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Reconciling intuitive and Newtonian physics

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr. Cristina Savin.

People have strong intuitions about the masses of objects and the causal forces that they exert upon one another when they collide. These intuitions appear to deviate from Newtonian physics, leading researchers to conclude that people use a set of heuristics to make judgments about collisions. However, people’s judgments about mass are indeed consistent with Newtonian physics, provided uncertainty about the velocities of the objects is take into account. The resulting rational model of intuitive dynamics easily extends to accommodate other aspects of people’s inferences about physical causation, such as judgments of whether one object caused another to move. I argue that intuition and physics need not be divorced, and that a simple psychological process – stochastically approximating Bayesian inference by recalling previous collisions – can bring them together. This is one of several routes in which process models can be derived as approximations to rational models.

This talk is part of the Computational Neuroscience series.

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