Google Play icon

Discovery of the Brain‘s ‘Physics Engine” could Lead to Better Robot Design

Share
Posted August 12, 2016

Whenever we see interactions between physical objects in the world, we intuitively make predictions of the possible outcome, even if we’re not consciously aware that we’re doing it.

Faced with a physics problem, certain brain areas, collectively called the brain’s ‘physics engine’, spring to action even without any conscious effort on our part. Image courtesy of Jason Fischer / JHU.

Faced with a physics problem, certain brain areas, collectively called the brain’s ‘physics engine’, spring to action even without any conscious effort on our part. Image courtesy of Jason Fischer / JHU.

Interestingly, however, our predictions of the future in this particular sense have less to do with vision and more to do with the brain’s “physics engine”, reports a team of US researchers, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We run physics simulations all the time to prepare us for when we need to act in the world,” explains lead author Jason Fischer, a psychologist at John’s Hopkins University. “It is among the most important aspects of cognition for survival. But there has been almost no work done to identify and study the brain regions involved in this capability.”

To see which parts of the brain light up when faced with a physics puzzle, the research team devised three separate experiments.

First, 12 participants were asked to watch videos depicting towers of coloured blocks – something akin to a mix of Lego and Jenga – and predict how they will fall when toppled. As a control, the participants were also asked to describe the colour of the blocks they were seeing.

Questions relating to the first task were found to kick off a specific neural network in the frontal and parietal cortices, which overlaps with parts of our brain responsible for action planning and tool use. Questions about colour, on the other hand, engaged only the regions responsible for sight.

In the second experiment, participants had to watch a video of dots bouncing around on a screen and try to predict the next movement. Surely enough, the same network was activated.

Finally, brain activity was recorded while participants watched movie clips, some of which contained physical objects interacting in complex ways. Whenever such an interaction occurred on the screen, the “physics engine” revved up, suggesting it’s mostly automatic, requiring little to no conscious effort.

“The brain activity reflected the amount of physical content in a movie, even if people weren’t consciously paying attention to it, “Fischer explained. “This suggest that we are making physical inferences all the time, even when we’re not even thinking about it.”

The authors contend that better understanding of how our brains deal with physics could lead to more advanced robotics somewhere down the road.

Source: cosmosmagazine.com.

Featured news from related categories:

Technology Org App
Google Play icon
85,505 science & technology articles

Most Popular Articles

  1. New treatment may reverse celiac disease (October 22, 2019)
  2. The World's Energy Storage Powerhouse (November 1, 2019)
  3. "Helical Engine" Proposed by NASA Engineer could Reach 99% the Speed of Light. But could it, really? (October 17, 2019)
  4. Plastic waste may be headed for the microwave (October 18, 2019)
  5. Universe is a Sphere and Not Flat After All According to a New Research (November 7, 2019)

Follow us

Facebook   Twitter   Pinterest   Tumblr   RSS   Newsletter via Email