What Are Memories?

Memory sets before us, not what we choose, but what it pleases. Indeed there is nothing that imprints a thing so vividly on our memory as the desire to forget it: a good way to give our mind something to guard, and to impress it on her, is to solicit her to lose it.

- Michel de Montaigne, Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the function and significance of memory. The great writer of remembrance, Marcel Proust, declared “We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand, sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison”. The memory is vital to life and without it we could not be the people we are, but can it really contain the sum of all our experience? Is it a repository constantly mounting events waiting to be plucked to consciousness, or if not, then under what criteria are memories turfed out?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Memory

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Imagine being unable to remember the past. Like a fading dream, your current consciousness is lost to eternity. This is the experience of someone suffering from amnesia. Despite otherwise being healthy, they are unable to commit new experiences to memory. Studying the brains of amnesic patients has revealed that, while most regions of the brain play a role in memory, some areas are more crucial than others. There appears to be no single memory store, but instead a diverse taxonomy of memory systems, each with its own special circuitry evolved to package and retrieve that type of memory. Memories are not static entities; over time they shift and migrate between different territories of the brain....

Continue reading Hugo Spiers article: What are memories made of?

Further Reading

Memory plays important roles in many areas of philosophy. It is vital to our knowledge of the world in general and of the personal past in particular. It underwrites our identities as individuals and our ties to other people. Philosophical interest in memory thus dates back to antiquity and has remained prominent throughout the history of philosophy (Aho 2014; Bloch 2014; Burnham 1888; Herrmann & Chaffinn 1988; Nikulin 2015). More recently, memory has come to be recognized as a topic of major philosophical importance in its own right, with the emergence of the philosophy of memory as a distinct field of research...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Memory by Kourken Michaelin & John Sutton

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