"Another significant counterfactual property of physical sys­tems, central to thermodynamics, is that a steam engine is possible. A steam engine is a device that transforms energy of one sort into energy of a different sort, and it can perform useful tasks, such as moving a piston, without ever violating that principle of conserva­tion of energy. Actual steam engines (those that have been built so far) are factual properties of our universe. The possibility of build­ing a steam engine, which existed long before the first one was actually built, is a counterfactual.

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The Science of Can and Can't

The Science of Can and Can't

by Chiara Marletto

MORE IDEAS FROM THE BOOK

Things that have not happened -- but could happen -- are the things that constitute the world of counterfactuals, a neglected area of scientific theory.

A luminous guide to how the radical new science of counterfactuals can reveal the full scope of our universe. There is a vast class of properties, which science has so far neglected, that 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.

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