Memory and Consciousness

Philosophia Scientiae 17 (2):171-193 (2013)

Abstract

Philosophical theories of memory rarely distinguish between importantly different sorts of memory: procedural, semantic and episodic. I argue for a temporal representation theory to explain the unique characteristic of episodic memory as the only form of conscious memory. A careful distinction between implicit and explicit representation shows how the past figures in memory. In procedural and semantic memory, the influence of the past is implicit by which I mean that the past experience is used but not represented in the skill or knowledge. Episodic memory, in contrast, depends on representing a past experience as past. On a temporal representation theory of consciousness, a conscious state represents the present moment, and in the case of episodic memory, it includes a representation of past experience. The embedded account of the ‘feeling of pastness’ takes past experience to be part of the explicit content of a conscious state. An episodic memory is a representation of the present that includes a representation of the past. Whereas a higher-order theory of consciousness can give no reason why only episodic memories are conscious, a temporal theory explains why episodic memories are both higher-order and conscious. Finally, I consider the essential role of episodic memory in the formation of a temporally extended self. The demands of a social environment motivate development of an ability to track the mental states of others and oneself over time. By incorporating past experience (and future experience) into the present, episodic memory extends experience in time to form the sense of self. Through a careful examination of the function of temporal representation, we can see why the past is not consciously represented in procedural and semantic memory and the value of consciously representing the past in episodic memory

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Paula Droege
Pennsylvania State University

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