Naïve physics

Naïve physics or folk physics is the untrained human perception of basic physical phenomena. In the field of artificial intelligence the study of naïve physics is a part of the effort to formalize the common knowledge of human beings.

Many ideas of folk physics are simplifications, misunderstandings, or misperceptions of well understood phenomena, incapable of giving useful predictions of detailed experiments, or simply are contradicted by more thorough observations. They may sometimes be true, be true in certain limited cases, be true as a good first approximation to a more complex effect, or predict the same effect but misunderstand the underlying mechanism.


Some examples are:

  • What goes up must come down.
  • A dropped object falls straight down.
  • A vacuum sucks things towards it.
  • Centrifugal force throws rotating things outwards.
  • An object is either at rest or moving, in an absolute sense.
  • Two events are simultaneous or they are not.

The ideas that the world is flat, and that the sun orbits the Earth (the geocentric model), were also, until about 2000 to 500 years ago respectively, part of mankind's commonsense understanding of the world.

These and similar ideas, in some cases too obvious for anyone to think of questioning them, were the basis for the first work in formulating and systematizing physics, e.g., by Aristotle and the medieval scholastics. In the modern science of physics, they were gradually contradicted by the work of Galileo, Newton and others. The ideas of absolute motion and absolute simultaneity survived until 1905, when they were contradicted by the special theory of relativity.

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