictions so many times and worked with him so closely.
2:02:10 Margaret talks about her creating the first political news section in HK newspapers (in Ming Pao) and she set its 政治新聞大綱
2:06:50 程翔’s comments (including what led to his 3 years imprisonment relating to a article written by 查良鏞)
2:20:44 吳靄儀’s discussion with 程翔
2:24:27 區家麟’s question for 程翔 re 查良鏞’s change of mind after being received by 鄧小平
2:24:35 程翔’s reply to 區家麟’s question
2:26:21 Margaret re 程翔的癡心
2:27:32 周保松’s comment re 金庸小說在大陸的出版
2:27:45 程翔’s comment re 中國新聞社(中新社)(”開小灶”=特別照顧的意思?). 專門為明報提供獨家新聞
2:29:03 Margaret’s concluding remarks
2:31:14 周保松 concludes the meeting with a reading from 神雕俠侶
P.S. Margaret, Thanks for sharing your insight. 保松, Thanks you and Brew Note for hosting. Ed, Thanks for processing and posting the video so quickly! The processing of the 143 minutes must have taken many hours even on a fast machine and the uploading must have taken many hours as well!


I’m very much looking forward to the talk “Jin Yong . Louis Cha:between the myth and the man (金庸.查良鏞--江湖與現實)” by Dr. Margaret Ng (吳靄儀) hosted by Prof. P.C. Chow (周保松) this Saturday. I will post a link to the presentation when it is available. From the Facebook announcement

//Brew Note 文化沙龍第十一講

I LOVE the story 保松 shared of Margaret’s original English title “Jin Yong . Louis Cha:between the myth and the man” came to the Chinese translated title of “(金庸.查良鏞--江湖與現實)” . Here is 保松’s amazing story and I quote,

吳大状獲邀,一口答應。但她不懂中文輸入法,遂寄我一個英文題目:Jin Yong . Louis Cha:between the myth and the man,並叫我們隨意翻譯。

As I noted in my comment, “Thanks for sharing the back story! I love the precision in Margaret’s original English title and the poetic (and toned down) translated Chinese title.”

P.S. Here you see the English and Chinese promotional posters being placed side by side.

(designer:林道群先生) Jin Yong . Louis Cha:between the myth and the man (金庸.查良鏞--江湖與現實)

(designer:林道群先生) Jin Yong . Louis Cha:between the myth and the man (金庸.查良鏞--江湖與現實)

I love the placement of the English text “between the myth and the man” in a vertical form underneath the divider of “Jin Yong” and “Louis Cha”, I wish similar symmetry can be echoed in the Chinese version. I like the use of a separate colour of some of the text in the Chinese poster (although I haven’t decided on which of the text) and would love to see the Chinese version also use an additional colour.

Overall, two lovely posters and very nice Chinese translated title all done by volunteers in very short time! I can’t wait to watch the recorded video when it is available! Many thanks to Margaret, 保松, and his wonderful team of awesome volunteers! I hope I will have the luck to attend Brew Note 文化沙龍 one of these days when I visit HK!

2018 Nov 11th update: //I’m still part way through watching the following HKTDC 2006 video of 金庸先生 answering some very good questions. In some answers, we can see “Jin Young the myth” (borrowing Margaret’s words) explaining/excusing his own new revisions.

In one of his answers, he refused a questioner’s earnest request of publishing the original newspaper editions of his fictions. The host even “cutely” (some may argue rudely/ignorantly) analogized the request as something akin to “問瘦身之後的女士, 攞瘦身之前嘅相” (something similar). I wished 金庸先生 had not minded letting newer readers read his original works (newspaper editions) for enjoyment/study. But 金庸先生 DID (at least as I understood or twisted it) implicitly allowed/even encouraged people to find and pirate his newspaper editions to read themselves!//

香港書展2006: 金庸與讀者座談會 (回顧)


In memory of 林燕妮

June 5, 2018

In memory of 林燕妮 (Eunice Lam). News “林燕妮因肺癌病逝享年75歲” & news (with video). Following are some random old articles by Eunice. Great articles. Wonderful taste. Interesting & insightful person. RIP.

  • 珍惜眼前人 – 林燕妮 (20140327)
    • “如今至親俱故,真的只餘下我和兒子了。他一直跟外婆住,外婆在農曆年前騎鶴歸西了,沒理由整層樓他一個人住那麼孤單,那便搬回去跟他住,固然擔心歷史重演。朋友來了一句:「你要珍惜眼前人了。」,有如醍醐灌頂,我不珍惜兒子珍惜誰呢?我的至親是他,他的至親是我,還鬧什麼?”
  • 我 的 妹 妹 – 林燕妮 (20090423)
    • “她 唸 香 港 瑪 莉 諾 英 文 書 院 , 我 唸 大 坑 道 真 光 中 學 。 也 許 是 學 校 作 風 不 同 的 緣 故 , 她 比 較 注 重 物 質 , 我 則 比 較 空 靈 , 她 回 家 跟 我 說 : 「 姐 姐 , 我 的 同 學 說 她 家 裡 有 九 台 電 視 機 。 」 我 說 : 「 神 經 病 , 連 廁 所 也 安 裝 電 視 機 嗎 ? 別 聽 她 的 。 」 她 越 長 越 漂 亮 , 十 三 歲 時 在 香 港 鄉 村 俱 樂 部 認 識 了 她 的 第 一 個 男 朋 友 。 她 的 命 是 這 樣 的 , 男 朋 友 全 部 十 分 富 有 , 我 的 似 乎 沒 有 一 個 是 出 自 富 家 的 , 還 有 些 是 貧 苦 的 。 我 們 姊 妹 兩 的 性 格 完 全 相 反 , 她 是 個 小 惡 霸 , 什 麼 都 要 霸 , 她 的 同 班 知 心 同 學 告 訴 我 , 她 是 全 班 最 惡 的 。 在 家 裡 她 也 想 惡 , 但 是 有 我 在 , 她 可 惡 不 成 了 , 她 若 態 度 惡 劣 扯 起 了 我 那 把 火 , 我 便 「 兜 巴 升 」 , I have to put her in her place , 不 可 無 上 無 下 。 她 自 然 大 哭 啦 。”
  • 妹 妹 地 老 天 慌 – 林燕妮 (20090514)
    • “妹 妹 記 得 人 家 什 麼 杯 子 放 在 哪 個 櫃 子 裡 , 花 瓶 放 在 哪 兒 , 餐 巾 刀 叉 放 在 哪 兒 , 我 可 是 拿 了 出 來 便 馬 上 忘 掉 是 從 哪 兒 拿 出 來 的 。 妹 妹 在 中 學 時 , 常 上 她 的 小 男 友 家 , 替 auntie 樣 樣 放 得 好 好 的 , 像 個 小 媳 婦 兒 。 我 呀 , 見 男 朋 友 的 家 長 還 可 以 , 家 務 呀 , 我 只 認 得 煮 熟 了 的 食 物 , 未 煮 時 是 什 麼 模 樣 兒 倒 不 知 道 。”
  • 最溫馨的日本遊 – 林燕妮 
    • “林偉那時已經工作了一段時間,過了好些年,他發覺在港當攝影師賺不了錢,便跑去學沖曬。如今他在香港和東京都有很大的沖曬公司,生意很好。他說:「我喜歡賺錢,幸好當年學了沖曬,不然不會有今天。我可以花錢而仍然有點錢賸下來多麼好。」我絕對同意。 他跟他的日本伴侶小林由貴子兩人親自來接我和同行女友 Jacqueline機而不是派人來,真沒話說。我們是三林,林燕妮、林偉和小林由貴子。由貴子比我還要高大,是個很爽朗的日本女子,跟她在一起很自在,我們用斷續的廣東話和英語交流。 他倆一塊兒十年了,他們的相識可算是一段傳奇。林偉在東京片哈利,左拐右拐的,但前面老有另一輛哈利片得比他更勁,老是阻着他片。他氣不過來,死命都要把那個不曉得是阿叔還是阿伯追到尾。終於那輛哈利停下來了,車手把頭盔拿走,頭一搖,整把長髮披下來。林偉一看,原來是個女的,還胸前豐滿,哪兒還肯放過追女機會。那時他不會說日語,只會說「 Su-mi-ma-sen」( excuse me)。異國姻緣便從此開始。 他先帶我們到他的萬多呎沖曬公司看,他們沖曬招牌、廣告等大型照片。在有智能機拍照不用沖曬的今天,他在港日做這種沖曬公司實有先見。”
  • 我的前夫你…… – 林燕妮 (20131107)
    • “那時你已快要唸大空物理學博士了,我主修遺傳學,很多數、理、化問題我弄不通,即使我們在不同的學校,不同的地方,你每每三言兩語在電話中便給我解答得比老師還清楚。連遺傳學問題你都懂得教我。你追求女孩子是天天的,不需要跟我同校都電話不斷的。每逢假期不是你飛來找我便是叫我飛去你那兒。你從來不查問我在本校有沒有男朋友,從第一天起你便當我是你的。老實說,我有很多其他男朋友,不過沒告訴你。但在我一生的戀愛之中,跟你的那一段是最美麗無瑕,最快樂的。”
  • 劉培基的名人朋友 – 林燕妮 (20130919)
    • “劉培基自傳中所寫的都是名藝人,如張國榮、陳百強、白雪仙、楊紫瓊、尤敏等等。他對朋友很好,我想心理上他需要有愛惜他的名人做朋友,他才有安全感。對他不好的名人他就翻臉當便飯了,他不是個為錢低頭的人。 做他的朋友,要習慣他的敏感和隨時發脾氣。他的朋友之中,沒有誰是沒讓他罵過的,除了我之外。不過最近也中招了,他惱道:「我不喜歡你寫高文安!」高文安是我們幾十年的共同朋友,不曉得寫高文安竟然會讓他大罵一頓。高文安沒說過他什麼。總之這個人,罵你時別當真,說話刺你時也別傷感,他氣不倒我的,他反而氣倒自己。我只是聽了就算。朋友,應記念他對我好的時候。 陳百強是我最要好的音樂朋友,以他平日的情緒不穩定,竟然在我情感上受到極大打擊和威脅時,早上六時起來陪我吃早餐,晚上表演完畢還整夜不睡,既唱歌又演戲和說故事的逗我開心到天亮。那是他性格高貴之處,他的經理人陳家瑛至今仍說:「 Danny仔是高貴的。」劉培基對他的評語也一樣。”