The world is full of many very annoying things, and one of them is people who don’t get thought experiments. With these people, I feel, it’s probably legitimate to just walk off and start talking to someone else.
You’ve probably met them. They hear about Schrödinger’s cat and their main concern, without a hint of irony, is that the experiment is cruel to cats. Their response to both Maxwell and Descartes is either to inform you that demons don’t really exist or to assume that the whole point of the thought experiment is to suggest that they do.
I remember once asking someone to imagine time suddenly moving backwards and try to say what they’d notice as different (my point was that, if we imagine ”everything” reversing itself—which is a reasonable interpretation of what it means for time to suddenly move backwards—then this would be indistinguishable from everyday experience). The response depressed me: “But time doesn’t move backwards!”
I don’t think that all non-academics have imaginations this stunted, and I suspect that a fair few academics do (I know that a couple do). It is, however, probably true to say that there are fewer such people inside academia than outside, and that there are very few of them in science and philosophy, where thought experiments play an important role. It’s interesting, therefore, that while a good imagination is probably a requirement of being a good scientist, there are people who think that science is somehow opposed to imagination. A surprising number of people think that, by trying to explain the universe, we make it less wonderful. That understanding how a flower works detracts from the beauty of the flower.
Now that really does show a failure of imagination.