Memory and Its Models
Young (J.Z.)
Source: Harris - Scientific Models and Man
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. For the whole of recorded human history until quite recently views of man have dominated scientific models of memory — rather than the reverse. The concept that man is composed of two distinct parts, body and mind, has imposed its restrictive limitations on all thinking about memory.
  2. It is ironical that, if the theory I shall propose is right, this concept of the mind is the result of the presence of a particular type of model actually in human brains.
  3. From early times there have of course been attempts to speak about memory by comparison with physical processes. Plato makes Socrates use the famous metaphor of a wax tablet which 'we hold to our perceptions or thoughts so that it receives the impression of them as from the seal of a ring and that we remember and know what is imprinted as long as the impression lasts'. I need not elaborate the confusions that arise from this dualistic view. Anyhow Plato made Socrates call it a 'waxen figment'.
  4. We may give it the credit, however, that on its physical side it contains the essence of one of the two types of hypothesis about memory that persist until today, namely that of a static record.
  5. The other type of view was already expressed by Aristotle, that memory is due not to a static trace but to a continuously maintained activity of the pneuma passing in the blood between the sense organs and the heart, which is why we still 'learn by heart'. These partially physiological views, like those of nearly all writers since, depend on the assumption of a transfer from a non-physical entity to a physical one.
  6. […]


Herbert Spencer Lecture

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