Physical problem solving: Joint planning with symbolic, geometric, and dynamic constraints


We present a new task investigating how people interact with and make judgments about towers of blocks. In Experiment~1, participants in the lab solved problems in which they had to re-configure three blocks from an initial to a final configuration. We recorded whether they used one hand or two hands to do so. In Experiment~2, we asked participants online to judge whether they think the person in the lab used one or two hands. We found a close correspondence between participants' actions in the lab, and the mental simulations of participants online. To explain participants' actions and mental simulations, we develop a model that plans over a symbolic representation of the situation, executes the plan using a geometric solver, and checks the plan's feasibility by taking into account the physical constraints of the scene. Our model explains participants' actions and judgments to a high degree of quantitative accuracy.

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