Mental Models in Expert Physics Reasoning
CALIFORNIA UNIV BERKELEY
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We propose a relational framework for characterizing experienced physicists representations of physics problem situations and the process of constructing these representations. A representation includes a coherent set of relations among 1 a mental model of the objects in the situation, along with their relevant properties and relations, 2 a mental model of theoretical idealizations of objects, and 3 parameter histories based on mental simulations of both models. Evidence from protocols and a small experiment support a conclusion that experienced physicists processes of representing problem situations a use informal, commonsense knowledge, including envisionment of objects in the situations, and b are interactive, with mutual influences between informal knowledge and their technical, theoretical knowledge. We also describe characteristics of the mental models that represent problem situations and the process of constructing them, drawing from work by AI researchers on qualitative process models, and specifying several categories of rulers that would be needed for an implementation of the system as a simulation program.