The Science of Can and Can’t: A Physicist’s Journey Through the Land of Counterfactuals

Chiara Marletto. Viking, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-5255-2192-1
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. Agent: John Brockman. (May)
Reviewed on : 03/02/2021
Release date: 05/04/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 1 pages - 978-0-525-52193-8
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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