Causation is central to the way we perceive, think, and speak. But exactly in what way are causal notions embedded in our cognitive system? In this session, we take up two questions about causality in perception and language. (i) Do we actually perceive causality? When we witness an event like a collision, we perceive the spatial relations between the colliding objects, but do we perceive the causal relation? Some psychologists believe we have a special perceptual system tuned to causal interactions, whereas others believe we recognize such interactions indirectly. Here we consider whether the evidence suggests that we recognize causal events in a way that is qualitatively different from other events, and if so, whether causal perception could serve as the basis for more general causal knowledge. (ii) Does the grammar of natural languages encode reference to causation? More precisely: are there words or expressions that are part of the basic scaffolding of language (for example, prepositions, pronouns, or modal verbs) and that encode causal meaning? We will focus in particular on the case of modals and "if... would..." sentences, which seem to play an important role in our description of causal processes.
Lance Rips (Northwestern University)