The narrative self, distributed memory, and evocative objects

Philosophical Studies 175 (8):1829-1849 (2018)
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Abstract

In this article, I outline various ways in which artifacts are interwoven with autobiographical memory systems and conceptualize what this implies for the self. I first sketch the narrative approach to the self, arguing that who we are as persons is essentially our (unfolding) life story, which, in turn, determines our present beliefs and desires, but also directs our future goals and actions. I then argue that our autobiographical memory is partly anchored in our embodied interactions with an ecology of artifacts in our environment. Lifelogs, photos, videos, journals, diaries, souvenirs, jewelry, books, works of art, and many other meaningful objects trigger and sometimes constitute emotionally-laden autobiographical memories. Autobiographical memory is thus distributed across embodied agents and various environmental structures. To defend this claim, I draw on and integrate distributed cognition theory and empirical research in human-technology interaction. Based on this, I conclude that the self is neither defined by psychological states realized by the brain nor by biological states realized by the organism, but should be seen as a distributed and relational construct.

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Richard Heersmink
Tilburg University