- In this thesis I present an in depth analysis of a mental phenomenon widely neglected in current philosophical discussions: personal memories. Personal memory is the general term I use throughout this thesis to refer in a broad sense to all kinds of memories of our personal past. It is true that this broad notion includes memories that, according to this analysis, will prove to be very different, like the memory of the place where I left the keys yesterday night when I arrived home, the memory of the last wonderful trip to the beach, or the memory of the physical appearance of my dead father. Nonetheless, the indeterminacy of the term personal memory does not constitute a problem because it is precisely the aim of this thesis to analyse and determine with more precision the different memory phenomena that are at first sight united in referring to or including the rememberer in a way that is completely absent from the memory knowledge that we have about impersonal facts of the world. From this commonality arose the choice of the term personal memories, which was also guided by the intention of avoiding terminology used in the field that already has a strong or well-established connotation, such as episodic memory and autobiographical memory.
- The analysis of personal memories that I undertake here constitutes a philosophical analysis. But it has been largely inspired by memory theories and memory concepts coming from cognitive science. So my approach is very interdisciplinary and many arguments are based on the current state of the art of scientific research. I explicitly chose this methodology because I firmly believe that nowadays philosophical debates about the mind are not fruitful if they ignore the research done in other academic fields about the same phenomenon. On the other hand, this eclecticism is also reflected in the kind of philosophy as well as philosophers that I mention and discuss: analytical philosophy, phenomenology, and some unclassified philosophers who have been widely forgotten parade along this thesis. At the origin of this approach there is also a strong belief in the importance of bringing together different philosophical traditions and recovering ideas consigned to oblivion, especially these days where the Anglo-Saxon philosophical way of thinking prevails all around the world.
- The thesis is divided into two parts. The first part presents a general framework to better understand what personal memories are, how we access our personal past and what we access about our personal past.
- Chapter 1 introduces traditional theories of memory. First, I present the direct realist theories of memory in all their versions: naïve direct realism, presentations, epistemological direct realism and the relational account of memory, as well as some of the objections they cannot account for. I conclude that none of the versions of direct realism can successfully respond to these problems mainly because they omit all reference to the subject’s mental activity and are incompatible with the current state of the art in cognitive science. Second, I introduce representationalism in its naïve version and in its sophisticated version. If the naïve version also presents insurmountable problems, the sophisticated version that I defend, which is mainly due to Russell and especially Broad, seems to propose an account that can satisfactorily face the possible objections, especially because it is compatible with a naturalistic and scientific explanation of memory. This particular representationalist account of memory is based on the forgotten distinction between content, intentional object and ontological object of our memories, a distinction that it shows to be useful to better explain personal memory phenomena.
- Once this distinction is in place, the next two chapters explore the possible contents of personal memories (chapter 2), and their possible intentional objects (chapter 3). At the beginning of Chapter 2 I take a more historical approach and explain what has been historically considered to be the content of our personal memories. If mental images, that is, picture-like representations, were thought to be the content of memories mostly until the beginning of the 20th century, with the rise of behaviorism and then cognitivism, this privileged role was taken over by propositions. Nonetheless, as I try to show in this chapter, the defence of the idea that there is only one kind of content of personal memory —images or propositions—seems to respond more to certain intellectual traditions than to a deep inquiry into the nature of our personal memory experiences. Current and scientific studies of personal memories point to a multimodal and heterogeneous nature of memory contents: visual imagery, spatial imagery, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile imageries, language, emotion, each conveying a particular kind of information in personal memory, and each differing in neural bases as well as phenomenal and behavioral properties. I pay particular attention to David Rubin’s model of personal memory and defend the idea that all non-linguistic content should be better considered as non-conceptual. At the end of the chapter, I explore two kinds of possible contents of personal memories that are often neglected: embodied content and external content. In what concerns embodied content, I defend the idea that certain bodily movements that are cases of off-line embodied cognition are also examples of embodied memories. On the other hand, photographs and other kinds of records (audio, video and written records) also deserve to be considered as possible contents of our personal memories even though they are fully external and have an existence independent of the rememberer. And this is because of their nature: they are not only icons but also unmediated indexes of our personal past experiences.
- Chapter 3 deals with the intentional objects that these heterogeneous contents allow us to remember. Because events are the kind of intentional object that has received most of the attention in the literature in philosophy as well as in cognitive science, I spend most of the chapter on their analysis. I first examine the philosophical discussion about the possibility of remembering events by themselves or just remembering facts about those past events. While philosophical discussions do not seem to provide a satisfactory resolution to this debate, psychological conceptualizations of the way in which we remember past events do, and also present a better account of the complexity that characterizes the past events that we can remember. These psychological conceptualizations correspond to the notion of episodic memory developed by Endel Tulving in its two versions, the contextual definition and the experiential definition, and to the notion of autobiographical memory mainly developed by Martin Conway. While the concept of episodic memory is still too narrow to account for all the ways in which we remember past events, models of autobiographical memory better explain how our personal memories can be directed towards events that have different levels of abstraction and that can go from those that are experience-near to those that are highly abstract and involve a period of our lives. Nonetheless recent empirical data suggest that different kinds of events have special particularities that make it difficult to conceive them only through the notions of episodic memory or autobiographical memory and thus that more philosophical as well as empirical research should be done in this direction. I end this section with a discussion of the dependence and interconnections between events as intentional objects, possible memory contents and their phenomenology. The last part of the chapter examines other possible intentional objects of our personal memories that have been in general neglected in philosophy as well as in cognitive science: memory of thoughts, imaginings, dreams, objects, people and places are briefly considered and analysed.
- The second part of the thesis explores an aspect of our personal memories that is omitted in the first part: the senses in which our personal past is apprehended as personal. Thinking about the personal aspect of our memories implies thinking about the way in which the rememberer not only shapes his memories but also is in a certain way present in them. Whereas chapter 4 analyses the first point, chapter 5 and 6 focus on the second point through an analysis of our feelings and emotions.
- Chapter 4 briefly examines the way in which the self, conceived in a broad sense, intervenes in the construction of our personal memories. Once again, it is probably Martin Conway who best explains how self-configurations and self-structures guided by their goals and search of meaning which are context-dependent determine the content of personal memories, that is, determine which information will be part of the personal memory that is finally remembered by the subject. This self, nonetheless, need not be a present self: past selves and self-structures also configure the content of personal memories, in healthy but also more pathological cases of personal memory. This explains the way in which personal memories are at the same time characterized by identity between the rememberer and the experiencer of what is being remembered but also by a difference. I finish this chapter by considering the senses in which personal memories may be reflexive: they may contain self-referenced information, or they may be memories where the subject can be the object of those memories. I suggest that this reflexivity should be analysed by considering the most subjective aspect of our memories, that is, our feelings and emotions.
- In order to carry out this task, I focus in chapter 5 on the analysis of the interactions between personal memories and emotions. First I review the general conceptualization of the relationship between emotions and personal memories predominant in the literature. The general assumption is that because emotions and memory are two different kinds of mental capacities, if there is something of an emotional nature in a personal memory, this emotional component is a real and occurrent emotion and thus an external reaction to the memory. I call this the natural thought, not only because of its general acceptance in the literature, but also because it is at first sight highly intuitive. The natural thought is presented in two versions: for the causal version, the emotion experience related to a past event is caused by the memory of this event; whereas for the coexistence version, emotion and memory of the event are causally independent and just coexist at retrieval. I then show that most of the empirical research in cognitive psychology centering on the relationship between emotions and memory implicitly assumes the natural thought. In the second section of this chapter, I review some different characterizations of the relationship between emotion and personal memories that have been outlined by some authors. The idea of emotional colouration outlined by the neuroscientists Joseph Ledoux and Hans Markowitsch, the notion of affective memory that was strongly defended especially by French philosophers and psychologists at the beginning of the 20th century, as well as some terms coming from the narrative explanations of memories given by Richard Wollheim and Peter Goldie, all point in the same direction: emotions seem to be intertwined with our personal memories and thus cannot be simply considered as a consequence of retrieval or a parallel and independent mental occurrence.
- As I show in chapter 5, the two variants of the natural thought are not exempt from problems: whereas the coexistence thesis is empirically implausible in attempting to explain all the interactions between emotions and memory, the philosophical arguments in favour of the causal thesis are weak. What remains of the natural thought is just a highly intuitive idea, whose presuppositions need to be better explored. I undertake the exploration of the assumptions that lie behind the natural thought and the other different characterizations in chapter 6, in order to decide which one is more plausible. My evaluations lead me to assess that different conceptualizations about the nature of emotions and not about the nature of memories are those ones that explain the divergence between the natural thought and the other characterizations. While the natural thought is based on a conception of emotions as physiological changes, the other different characterizations are based on a conception of emotions as dynamic episodes with heterogeneous components. Nonetheless, the current state of the art in empirical as well as theoretical research in the field of emotions does not support the thesis that emotions are just physiological changes, but instead give a high accord to the idea that emotions have multiple components. This suggests that it is not the natural thought but the other characterizations based on more accurate assumptions about the nature of emotions that should be better explored to better understand the emotional and affective aspect of our personal memories and hence the sense in which our memories are reflexive. I end this chapter with the proposal of a framework to conceptualize the different ways in which a personal memory can have an affective and emotional aspect. For this purpose, I consider that even if emotions have heterogeneous components, the basis of what emotions and affects are is given through the notion of appraisal: emotions and affects are essentially relational because they are always about person-environment relationships, that is, they involve evaluations —that do not necessarily have to be conceptual or disembodied —of whether and how what is happening in an encounter with the environment is harmful or beneficial for one’s well-being or self-image.
- Taking into consideration this idea and further developments around the notion of appraisal, I conclude first, that sometimes this affective aspect is an occurrent emotion, but sometimes this affective aspect has the mark of the past and thus it is not experienced as an occurrent emotion; and second, that in some cases the emotion or the event-as-appraised is the intentional object of our memories whereas in other cases the affective or emotional component remains in the background of the memory experience. These differences suggests that personal memories are more or less reflexive and reflective, and thus, that they allow us to achieve different degrees of self-awareness.
- The overall intention of this thesis is twofold. First, I aim to show to the philosophical community that there is still a lot to be said and discussed about memory as a mental phenomenon, not only to better understand memory but also to clarify debates that omit all reference to memory or just refer to it in superficial terms, such as debates about intentionality, phenomenology, mental content and emotions. And second, I intend to emphasize the importance of bringing into the philosophical discussions about the mind ideas coming from different philosophical traditions as well as ideas and empirical data coming from scientific research, especially when philosophy conceives itself as a field that can make real contributions to the understanding of the mind.
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