A luminous guide to how the radical new science of counterfactuals can reveal that the scope of the universe is greater, and more beautiful, than we ever imagined
There is a vast class of things that science has so far almost entirely neglected. They are central to the understanding of physical reality both at an everyday level and at the level of the most fundamental phenomena in physics, yet have traditionally been assumed to be impossible to incorporate into fundamental scientific explanations. They are facts not about what is (the actual) but about what could be (counterfactuals).
According to physicist Chiara Marletto, laws about things being possible or impossible may generate an alternative way of providing explanations. This fascinating, far-reaching approach holds promise for revolutionizing the way fundamental physics is formulated and for providing essential tools to face existing technological challenges - from delivering the next generation of information-processing devices beyond the universal quantum computer to designing AIs.
Each chapter in the book delineates how an existing vexed open problem in science can be solved by this radically different approach and it is augmented by short fictional stories that explicate the main point of the chapter. As Marletto demonstrates, contemplating what is possible can give us a more complete and hopeful picture of the physical world.
“Marletto's call to probe counterfactuals is novel and interesting.... Replete with stories from classical Greek mythology and examples of ideas drawn from biology and physics, The Science of Can and Can't is worth delving into.” (Wall Street Journal)
“[A] revolutionary recasting of physics.... Marletto’s contributions to ‘constructor theory’ reconcile what we think of as physical laws with the open-ended possibilities thrown up by biology and information theory. It is a paradigm that, for all its rigor, re-enchants the world and enriches our place in it.” (New Scientist)
“[A] cerebral yet intellectually satisfying journey with a simple description of the two kinds of counterfactuals in physics.... Marletto’s style resembles a frank conversation with the reader. Sophisticated concepts in physics, like information and knowledge, are explained using clear analogies to everyday life.” (Booklist)
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- Dirk Dombrowski
best contemporary science book
this is one of the best contemporary science books I have ever gets my brain on... mind dazzling surely sometimes, and worth every contained thought to deal with...
Most enjoyably and challenging
I enjoyed the book very much, though parts of it, I didn’t understand in my first listening.
Christa Marletto’s affinity to David Deutsch was apparent to me, having read ‘The beginning of infinity’.
I think, I’ll get the book in print to reread chapters in the hope that I’ll comprehend the passages and concepts which eluded me.
If this program or approach of formulating the dynamic laws of physics in statements about factual and counter-factual, a science of can and can’t, becomes the conventional way of physics, that would be pretty wild!