What if…?

Conférence, Philosophie, Litérature, Histoire, Roma

Entrata: Via Liguria 20



Conférence, Philosophie, Litérature, Histoire

Entrata: Via Liguria 20

‘What if…?’ – Counterfactual Explorations and Thought Experiments

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if the Neandertal had become the dominant species, or in what ways artificial intelligence is going to transform our society? At the outset of these questions usually stands the conditional ‘what if’, proposing either alternative scenarios for the past or more or less plausible views of the future. Positing a contrary-to-fact point of departure, what-ifs enquire into the possibilities of what might have happened (if Neandertals ruled the world) or what may happen (if AI starts changing society). From this, a possibly infinite number of scenarios emerges that play through different outcomes and consequences on the basis of counterfactual reasoning.

Mental constructions of alternative realities quite naturally belong to the realm of everyday experience, but counterfactuals also play an important role in scientific and public discourse. Discussions about the nature of time, and counterfactual thinking in particular, belong to the core competencies of philosophical reflection. Social scientists use counterfactual simulations as a methodological tool to make future predictions and sketch alternative lines of development. Historians, on the other hand, explore alternative pasts as a way to better understand the impact of historical turning points. In literature and film, the pursuit of unactualized possibilities and the imagination of alternative worlds takes a central place that articulates itself in an ever-growing number of works of fiction. Finally, then, counterfactual reasoning has been employed as a powerful tool in politics putting forward alternative truths with no necessary basis in neither fact nor common sense, which bears the question: what is the role and place of counterfactuals in society and what are the implications of imagined truths for existing realities and factual claims? To discuss these and other questions, the Istituto Svizzero has invited a mixed group of researchers and writers to a cross-disciplinary dialogue.


22 May 2019 – Day 1

H10:30 Welcome Coffee
H11:00 Introduction
H11:30 Maurizio Basili (Università degli Studi Guglielmo Marconi): Fuori dal tempo: letteratura ucronica e contesto elvetico

Thought Experiments
H15:00 Ricardo Domeneck (Berlin): Conferência Internacional dos Direitos Humanos
H15:20 Julia Langkau (University of Fribourg): Thought Experiments and Fiction
H15:50 Margerita Arcangeli (HU Berlin): Imaginary Perspectives
H16:20 Discussion
H16:40 Coffee Break

Temporal Relations
H17:10 Clèa Chopard (Geneva): TBA
H17:30 Holger Brohm (HU Berlin): Preposterous Thinking
H18:00 Discussion

23 May 2019 – Day 2

Counterfactual History
H10:30 Anais Meier (Zürich): TBA
H10:50 Benjamin Von Wyl (Basel / Zürich): Kontrafaktisches Schreiben als Therapie
H11:20 Johannes Dillinger (Oxford Brooks University): What if … in Historiography: Responsibly Altered Pasts
H11:50 Discussion

Dystopian Views
H15:00 Michelle Steinbeck (Basel): TBA
H15:20 Marc Atallah (University of Lausanne): AI and Science Fiction
H15:50 Discussion
H16:10 Coffee Break

Future Prediction
H16:40 Andreco (Rome): TBA
H17:00 Giuliano Torrengo (University of Milano): Travelling Back and Forth to the Future
H17:30 Jacques Lévy (EPF Lausanne): What if ‘what if’ did not exist?
H18:00 Discussion

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