"The whole world is a product of Cognition... ...not just the Metaverse. It can be freely re-made... The same goes for you, and everyone else. Remember... There's no such thing as the "real" world. What each person sees and feels-- Those are what shape reality. This is what gives the world infinite potential."
Cognition (認知存在, Ninchi sonzai)? is a concept in Persona 5 that is an important theme in the game, and can apply to people, locations and objects. Similar existences are hinted at earlier in the Persona series.
Cognition refers to the concept of human perceiving the world and viewing what they see as reality. When enough humans collectively perceive something that concept becomes "real," influencing both the world and themselves. This concept is strongly hinted to be related to previous situations seen in Persona games.
It also refers to when a person is interpreted by other people or society, given form based on those perceptions. The apparent appearance may be identical, but the personality or the physical capabilities can be vastly different than the original. A cognition is not to be confused with a Shadow Self, though one's Shadow Self can also take on properties based on other people's interpretation of the person.
A precursor to cognition concept is introduced in the Persona 2 duology, where several entities are created seemingly from nothing by the power of widespread rumors about them, such as the entirety of the Last Battalion. This includes "false" versions of existing people, such as the ghost of Akinari Kashihara in the clock tower of Seven Sisters High School and the ghost of the (still living) Maya Amano encountered in the caves of Mt. Iwato.
The party's own Shadow Selves are likewise "created" through rumors spread about the party by the Masked Circle, though these copies are shown to be genuine reflections of their counterparts.
The idea of rumors becoming reality is itself a reflection of the power of Cognition, where enough people believing something will make it real.
In Persona 4, the Shadow Selves of the main cast likewise take on elements of cognition, with their appearances and mannerisms being exaggerated or distorted based not on the person's own repressed traits, but how other people watching the Midnight Channel interpret them. The TV World is also strongly implied to be the product of Inaba's Cognition as well.
The Palaces and the Metaverse are the product of the cognition of individuals and society, with those reflecting how they perceive the world. Yaldabaoth controls society from the shadows using the masses' cognition in Mementos. Once he sets his plans in motion he merges Mementos with reality, using the cognition of the public to deny the existence of the Phantom Thieves of Hearts through the Phan-site's Poll "Do You Believe In the Phantom Thieves?" The masses' cognition begins to erase them once they collectively vote no until the protagonist faces Yaldabaoth in the Velvet Room and Yaldabaoth allows them to remain in existence for his own amusement. The masses' cognition is later used against Yaldabaoth in the final battle, where their cheers heal and protect the Thieves from the Rays of Control as Satanael kills him with the combined might of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Morgana is a special cognition formed as a last ditch effort to lead the Trickster on his journey to stop Yaldabaoth. With Yaldabaoth's defeat, Morgana fades away with the Metaverse. However, Morgana manages to revive back in his normal cat form and still retains his ability to talk to the Phantom Thieves likely as a result of them keeping him in their cognitions.
Cognition appear in the Palaces of their respective hosts. They are the embodiment of what the hosts perceive them in reality. A cognitive existence can be "killed" in the Palace with no consequence to its origin in reality, but can appear again if its creator desires it like with the case of cognitive Ann. For the most part, cognitions are passive and do nothing when they encounter the Phantom Thieves. However, several cognitions have attacked the Phantom Thieves during their Palace heists.
- Kamoshida's Palace:
- Madarame's Palace:
- Portraits of Ichiryusai Madarame's disciples: Madarame's profitable and expendable artistic sources of his success.
- Guests: The devoted fanbase to Madarame's stolen glory.
- Kaneshiro's Palace:
- ATM humans: Cash dispensers for Junya Kaneshiro's own greed.
- Futaba's Palace:
- Okumura's Palace:
- Niijima's Palace
- Various casino patrons: The congnition of how Sae sees those who enter the courthouse. They are ignorant of their losses and the problems around them.
- Phantom Thief Joker: A cognitive replica of the protagonist used to trick Akechi into assassinating a fake.
- Cognitive Goro Akechi: Mentioned only. While the protagonist was in custody, Makoto ambushed and hid this cognitive replica in order to prevent the real Akechi from potentially encountering a doppelgänger and realizing he was in the Metaverse.
- Shido's Palace:
- Five Nobles: Four of Masayoshi Shido's most powerful, wealthy, and/or loyal allies in his conquest. All of them are so similar to their real selves that they have fused with the actual Shadow Selves of the people they represent.
- Cognitive Goro Akechi: Shido's obedient and disposable puppet and hitman in the Metaverse.
- Ship passengers: The wealthy and powerful people Shido personally knows and actually cares about. It's remarked several times that they seem almost real rather than automatons.
- The concept of Cognition and Morgana's speech after the final battle strongly suggest Cognition is Persona's equivalent to Observation.
- According to Futaba, there was a cognition of Goro Akechi in Niijima's Palace. While Sae and Goro interacted, the others made sure to kidnap the cognitive Akechi to keep him from being seen by Sae or worse, by Akechi himself.