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On imagining what is true (and what is false)

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How do people imagine the possibilities in which an assertion would be true and the possibilities in which it would be false? We argue that the mental representation of the meanings of connectives, such as "and", "or", and "if", specify how to construct the true possibilities for simple assertions containing just a single connective. It follows that the false possibilities are constructed by inference from the true possibilities. We report converging evidence supporting this account from four experiments in which the participants had to list the true and the false possibilities for various sorts of assertion. Their systematic errors, response times, and think-aloud protocols corroborated the theory's predictions. Not even true possibilities are immediately available for complex assertions containing two or more different connectives. The task of listing the true possibilities then becomes difficult, and the task of listing the false possibilities almost impossible.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck, NJ, USA 2: Princeton University, NJ, USA

Publication date: January 1, 2002


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