Understanding "why": The role of causality in cognition

Tobias Gerstenberg

(Stanford University)

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Date: April 8, 2019


Humans have a remarkable ability to figure out what happened and why. In this talk, I will shed light on this ability from multiple angles. I will present a computational framework for modeling causal explanations in terms of counterfactual simulations, and several lines of experiments testing this framework in the domain of intuitive physics. The model predicts people’s causal judgments about a variety of physical scenes, including dynamic collision events, complex situations that involve multiple causes, omissions as causes, and causal responsibility for a system’s stability. It also captures the cognitive processes underlying these judgments as revealed by spontaneous eye-movements. More recently, we have applied our computational framework to explain multi-sensory integration. I will show how people’s inferences about what happened are well-accounted for by a model that integrates visual and auditory evidence through running hypothetical physical simulations.

Further Information:

Curriculum vitae

Related articles

[1] Gerstenberg, T., Peterson, M. F., Goodman, N. D., Lagnado, D. A., & Tenenbaum, J. B. (2017). Eye-tracking causality. Psychological science28(12), 1731-1744.

[2] Gerstenberg, T., Siegel, M.H., and Tenenbaum, J.B. (2018). What happened? Reconstructing the past from vision and sound. Proceedings of the 40th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.

Created: Friday, April 12th, 2019