“This analysis of memory is probably extremely faulty, but I do not know how to improve it”: so ends Bertrand Russell‘s chapter on memory in his Analysis of Mind (of 1921). Anyone who tries to get a handle on memory will come to share this feeling; not least because it has many forms (often very faulty!). First, we will look at Russell‘s philosophical problems. Then we will cover some puzzles about the mechanism of memory. Finally we will end with some thought provoking snippets about damaged brains other than our own!
Wittgenstein has some thought provoking comments, that make more sense when in context, but might intrigue: “Why must something or other, whatever it may be, be stored up there in any form? Why must a trace have been left behind?” (Zettel, 1967); “whatever the event does leave behind, it isn‘t the memory” (Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, 1980)
Suggestions for reading
- Douwe Draaisma: Why Life Speeds Up as you get older (Cambridge, 2004) -- good on the conundrums of memory, particularly on the history of speculation and discovery from the 1880s onwards.
- John Beloff: Is Normal memory paranormal? [paper to the S.P.R. 1980, reproduced in Beloff:‘ The relentless question’ 1988]
- Beloff, Emmet, Morgan, Sheldrake & Thompson: Discussion on Memory, Theoria to Theory 14, 187-203 1981.
- All the classic works are good in parts; pre-eminently William James The Principles of Psychology, 1890.
- For a rogue modern philosopher who takes the paradoxes seriously read Howard Bursen Dismantling the Memory Machine, 1978