Counterfactual thinking in physics

Michael Curt Elwenspoek

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    Abstract

    Counterfactual thinking plays a key role in research in physics and, I believe, in research in all natural sciences. In this contribution I will describe a few examples of counterfactual thinking, how it is used, the power of this method of inquiry, and the types of results that can be achieved. A brief account of the way physicists carry out research will be given and three main types of questions will be identified. Two of them will be used to illustrate the value of counterfactual thinking, one example regarding astronomy, and the other example dealing with electromagnetic forces. The latter might be quite tough for non-physicists. The last, most extended, part of this paper gives an analysis of counterfactual situations: what would the world look like if the constants of nature had different values. This discussion leads to the conclusion that slight changes of these numbers leads to uninhabitable worlds.
    Original languageUndefined
    Title of host publicationCounterfactual Thinking - Counterfactual Writing
    EditorsDorothee Birke, Michael Butter, Tilmann Köppe
    Place of PublicationBerlin, Germany
    PublisherDe Gruyter
    Pages62-80
    Number of pages19
    ISBN (Print)978-3-11-026866-9
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011

    Publication series

    NameLinguae & Litterae
    PublisherDe Gruyter
    Number12
    Volume12

    Keywords

    • EWI-22445
    • METIS-289762
    • IR-83396

    Cite this

    Elwenspoek, M. C. (2011). Counterfactual thinking in physics. In D. Birke, M. Butter, & T. Köppe (Eds.), Counterfactual Thinking - Counterfactual Writing (pp. 62-80). (Linguae & Litterae; Vol. 12, No. 12). Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110268669.62