Version: v2, Published online: 2017
Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/memory/v-2
Memory is central to every way in which we deal with things. One might subsume memory under the category of intellect, since it is our capacity to retain what we sense, enjoy and suffer, and thus to become knowing in our perception and other activities. As intelligent retention, memory cannot be distinguished from our acquisition of skills, habits and customs – our capabilities both for prudence and for deliberate risk. As retention, memory is a vital condition of the formation of language.
Amnesia illustrates dramatically the difference between memory as retention of language and skills, and memory as the power to recollect and to recognize specific events and situations. In amnesia we lose, not our general power of retention, but rather our recall of facts – the prior events of our life, and our power to recognize people and places. Amnesiacs recognize kinds of things. They may know it is a wristwatch they are wearing, while unable to recognize it as their own.
This recall of events and facts that enables us to recognize things as our own, is more than just the ability to give correctly an account of them. One might accurately describe some part of one’s past inadvertently, or after hypnosis, or by relying on incidental information. Thus, present research on memory both as retention and as recall of specific episodes, attempts to describe the connection which persists between experience and recall. Neurological or computer models of such a connection owe something to traditional notions of a memory trace, but emphasize also the re-tracing of original memories by later experience and episodes of recall.
Historically, recollection has often been thought of as a mode of perceiving the past. Such an idea lends an exaggerated status to the role of imagery, which is but one member of a family of recollective activities that includes reliving, remembering, reminiscing and mulling over what has happened. It may be not in having imagery but in miming someone’s behaviour that one relives an event. Also, like imagery, what we feel about the past may seem integral to recollection. A sense of being brought close to the past arises particularly when events that involve our feelings are concerned. Yet we may also recollect an event, vividly and accurately, while feeling clinically detached from it, devoid of imagery.
How a past event or situation remains connected with subsequent recollection has become a principal theoretical question about memory. It is argued that it is because of what we did or experienced that we recollect it. Otherwise, we are only imagining it or relying upon ancillary information. Neurological or computer models of such a connection owe something to traditional notions of a memory trace, but emphasize also the re-tracing of original memories by later experience and episodes of recall. Some argue that our very idea of memory is that of the retention of a structural analogue of what we do recall of them. Such an idea is not of some perfect harmony between what we remember and our recollection of it. Rather, it is suggested, only to the extent that we retain a structural analogue of some aspect of an event or situation do we remember, rather than imagine or infer it.
Deutscher, Max. Memory, 2017, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V020-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/memory/v-2.
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