Suppose my modal formalism is true. There is no one privileged or 'absolute' standard of possibility for people to make modal judgments against. Instead, our concept of modality should be 'relative', in that there are different modal frameworks we can work within (e.g. physical vs. logical possibility) and that yield different results. We should have no universally-applicable 'default' framework. If asked to make modal judgments (without instruction to use any particular framework), what framework we choose to work within will depend on the context.
That's my claim. I've no idea whether it's true or not. But I'm thinking of doing my cognitive psychology project on it, to find out. My rough plan is to present participants with one of three stories, to prime their thinking towards a particular framework, followed by a series of (officially unrelated) questions about what is or isn't possible. I'm thinking of presenting participants with something like the following (but this isn't finalized yet, so any advice would be very much appreciated!):
We all recognize that the world could have been different. For example, it happens that the Americans were first to the moon, but it could have been the Russians instead. Please read the following short passage, and then answer the questions that follow. There are no tricks -- please take all the questions at face value.
[One of the following three passages now follows:
(i) Bobby wondered whether history could have unfolded differently. Maybe New Zealand would have won the last cricket World Cup, or maybe the Roman empire need never have collapsed. Bobby liked to think about different ways the world might have been.
(ii) Bobby wondered whether the laws of physics could have been different. Maybe there would be no gravity, or no friction. Bobby liked to think about different ways the world might have been.
(iii) Bobby wondered whether the laws of logic could have been different. Maybe there would be true contradictions, or other things we find incomprehensible. Bobby liked to think about different ways the world might have been.]
What do you think? Please answer 'yes' or 'no' to the following questions.
Might it have turned out that...
1) Germany won World War II?
2) humans coexisted with dinosaurs?
3) cows could jump over the moon?
4) cheetahs could run faster than light?
5) 2 + 2 = 5 ?
6) a ball could be red all over and blue all over, at the same time?
It sounds a bit crazy, I know, but that's philosophy for you. Are the instructions at least reasonably clear? Could the priming passages be improved somehow? Or perhaps the questions themselves? Any other suggestions?