Predicting the Past from Minimal Traces: Episodic Memory and its Distinction from Imagination and Preservation

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 11 (2):301-333 (2020)
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The paper develops an account of minimal traces devoid of representational content and exploits an analogy to a predictive processing framework of perception. As perception can be regarded as a prediction of the present on the basis of sparse sensory inputs without any representational content, episodic memory can be conceived of as a “prediction of the past” on the basis of a minimal trace, i.e., an informationally sparse, merely causal link to a previous experience. The resulting notion of episodic memory will be validated as a natural kind distinct from imagination. This trace minimalist view contrasts with two theory camps dominating the philosophical debate on memory. On one side, we face versions of the Causal Theory that hold on to the idea that episodic remembering requires a memory trace that causally links the event of remembering to the event of experience and carries over representational content from the content of experience to the content of remembering. The Causal Theory, however, fails to account for the epistemic generativity of episodic memory and is psychologically and information-theoretically implausible. On the other side, a new camp of simulationists is currently forming up. Motivated by empirical and conceptual deficits of the Causal Theory, they reject not only the necessity of preserving representational content, but also the necessity of a causal link between experience and memory. They argue that remembering is nothing but a peculiar form of imagination, peculiar only in that it has been reliably produced and is directed towards an episode of one’s personal past. Albeit sharing their criticism of the Causal Theory and, in particular, rejecting its demand for an intermediary carrier of representational content, the paper argues that a causal connection to experience is still necessary to fulfill even the minimal requirements of past-directedness and reliability.



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Markus Werning
Ruhr-Universität Bochum

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The extended mind.Andy Clark & David J. Chalmers - 1998 - Analysis 58 (1):7-19.
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Thinking about mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.

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