Psychology and behaviorism in *Blade Runner 2049*

by on October 16, 2017 at 1:49 pm in Film, Science | Permalink

From my email, by Jason N. Doctor:

You provide a good perspective on Blade Runner 2049.  In addition to the biblical references and themes, I was also impressed by the psychology and philosophy of mind references:

1)  After every event where he eliminates a replicant, “K” must take a cognitive interference test similar to those used most recently by Sendhil Mullianathan and Eldar Shafir to study the effects of economic scarcity on cognition–but to test if killing a replicant heightens his emotions by perhaps putting him in a moral quandary.

2) On the door to his apartment, some graffiti reads “F*** off Skinner”.  This seems odd in its prominence.  B.F. Skinner developed, to an extreme, John Watson’s radical suggestion that behavior does not have mental states. Skinner’s ideas shutout discussions of whether or not machines could support mental states. Of course, rational economics by similar methodologic scruple ignores mental states.

3)  The movie promotes the idea that there is no computation without representation.  Ana de Armis’ character formulates mental symbols in her relationship with K and behaves in accordance with interdefined internal states (we can’t predict some of her actions directly from stimuli). We are led to believe that she qualitatively experiences real love (though we cannot know) .  In irony, one of these mental symbols involves a longing to be a “real girl” by means that are unrelated to the mind-body problem.  She wants to being taken off the network, so that she can be in one place, just as are neurophysiologic organisms.

>All in all, the movie legitimizes the notion of (hardware agnostic) mental representations and takes a fairly hard stance in opposition to behaviorist constraints on psychological explanations. So it is a critique of behavioral psychology and indirectly rational economics.

1 Hazel Meade October 16, 2017 at 2:02 pm

We watched War for the Planet of the Apes last night. Pretty good.
Woody Harrelson does Apocalypse Now in reverse, with a touch of The Great Escape and Bridge on the River Kwai.

The sister film of the year is Kong: Skull Island, which is also Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now/vietnam-war-movie, with just one giant ape. Also enjoyable.

There’s something about ape movies with Vietnam war motifs going around this year.

2 Wonks Anonymous October 16, 2017 at 2:24 pm

The references to Apocalypse Now just highlighted how much better of a movie that was. To me, it’s the worst film in the new trilogy, and I’m puzzled that so many other people think highly of it.

3 Hazel Meade October 16, 2017 at 5:16 pm

It’s a popcorn flick/guilty pleasure. Apocaplyse Now with intelligent apes is about as high art as those get.

4 John Doeford October 16, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Re #2, I’m pretty sure that “skinner” is a variant of the common epithet for replicants, “skinjob.”

5 Just Another MR Commentor October 16, 2017 at 2:24 pm

These boomer and gen-x fanboys are all delusional. I saw the movie last night after reading Tyler’s post on it, it was decent but like give me a break, its not that deep.

6 Jeff R October 16, 2017 at 4:07 pm

Kind of like how Certain People Who Shall Not Be Named tried to say that the Star Wars prequels were about how political institutions decay or something when they were really just failed action movies thrown together by a guy who had clearly lost whatever touch he’d ever had.

7 Just Another MR Commentor October 16, 2017 at 4:19 pm

“Certain People” love to over-analyse without accepting that most stuff is just crap.

8 Nigel October 16, 2017 at 5:30 pm

But are you ?

9 JSK October 17, 2017 at 3:36 am

Agreed: this was just a remake of the original, including some very direct references.

10 Pshrnk October 16, 2017 at 2:35 pm

Both

11 Alan M October 17, 2017 at 3:54 pm

Yeah I had to roll my eyes at that one. It was a graffiti slur. Reading more into it than that is pretty silly.

12 me October 16, 2017 at 3:36 pm

I do miss from the original the sense in which (dystopian future) Los Angeles was itself a character.

13 Ray Lopez October 16, 2017 at 3:56 pm

I’ve not seen either movie, but I do remember outtakes of the original where there’s a creepy female cyborg assassin who does cartwheels while trying to kill you and also that living things are so rare that even a common wild animal is coveted. A promo photo reference to an old tree held up by cables in the recent Blade Runner makes me think they have preserved at least this aspect of the original. As for deep references, like in certain cartoons where they have a simplistic narrative for kids and a deeper narrative for adults watching with their kids, I think perhaps this Blade Runner is doing the same thing, catering to the IQ 80-100 crowd (where you make your bread and butter) as well as to the 100+ IQ crowd, which is much rarer and less profitable. Kind of like what I do with my posts. Minding the moron market as a fraudster from San Diego once called it. It’s so true, you often make your money off the IQ 80-100 crowd. If they can’t get it, you’re pretty lost.

14 Hazel Meade October 16, 2017 at 5:30 pm

100 IQ is definitionally “average”, so there are actually more people in the 100+ crowd than in the 80-100 crowd.

I think what you really mean is the 90-110 crowd vs. the 130+ crowd.

15 Art Deco October 16, 2017 at 6:37 pm

People should make movies to appeal to cucks like me.

16 JSK October 17, 2017 at 3:38 am

Isn’t 100+ like 50% of the population? And probably more of the disposable income.

17 Hazel Meade October 16, 2017 at 5:15 pm

Incidentally, you would probably enjoy the Westworld television show, which deals with many of the same issues. I have not seen Blade Runner 2049, but Westworld is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen on TV.

18 Nigel October 16, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Perhaps you need to stay in more ?
🙂

19 Hazel Meade October 16, 2017 at 5:41 pm

I stay in way too much. Game of Thrones is overrated. The Knick is very underrated. Bojack Horseman is excellent. Everyone needs to watch Rick and Morty, or you’re missing out on a cultural touchstone. And Westworld is one of the most intelligent shows ever made (including the original Twin Peaks, if you’re into that sort of thing).

20 Al October 16, 2017 at 6:48 pm

> game of thrones is overrated

What? The show is brilliant. Not doubt the show has changed over time, from an excellent plot and dialogue based to a show with incredible visuals and production values.

Anyway, it is an amazing show.

21 Hazel Meade October 16, 2017 at 10:34 pm

There’s not much left of it but the major plot points, at this point. I think they ran out of material, and then discovered that their writers can’t actually write anything with out GRRM’s help. So they are just hitting the major plot points and wrapping it up as quickly as they can. It’s a shame.

22 Al October 17, 2017 at 12:22 am

Of course they can’t match GRRM. The man is/was a titan, the world he created, the way he was willing to create such epic characters and then discard them one after the other was brilliant.

Anyway, nothing wrong with slavishly following GRRM’s script and then simply closing all of the threads with terrific visuals. One of the greatest shows of all time.

23 Alistair October 17, 2017 at 9:27 am

Hazel,

All good things should come to an end, and 8 seasons is plenty to tell any story. There will be something like, what, 70 hours or so of GoT before things wrap up. Even LoTR extended editions only run to about 12. At 100 pages per hour of screen time, that’s a 7,000 page novel (!)

It’s better to end with the fans wanting more than dragging the show on to a sorry ratings collapse. If you have related stories to tell, take them to a spin-off series.

24 Alistair October 17, 2017 at 9:40 am

@ Al

I’m not so sure about GRRM’s world-building. It’s generally very good, but there’s some systemic mis-steps which give me problems.

One concern is the ecology/economy of the north feels wrong. Winterfell looks and feels marginal as habitable land with a feudal economy, but there’s not enough resources north of the wall to feed a population of any size. And how are there trees if the land is permanent snow-covered?

Another jarring point for me is the languages and names. GRRM doesn’t have the phonetic/linguistics training for this and many of the words sound artificial and not related to other words in the same language. “Westross / Essos” is a jarring “West / East”, though one might fairly argue this is just the Anglicisation of their real names (after all, the characters aren’t really supposed to be speaking “English”).

25 Hazel Meade October 17, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Anyway, GoT is fun, but I don’t find it nearly as intellectually stimulating as Westworld.

Westworld kept me constantly guessing about whether the hosts were self-aware or not. And the apparent reality that they are only somewhat self-aware, sometimes, is even more fascinating than a yes/no answer to that question. Nevermind the intricacy of the parallel plotlines separated in time along with the question of who the Man in Black is and what is Dr. Ford really up to.

26 Slocum October 16, 2017 at 7:41 pm

The Man in the High Castle is also fantastic — in my opinion, a much better, deeper Philip K Dick screen adaptation than either Blade Runner film.

27 Hazel Meade October 16, 2017 at 10:29 pm

It’s pretty good. Season 2 is much better than Season One, IMO.

28 Alistair October 17, 2017 at 9:41 am

I came for the Nazis, I stayed for the Sci-Fi mind-f**k.

29 A Truth Seeker October 16, 2017 at 7:12 pm

According to the Prophet, the Hidden must come soon.

30 Slocum October 16, 2017 at 7:37 pm

“So it is a critique of behavioral psychology…”

Well, perhaps — but isn’t that flogging a horse that’s been dead for half a century at least? But it’s an opportunity for my favorite (and only) behaviorism joke:

Q: How do behaviorists greet?

A: Hi John! You’re fine, how am i?

“…and indirectly rational economics.”

I guess I don’t see the connection. A stimulus-response driven organism with no mental states doesn’t imply rationality. It seems to me that rationality requires mental calculations that behaviorists rule out. Although, to be fair, behaviorists didn’t *really* believe they, themselves had no thoughts or internal mental states, they simply believed that it was unscientific to consider them, and that only stimuli and behaviors could be objectively observed and measured. Behaviorism was an (over) reaction to the Introspectionist Psychology of the late 19th century.

31 JosieB October 16, 2017 at 11:07 pm

Didn’t see it as that heavy. A longing for family connection in an ever more dystopic — synthetic vs organic — future. The frustration of that sentimental wish.

The predictions of the first film were a 2019 of replicants, flying cars, and on-the-ground nasty immigrant LA weren’t borne out, and so the new iteration doubled down with more sophisticated replicants, more flying cars and a an even more morally bankrupt culture at ground level. Perhaps the last resonates post-Weinstein, and the fires and gas leaks ratify the natural depradation. We’ll see.

32 Rimfax October 16, 2017 at 11:23 pm

How did they predict that Thaler would win?

33 Slugger October 17, 2017 at 8:53 am

I think that Phillip K Dick had a unique view about psychology. He proposed that “sanity” is a mutually held delusion that is largely used to keep us all in line and vulnerable to manipulation. The real Los Angeles is not a place of sunshine where the warmth of the sun is matched by the warmth of human relations. Instead, it is dark, dirty, and crowded. The warmest relations are with electronic devices not with people. Work is done in filthy workshops by slave-children who are disposable and for sale to anyone. If you resist this reality, you will be hunted down by agents that will “retire” you. Your only chance for beauty is to watch a snowflake land on your hand while the average person is living the delusion that LA is eternally warm and sunny.
Can we shed our mutual delusions and achieve a life of genuine human relations? Dick was not optimistic.

34 Alistair October 17, 2017 at 9:18 am

What do Replicatants mean for the Complacent Class? Surely Tyler should point out how the average worker in 2049 is better off due to the megacorporations…

35 Plucky October 17, 2017 at 4:01 pm

re: 2) “Skinner” on K’s door is not a reference to B.F. Skinner but slang/slur for replicants, a version of “skin job” used elsewhere

36 a person October 17, 2017 at 4:57 pm

The two choices are not necessarily disjoint. Though I do think it did not have a Skinner reference as an intention.

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