Causation, Force, and the Sense of Touch

Phillip WolffEmory University
Samuel RitterPrinceton University
Kevin HolmesUniversity of California, Berkeley

Abstract

It is widely acknowledged that causation entails more than spatial-temporal contiguity or correlation, but efforts to specify that extra component of experience have been elusive. In this paper, we argue that the representation of causal relations is based on the feeling of force as understood through the sense of touch. Grounding causation in people’s sense of touch allows us to address long-standing challenges that have been raised against force-based approaches to causation. In support of our proposal, we report a series of experiments showing that the perception of causation is associated with the notion of force, as indicated by changes in people’s sensitivity to a physical force acting against their hand. We also show that when people associate correlations with force, they view those correlations as causal. Implications for understanding the origins of causal knowledge are discussed.

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