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The Launching Effect and Metacognition

Back to the question I started with ...
Consider causal interactions. Where do they fit in? Are they perceptually experienced in whatever sense the shape and motions of things are?

perceptual process vs perceptual experience

What if anything do the findings tell us about phenomenology?

Causal Object Index Conjecture:

Effects associated with the ‘perception of causation’are consequences of errors (or error-like patterns) in the assignments of object indexes andtheir phenomenal effects.
What, if any, experiential effects do these errors have?

feeling of surprise

There is a feeling of surprise which has features characteristic metacognitive feelings.

‘the intensity of felt surprise is [...] influenced by [...]
the degree of the event’s interference with ongoing mental activity’

Reisenzein et al, 2000 p. 271; cf. Touroutoglou & Efklides, 2010

In particular,
‘the intensity of felt surprise is not only influenced by the unexpectedness of the surprising event, but also by the degree of the event’s interference with ongoing mental activity, [...] the effect of unexpectedness on surprise is [...] partly mediated by mental interference’ \citep[p.~271]{reisenzein2000subjective}
That is, the feeling of surprise is a sensational consequence of mental interference. (This can be tested by increasing cognitive load: this intensifies feelings of surprise without, of course, making the events themselves more suprirsing. But see \citep{reisenzein:2017_cognitiveevolutionary} for an alternative interpretation of such findings.)
So whereas the feelings of agency and familiarity are both consequences of unexpected fluency of processing, the feeling of surprise is supposed to be the opposite: it is a consequence of unexpected interference in processes.
\footnote{% An alterantive is proposed by \citet[p.~79]{foster:2015_whya}: ‘the MEB theory of surprise posits that: Experienced surprise is a metacognitive assessment of the cognitive work carried out to explain an outcome. Very surprising events are those that are difficult to explain, while less surprising events are those which are easier to explain.’ \citet{foster:2015_whya} is about reactions to reading about something unexpected, whereas \citet{reisenzein2000subjective} measures how people experience unexpected events (changes to stimuli while solving a problem). The latter is much closer to what I’m after. }

object index assignment error

metacognitive feeling of surprise


learnt association

judgement of causality

(And disposition to judge causes people to say they see causings.)

Recall this argument ...

Consider an encounter with three two-object movements where the delays between movements are 50, 100 and 150ms.

(1) The phemomenal difference between the first two encounters is larger than the phenomenal difference between the second two.

(2) This difference in differences is a fact in need of explanation.

(3) The fact cannot be explained by perceptual experience of objects or their motion.

(4) The best explanation for (1) is that we perceptually experience causal interactions.

The research on object experiences suggests this is false. The causes are causal, but the experiences is of objects. Or rather, of an interruption to the way objects are perceived.
The launching effect is all about how motion is processed perceptually, so it is natural to suppose that the phenomenology reflects this.
Michotte went to great lengths to argue that the experience of one object having another’s movement amounted to experiencing causation (‘ampliation of the movement’), but this appears unjustified.


In conclusion, ...

Can humans perceive causal interactions?

Causal Object Index Conjecture:

Effects associated with the ‘perception of causation’ are consequences of errors (or error-like patterns) in the assignments of object indexes and their phenomenal effects.

object index assignment error

metacognitive feeling of surprise


learnt association

judgement of causality

Working hypothesis: Causal interactions are detected, or otherwise treated specially, by perceptual processes involved in segmenting and tracking objects.
The perceptual system responsible for identifying objects must also concern itself with certain kinds of causal interaction in order to reconcile conflicting cues to object identity.
In slightly more detail: one function of our perceptual systems is to identify and track objects; this is done by means of various cues; sometimes the visual system is faced with conflicting cues to object identity which need to be resolved in order to arrive at a satisfactory interpretation; when certain types of causal interaction occur there is a conflict among cues to object identity; these conflicts must be treated differently from other conflicts because they do not indicate failures of object identification and so do not require resolution or further perceptual processing. So object perception depends on sensitivity to certain types of causal interaction and this is why the launching effect occurs.
This is unexpected insofar as perception is often supposed to be limited to features of the world less abstract that causal interactions. Indeed, the notion that perceptual processes represent three-dimensional objects rather than mere surfaces was at one time controversial. The research we have reviewed shows that perceptual processes represent not only three-dimensional but properly physical objects, that is, objects capable of causally interacting with each other.
Conjecture: These detections trigger metacognitive feelings, which subjects have learnt to interpret as impressions of causation.