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The Science of Can and...
Chiara Marletto
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The Science of Can and Can't: A Physicist's Journey Through the Land of Counterfactuals

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  269 ratings  ·  40 reviews
From a young British scientist, a groundbreaking exploration of a radically different approach to physics

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
Unknown Binding
Published May 1st 2021 by Viking (first published 2021)
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picoas picoas
Oct 15, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Unholy Granite Marble: "The Science of Can and Can't - A Physicist’s Journey Through the Land of Counterfactuals" by Chiara Marlett

Cynic Alter-Ego: “Nice SF. So now we want to explain nature without equations of motion. I will go back to study my Aristotle book. Science fiction in academy goes on. After the multiverses we go for no equations... in addition to title "Beyond Quantum Computation"... still there no real quantum computer (a
David Wineberg
Apr 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chiara Marletto is a delight. A theoretical physicist, she has written a book that makes it stimulating, varied, exciting and real. Plus, it is a genuine, innovative gamechanger. Plus, every chapter begins with a story she has made up, because her father was a fascinating storyteller. On their daily walks, he would make up stories about anything and everything they saw along the way. And passed this talent and tradition on. And one more thing. Marletto is Italian. English is not her first langua ...more
Brian Clegg
May 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Without doubt, Chiara Marletto has achieved something remarkable here, though the nature of the topic does not make for an easy read. The book is an attempt to popularise constructor theory - a very different approach to physics, which Oxford quantum physicist David Deutsch has developed with Marletto. Somewhat oddly, the book doesn't use the term constructor theory, but rather the distinctly clumsier 'science of can and can't'.

The idea is that physics is formulated in a way that is inherently l
Ed Erwin
Mar 21, 2022 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This approach may lead to some useful discoveries someday. But I sincerely doubt it.
May 16, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Very poetic, but I don’t actually understand what the framework offers concretely. I don’t know if there is something deep here, or if it is just weaving words. Perhaps reading some of the actual papers will shed more light.

That said: strong claims require strong evidence, and I did not find that in this book.
Oct 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: focus, funnel
This book is about the general limits of the universe.
Or what can or can't be done within the universe.
AKA counterfactuals.
Traditionally, when trying to explain something using physics,
you need to start with initial conditions and the laws of motion.
This is a satisfactory method when it comes to explaining where a ball
will land, but what is the initial condition of the initial condition of the universe?
What is the initial condition of knowledge?
The author believes that the laws of motion ma
DNF at about a third of the way in, after slogging through it for more than a month. There may be something in constructor theory itself as a mathematical tool, but this kind of handwavy too-popular non-explanation is giving me serious doubts, especially when the author sees it as a panacea that will solve all the ills of kinematics-oriented modern science (?) with the aid of its magic wan-, err, I mean, quantum computers. Not to even mention the pretentious yawn-inducing writing itself.
Simon Jewell
May 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I liked this remarkable book a lot. Marletto has more than succeeded in writing a clear explanation of her ideas that is entertaining, readily accessible, informative, optimistic, exciting and fertile.

I would like to have seen a bit more context normally provided by notes, references and bibliography, particularly on the relationship to systems theory. For example, she shows how to categorize phenomena by the capabilities of the phenomena of their conditions. Flippable, copyable phenomena can ma
Rahul Banerjee
An interesting introduction to a proposed new, meta-theory of physics, the Constructor Theory. Introduced by one of the pioneers of Quantum Computing, David Deutsch, Constructor Theory aims to express the laws of physics using a set of different fundamental principles, than what are in use today. The theory adds to the existing body of debate as to what properties can be considered 'more fundamental' (e.g : Unitarity or Conservation of Quantum Information) by using the mechanisms and properties ...more
Jun 19, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Awful. I'm 2/3 of the way through (and I will finish it) but the book basically overpromises. To paraphrase Einstein, you don't really understand something if you cannot explain it to your grandmother. Little side stories are ridiculous. I get the feeling the positive reviews are from people who have not read the book or are friends of the author. ...more
May 29, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Fine but overly self important

The ideas are interesting. The delivery is a tad awkward. The tone is going for something that doesn’t work for me. Flip through it, but don’t read word for word.
Brad Dunn
Sep 14, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came across Maetto's work on counterfactuals and universal constructors a few months back and have wanted to learn a bit more about this approach to theoretical physics so I decided to give her book a shot. It's a lot more approachable than I would have thought and on the whole was great.

The idea of reasoning up from counterfactuals instead of our approach to physics today is super interesting and that's more or less what this book is about. Finding a new way of thinking of the universe with t
Tom Kenis
I have to admit, I feel like I need to read this again from the beginning. I've caught glimpses, a few tantalising hints of a promised land that's supposed to unify not just quantum physics and general relativity, but human comprehension to boot. Mine, alack, seems to have sorely fallen short here. I'll have to dust my jacket off and try again. ...more
May 24, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: phil-of-sci
It promises too much. I hope CT delivers, truly, but the only reasonable attitude here is one of healthy skepticism.

The audible narrator was flat, would recommend text version.
Feb 28, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Science of Can and Can’t proposes a reformulation of physics using counterfactuals: properties of systems that describe what is or isn’t fundamentally possible. Counterfactuals can be contrasted against dynamical laws that predict a future state given an initial set of conditions.

I am not sure if I liked Science of Can and Can’t. It isn’t clear there is a “so what” to this reformulation and on some level, the significance of the book will only be borne out in the fullness of time.

But insofa
Aug 15, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm conflicted about this one. I absolutely think it's worth reading, but it left me feeling like a bit like Alexandros, to borrow from Chiara. I never quite felt like it reached a crescendo, which I felt especially want for after the author so many times teased when things would be explored later in the book.

The argument that science is in need of a fundamentally new paradigm was well developed, and clear enough early in the book. But other than that the real meat of the ideas is a handful of
Loren Picard
Aug 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a marvellous gem of a book. I recently read a book by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie with the intriguing title "The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect." I suggest reading both books. It seems obvious to me that "the science of cause and effect" is a different way of saying "the science of can and can't." Marletto's book is very physics centric, which is its strength, and Pearl's book covers everything else. Combined, the impact is like reading Foucault--you can't unread it (an ...more
Great introductory taste of constructor theory.

It is interesting that explanations based on what is possible or not can be offered on any level of explanatory theories (reductionist or very high level ones or any in between). I ended up with an impression that for many "counterfactual" laws or principles there will be a long way down to the reductionist bottom, meaning a long stack of possibly hidden assumptions or condition included. So one will have to be very careful and rigorous when develo
Roger Williams
May 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book as much as any I have ever read on the subject, and more than most. The publisher’s blurb introduces the author as an Englishwoman, but her name, her undergraduate studies, and the childhood and other memories mentioned in her book are of Italy. Certainly her command of English and her literary gifts are those of a well educated native speaker. But I suppose that could be the work of an excellent editor. The text is beautifully articulated. Over the years since my undergradua ...more
Keane Neal-Riquier
Coming in, not as a physicist, but as someone interested in thought and patterns - this book proves to be the foundation of Marletto's stimulating experiment with understanding reality.

The concept requires considerable research to be taken as a truly concrete understanding of our physical world, but it is exciting to be at the early steps of something that may prove to be transformative in multiple domains.

It seems to provide an almost imperceptible shift in thinking patterns that can easily be
Justin Harnish
Sep 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As with the books by her mentor and now contemporary, David Deutsch, Marletto's "The Science of Can and Can't" will absolutely increase your knowledge of existence and epistemology. Marletto deftly gives an overview of Constructor Theory's key epistemological component, the counterfactual, the ability for problems in physics, biology, and philosophy to go beyond the deterministic physics that require initial conditions to solve key problems and sets a new course for the science of entropy, compu ...more
Christopher Elliott
I'm sad to say I don't think I got it. And that surprised me since I got David Deutsch's 'Beginning of Infinity' on the first read (though I get more on each read). Perhaps I had problems primed for David's solutions whereas I haven't been fundamentally confused about counterfactuals as I was about things like epistemology and the multiverse. I also feel like I got Judea Pearl's 'The Book of Why' which I feel provided more usable and material information about counterfactuals. I'm hoping that th ...more
James Giammona
Feb 06, 2022 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
While this book is pointed in a fruitful direction of reconciling information and physics, it doesn't deliver any useful or concrete insights. Also, the lack of discussion of conservation laws derived from symmetries via Noether's theorem and the lack of discussion of lots of work both in machine learning and in statistical thermodynamics working on linking information and thermodynamics makes the discussion much weaker and less grounded in what the rest of the field is working on.

Overall, I wou
Truly fascinating. An excellent introduction into a different way of considering the universe. By looking at what could possibly happen (and what couldn’t possibly happen) instead of just what is currently taking place, counterfactuals uncover links between information, knowledge and the physical world. This book seems not to be a fully rigorous exploration of counterfactuals but serves as a great introduction and an inspiration to explore further. We’ll done.
Stephen Antczak
I found this book to be very interesting and engaging. The ideas presented are worthy of serious consideration by anyone who wants to understand more about physics, psychology, and concepts like information, knowledge, etc.
Benjamin Outram
May 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting approach from an up-and-coming brilliant mind. Mind expanding, and it's rare to find a new idea under the sun. Refreshing. ...more
May 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Mind-boggling in its revolutionary simplicity. Is there a body of math around constructor theory? We will be watching to see where they go with this for decades to come.
Santosh Shetty
May 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Remarkable book. This was such a tease and mindboggling exploration of counterfactuals opening so much different vistas to think about macroscopic as well as microscopic things.
Ben Ford
May 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely sublime

A stunning dive into a different way to contemplate reality and knowledge. It feels like I’ve been given a different lens to view life through!
Jun 12, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Popular science book about how we should think about scientific theories. Similar to David Deutsch books.
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Chiara Marletto is a Research Fellow working at the Physics Department, University of Oxford. Within Wolfson, she is an active member of the Quantum Cluster and of the New Frontiers Quantum Hub.

Her research is in theoretical physics, with special emphasis on Quantum Theory of Computation, Information Theory, Thermodynamics, Condensed-Matter Physics and Quantum Biology. Some of her recent research

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