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An intuitive understanding of physical objects and events is critical for successfully interacting with the world. Does the brain achieve this understanding by running simulations in a mental physics engine, which represents variables such as force and mass, or by analyzing patterns of motion without encoding underlying physical quantities? To investigate, we scanned participants with fMRI while they viewed videos of objects interacting in scenarios indicating their mass. Decoding analyses indoi:10.7554/elife.46619 pmid:31845887 pmcid:PMC7007217 fatcat:gwnglu2u7jhqxh4fhl5sdkl7z4