Counterfactual reasoning

Last updated: Wednesday, 10 July 2024

Imagining alternative scenarios and outcomes that did not happen, but could have had past events unfolded differently. By contemplating different versions of past events, individuals can better identify causal relationships, improving their understanding of how different factors influence outcomes.

Mentally “undoing” or modifying certain aspects of reality, then working through the implications of those changes. This involves identifying the critical points (“points of divergence”, or “jombar hinges”) where things could have taken a different path.

“Frustration” was a word some participants used to describe the gameplay experience. I often shared the sentiment. Expecting something akin to science fiction, where worlds can be built with considerable license, we instead found ourselves in a paradox. Stepping outside of history made us feel more accountable to it; we couldn’t hazard any divergence without first learning what we were diverging from. A prism refracting a line of light, this artistic process (though still rudimentary) might have greater application, helping us dwell in the complexities of causation; distrust the precision of hindsight; and locate moments in the past, when the sediment has yet to settle, that could lead us towards a decent and equitable present. — Tyler Coburn, “Counterfactuals” (2021)

Tags: epistemics