The Relevance of Alternative Possibilities throughout Cognition


Research in a number of different fields has independently argued for the importance of providing a place for modality—that is, some way of representing alternative possibilities that could have happened, but actually did not (e.g., Kratzer, 2012; Lewis, 1973; Pearl, 2000). In each of these cases, the key insight has been that people’s understanding of the things that occur is shaped in some central way by their understanding of these alternative possibilities. Work throughout these fields has emphasized that people do not treat all alternative possibilities equally. Instead, they regard certain possibilities as relevant, while treating others as irrelevant (Portner, 2009; Roese, 1997). Within this research, one consistent theme has been that norms (statistical, moral, conventional, etc.) influence how these alternative possibilities are represented.

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