In academic writing it is often necessary to make claims about or describe a situation that is not currently real, unlikely in the future or didn't happen in the past. Writers sometimes need to speculate by asking ""What if ..."". This kind of meaning is often expressed through conditional sentences, using 'if' or 'unless'.
Hypothetical present or future: The past tense is often used in the 'if' clause and would in the main clause.
A creature that hunts by daylight would waste its energy if it rushed around in the night when its prey was hiding in a hole. [present situation]
In 1943 the British government was aware that, unless rules were laid down in advance, the United States would use its enormous wealth … to drive Britain and other countries off the international air routes. [future situation]
Hypothetical past: The past perfect and would have are used to write about hypothetical events in the past.
One wonders how we would have lived if the car had not been invented."