Science fiction films as gedanken experiments

Mircea Valeriu DEACA


The paper investigates some features of the science fiction film genre, as seen from a cognitive perspective. Starting from the theoretical framework of Lawrence Barsalou, we consider the concept of SF film to be a radial category that encompasses a wide array of particular instantiations clustered around several generic clusters. The definition of the genre is encyclopedic, and thus it does not require a sufficient and necessary set of distinctive features.

During film experience, the audience will categorize visual elements composing the diegetic setting in a bottom up fashion. These elements are functional bundles and form a repertoire. They evoke a representation that includes properties, relations, rules, behavior of objects, agents, settings and a wide variety of internal states such as interoceptions and mentalizing. This representation is a background situated conceptualization. This background situation is apprehended in a top down manner as an instantiation of the SF abstract concept, a whole situation category. The overall conception is a familiar landscape that has a more schematic and abstract description, a descriptive system, and comprises a collection of different situated conceptualizations.

Conceptually, SF is understood as a thought experiment based on the ‘what if’ speech act scenario performed by an explicit / implicit narrator. The conceptual description of the counterfactual proposition contains a comparison between an actual situation (the natural world conception) and an alien one (the proposed new situation or event).

Keywords: cognition, film analysis, science fiction, situated conceptualization, descriptive system, genre

DOI: 10.24193/ekphrasis.17.7