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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Counterfactual semantics and quantum physics

1Warsaw University

Citation Information: . Volume 2012, Issue 188, Pages 181–202, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2012-0013, February 2012

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This paper addresses the issue of the applicability of David Lewis's possible world semantics of counterfactual conditionals to the explication of some quantum-mechanical phenomena. Three main reasons why counterfactual semantics may be useful for this task are given. It is further argued that two possible semantic approaches to counterfactuals should be taken into account involving spatiotemporal events that satisfy requirements of special relativity. The main problem considered in the article is how to expand both approaches into full semantic systems. The first of the approaches is known to be amenable to a generalization within the Lewis-style semantics. The second one, however, poses a greater challenge, as it has been proven (Bigaj 2004) that it cannot be incorporated into a similarity-based counterfactual semantics. In this article, an alternative method of generalization for the second counterfactual semantics is developed, which goes beyond Lewis's framework based on the rigid similarity relation between possible worlds. The proposed method of evaluating counterfactuals is then put to the test using an example from the quantum theory. As a result of this test, a small correction of the method turns out to be necessary.

Keywords:: counterfactual conditionals; possible worlds; quantum mechanics; similarity relation

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