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A young theoretical physicist's guide to how the radical new science of counterfactuals can reveal the full scope of our universe
There is a vast class of properties that science has so far almost entirely neglected. These properties are central to an understanding of physical reality both at an everyday level and at the level of fundamental phenomena, yet they have traditionally been thought of as impossible to incorporate into fundamental explanations. They relate not only to what is true - the actual - but to what could be true - the counterfactual. This is the science of can and can't.
Chiara Marletto, a pioneer in this field, explores the promise that this fascinating, far-reaching approach holds not only for revolutionizing how fundamental physics is formulated, but also for confronting existing technological challenges, from delivering the next generation of information-processing devices to designing AI. In each chapter, Marletto sets out how counterfactuals can solve a vexed open problem in science, and demonstrates that by contemplating the possible as well as the actual, we can break down barriers to knowledge and form a more complete and fruitful picture of the universe.
'Clear, sharp and imaginative... The Science of Can and Can't will open the doors to a dazzling set of concepts and ideas that will change deeply the way you look at the world' David Deutsch, bestselling author of The Beginning of Infinity
Theoretical physicist Marletto takes a wide-ranging look at the "counterfactual properties" of science in her lyrical yet complex debut. Modern science focuses on physical reality, she writes, but counterfactuals are "about what is possible or impossible" and consider "what could or could not be." She calls for physics to move beyond its dependence on such conditions and rules as Newton's laws of motion, argues that the "traditional conception" of physics is limiting, and urges that counterfactuals offer a more complete picture of the physical world. Marletto leads a whirlwind tour of such scientific concepts as motion and the possibility of a perpetual motion machine; thermodynamics and "the theory of the universal constructor"; and quantum computing and the possibility of a universal quantum computer that uses "all of quantum theory." References to Greek mythology, Shakespeare, chess, and Legos add life to her survey, though the dense, formal style makes some parts a challenge. Still, Marletto's love of physics shines through: "Physics is a dazzling firework display; profound, beautiful, and illuminating." Those with an interest in physics will appreciate her passion and her provocative approach.