Limits on simulation approaches in intuitive physics

Ethan Ludwin-Peery, Neil Bramley, Ernest Davis, Todd M. Gureckis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A popular explanation of the human ability for physical reasoning is that it depends on a sophisticated ability to perform mental simulations. According to this perspective, physical reasoning problems are approached by repeatedly simulating relevant aspects of a scenario, with noise, and making judgments based on aggregation over these simulations. In this paper, we describe three core tenets of simulation approaches, theoretical commitments that must be present in order for a simulation approach to be viable. The identification of these tenets threatens the plausibility of simulation as a theory of physical reasoning, because they appear to be incompatible with what we know about cognition more generally. To investigate this apparent contradiction, we describe three experiments involving simple physical judgments and predictions, and argue their results challenge these core predictions of theories of mental simulation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101396
JournalCognitive Psychology
Early online date16 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • reasoning
  • inference
  • intuitive physics
  • commonsese reasoning
  • prediction
  • mental simultion
  • conjunction fallacy


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