Author Archives: jduvall

A Cognitive Analysis of “The Office” Season 3: Episode 21.

In another installment of everyone’s favorite show to binge-watch, we have “Women’s Appreciation.” Phyllis(Phyllis Smith), enters the aforementioned office in duress, visibly distressed after having been flashed in the parking lot. Dwight(Rainn Wilson) decides to hunt down the “suspect”, whereas Micheal(Steve Carell) claims that the women of the office need to be more appreciated as a whole due to the ordeal.

Well-Defined Problem – “Have specific goals, clearly defined solution paths, and clear expected solutions.”, is the exact opposite of how i would describe Dwight’s execution of trying to catch the culprit, and manages to fall into the Sunk Cost Fallacy. The Sunk Cost Fallacy is the fallacy that investments justify further expenditures. Dwight attaches barbed wire to the top of an 8-foot fence, puts posters all around the office and surrounding block, and surveys the parking lot every 30 minutes to an hour to check for the flasher. However, a good example of a Well-Defined problem is a scene that happens halfway through the episode, Michael is confronted with the reality that he is in a caustic relationship. Upon this realization, and with the help of his female coworkers, he writes a list of pros and cons of remaining in this relationship, and the negatives and positives of breaking it off, with the intention of deciding upon the latter.

While Dwight is on his man hunt, he questions the rest of the office for more information of the vagrant in question. When asking Phyllis for further info, he accidentally refers to her as Phallus, a prime example of a type of error in speech: Substitution – “ One segment is replaced by an intruder. The source of the intrusion is not in the sentence.” Dwight had no intention of saying the phrase, it just happened to slip(perhaps a Freudian one). Finally, at the end of the episode Dwight notices that an eyewitness report hand drawn by the office secretary, is a very slightly altered picture of himself, displaying a very slight and acute case of prosopagnosia of the self.

Language in “The Arrival”(2016)

“It Came…From Outer Space!”

“The Arrival” is a film centered around a linguist, Louise, and an alien race that lands in 12 different locations on Earth.  She is recruited by the military to help decipher their language, which is first believed to be oral, but later determined to be centered around symbols. Throughout her interactions, Louise learns how to properly communicate with the creatures, teaching them English vocabulary, as well as learning their language and creating complex phrases with their own symbols in order to establish their true purpose for “arriving”.

Highly-Intelligent Heptapods

“The Arrival,” demonstrates many challenges when it comes to interacting with beings who speak a different language, one of those things being language competency (the capacity to which a speaker knows how the language operates). Upon first interacting with the “heptapods,” the aforementioned arrivers in the film, Louise has no prior knowledge of their language, whether that is the strange clicking or humming noise that they produce, or the symbols that appear later. Initially, the linguist didn’t even now that these creatures could produce symbols, only figuring this out once she wrote the word “HUMAN,” on a board, demonstrating her competency in her own language in hope of gaining insight into their language. Once the circular symbol was produced by the aliens, Louise then realized that there is no direct connection between the rumbling, clicking noise made by these creatures, and the black symbols that they create. In doing so, she was then able to establish a plan to increase her competency of the heptapods language. She learns to identify the intricately artistic curls and lines that vary in the symbols in order to identify phrases, which she then produces on her own to communicate back to the aliens.

Alien Syntax

In trying to communicate with these other-worldly visitors, it is discovered that the researchers will need to teach the heptapods about syntax before they are able to fully communicate with the creatures. Louise breaks down their main question “What is your purpose on Earth?” for her commanding Colonel. She explains that first, the aliens must understand what a question is, this being identified by the word “what.” She then must teach them the difference between the collective “you” and the singular “you.” The idea of the word “purpose” also implies that that these creatures are able to choose their course of action and think intelligently. The understanding of the question also implies that they will be able to respond with a “why” answer, if there is a reason for their visit. The breakdown of syntax implies that the creatures must have a wide amount of vocabulary to fully comprehend the question and provide an appropriate response. The syntax of the English question was not the only important syntax in this film. The symbols created by the aliens themselves were actually complex sentences composed of several phrases that could be pulled out and identified through the use of morphology. Once these individual morphemes and phrases were identified, along with their proper order, Louise could create her own responses to their symbols, using a screen and program to emulate their symbols. Understanding the word order allowed her to properly communicate and clarify the differences in the aliens’ language that could have led to further conflict between the species.

Arbitrariness and Language Perception

In every language there is a degree of arbitrariness that comes with defining and creating vocabulary. In this film’s case, arbitrariness becomes a huge sticking point for several of the other countries that encounter the heptapod’s ship. The aliens have come down to offer help to the humans, giving them the gift to see into the future, so Earth can then help the aliens in 3,000 years. In offering this gift, the aliens produce a symbol saying, “OFFER WEAPON.” The U.S. military is concerned about the use of the word weapon, while Louise identifies the arbitrariness behind the specific word choice. She proposes alternate meaning’s behind the word weapon, suggesting that it could mean a “tool.” Louise has had her perception of the heptapods’ language cast in a positive view, interacting with them numerous times and having nothing violent come from their interactions. The military, however, has been instructed to be on guard and monitor the heptapods as invaders. Their militaristic view changes their perception of the heptapods use of language to be more threatening, due to their job and goals.

Object Recognition in a Character with Psychosis

Really Clever Introduction Title

A broad-shouldered woman walks strongly into a cave mouth, and then descends down a lip of moderate height. The voices in her head tell her it was a bad idea, and now there’s no going back.  The dimly lit cave continues, and curves ahead of her without any remarkable features, other than a small shaft of light descending from the ceiling. As she rounds the corner, she sees a large iron door barring her path, the door in question has a strange glowing red symbol, frantically hovering in front of it, resembling the letter “M”. While staring at the glyph, the voices in her head intensifies, telling her that to open the door, she’ll have to find the “rune”, and that these “runes” are the keys to unlocking the path. As she turns to examine the previous area, and in the shaft of light, there lies a shadow in the form of the very same “M” on the door. She briefly examines the shadow, and upon noticing the same iconography, she faces the door again, the red symbols have now turned blue, hover more slowly, and move in a more uniform pattern. As our steadfast heroin approaches the door, it opens with a strong push.

Psycho-Celt

Our unharrowable heroine here is “Senua”, from a game called “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.” Attending to the rather unseemly section heading, Senua’s character is depicted with psychosis. On the offset, it seems to be a very aggressive form that manifests in Senua hearing voices in her head, the player is introduced as one of these voices, by the apparent chief voice. You control the character through her adventure, a late 8th century Scottish Celtic warrior who has traveled to “Hel” to commune with the Norse God of the Dead to return the soul of her lost lover, simple right? To complicate matters more, the game somewhat implies that all of this might just be a mental simulation, with all the physical things happening, but all of what she’s seeing is actually quite different. Let’s go back to the introduction, if we are under the belief that all of this is a hallucination, is the intro an example of Top Down, or Bottom Up processing? Go ahead, take your time, I’ve got all the time in the world.

If You’re Upside Down, is it still Top Down, and Bottom Up?

In my opinion, it would be bottom up for Senua’s character, as well as for her psychosis. For her, she will have already seen, directly or indirectly the shadow on the wall, her eyes would have noticed it, catalogued it in her mind, afterwards she would have seen the image on the door, and turned to find it after already “seeing” it. If we continue the narrative that all of this is partially in her head, then her mind might have noticed the shadow in the real world and created the glowing glyph in the hallucination for her, to make her perception of being in a magical Norse realm make sense, and to prolong Senua in her bizarre adventure. As for the player however, personally I’m going to say that it’s in favor of Top Down. The player isn’t going to notice every shadow, but seeing as how it’s so early in the game, a very deliberately placed shadow on the wall isn’t going to go unnoticed, and by being connected to light, most players are already probably assuming that it will at least be part of gameplay somehow. So, before the game even tells you it’s part of the puzzle around the corner, most have probably figured it out before rounding said corner.

Ocognize Rebjection?

There are two primary gameplay themes in Senua, Combat and Puzzles. Ironically, not much is said about the game’s overall antagonists, “The Northmen”, other than what is easily ascertained as them being “The Norsemen”, referencing the Norse invasion of the Celts. However, even though not much is directly said about them, by using the principles of object recognition, and the fact that Senua has a very severe case of psychosis, we have a somewhat better theoretical understanding of why her mind is causing such a dissonance with her vision, and with her reality.  From the start, her object recognition is already slightly askew, she was told of the Norseman, before ever actually seeing them, and described the awful things that they did to the Celtic people. Afterwards, after she traveled home, she found the body of her husband in the aftermath of a gruesome scene, a torturous ritual employed by the Norsemen. To her already damaged mental state she believes them to be monsters, and upon first seeing them, all her suspicions and assumptions became reality. She recognized them based off what she was told previously, the color of their skin, and their hunched muscular figure. She groups them in her mind very easily, since they walk in groups, and humanoids are remarkably similar in overall appearance. They’ve been described on multiple occasions to her, and since they already have a meaning that’s understood by her, she recognizes the Norsemen immediately. For her, they’ve already been described as monsters, and after they killed her husband, all it took was a first glance for her to see them as demons in her mind.

A Cognitive Approach to Examining the Movie “Scream”(1996)

SCREAM!

As Halloween is just around the corner, I think a discerning Cognitive look at the cult classic horror movie, “Scream” is exactly what this meta movie needs. Before we continue, I feel I should disclaim, firstly, spoilers for the movie “Scream” if you haven’t already seen it(It’s older than you, how have you not seen it?), and second I will not be posting any gory or disturbing imagery from the movie, so even if you’re squeamish, this is still just a movie review. As a Cognitive movie review, I will be going over how the director uses the audiences attention, perception, memory, critical thinking, creativity, and the use of language to make an already enjoyable film, even more interesting to dissect after the fact.

Scene 1: Slasher, Suspense…Sarcasm?

As the movie begins, we’re met with a scene of a girl in her late teens making popcorn in her house at night, seemingly home alone. She receives a few phone calls while going about her evening, the caller asking her questions about her, her night, and about scary movies. The voice on the end of the line sounds deep and gruff, but with a tone that implies interest and mildly flirtatious curiosity in the girl. She briefly entertains him before being spooked out by the call, and hanging up. The caller, well, calls once again, this time threatening and angry in tone, after a number of threats, he asks the girl to turn on the lights outside her house, only his inflection is momentarily overtly sarcastic. In a bizarre turn of events, he quizzes her on scary movie trivia to save the life of her boyfriend outside. He gives her an easy question to start with, but then gives her a trick question when her boyfriend’s life is actually on the line.(Fun Fact: Steve is in this movie for 24 seconds.)

At the complete end of the scene he kills her after chasing her through the whole house, but in an almost slap dash, wanton fashion, where she almost gets away, and even wounds him a few times. Now, this scene is important for a variety of reasons, as a masked killer, he has to have an identity, and for the rest of the movie, you’ll be pondering this with a bevy of other characters. A few other factors at play are: his interest in horror movies, the fact that he is athletic(at least enough to chase the girl, and apparently tie up a football player), eagle eyed viewers will catch that he is about a head taller than the victim, has a slight temper, and has at least a script or at least practiced for this, and has a knack for being theatrical. The devils in the details right?

Scene 2: Principal, Perpetrator…Piscine?

In a scene that’s one part tense, two part’s hilarious, two students are brought into the principals office for running around the school, in masks that the killer was also wearing.  The principal brings out a pair of enormous, sharp scissors and cuts up the masks, and expels the students. After exclaiming that expulsion isn’t fair punishment, the principal brandishes the scissors at both students, claiming that “ripping out their intestine’s and… exposing their heartless insides” would be more fair.

Our following scene with the principal he is wearing a separate Ghostface mask, looking at himself in the mirror. A knock is heard on his outer door, he quickly removes the mask, with a noticeably serious, almost menacingly determined look on his face and investigates. No one is at the door when he opens it, interestingly though, the Principal seems to jump every time he notices his reflection in the mirror. A second knock occurs, only when he returns for the second, the killer is hiding behind his door, and, you guessed it, kills him.

This scene is brilliant for a multitude of reasons. The principal appears to be jumpy at his own reflection and any unexpected visitors, this could imply guilt, or a fear of being caught, or perhaps both. He puts on the mask while no one is around, getting into his costume to mentally prepare for his “role”? He openly threatens two students with disembowelment with a sharp object for running around in killer costumes! He also loses his temper at them when they decide to have an attitude with him. Is his pride in his work and clever facade getting the better of him? Does he believe he is the only one capable of being the Ghostface killer?

These characteristics are suddenly mounting up against our dear principal. However, he dies the moment after you start suspecting him. Why after all this set up, is he immediately, and suddenly exeunted? It’s my belief that the director knew, or at least wanted you to be making a conscious or sub-conscious list in your mind, about the killers character. Medium Height, Medium Build, Capable but not infallible, angry but only at specific times, smart but not genius. After all these tally marks match up in your brain, he gets the axe instantly, but with it, so too does your mental list. You’re no longer looking for this list of traits in your mind anymore, because your list just died, and it died to the actual killer who is now even more enigmatic than he was before, because now your brain has forgotten what it’s looking for.