Memory


Can we know things which are beyond our personal present experience? Is eyewitness testimony a reliable source of evidence? Can our beliefs contaminate our memory?

Many discussions of knowledge tend to focus on how beliefs and knowledge are formed rather than on how they are remembered by the individual. However, most of the knowledge that individuals have is in the form of memory and therefore how we retain information and how past events and experiences are reconstructed is an important aspect of how personal knowledge is formed.

Memory, and particularly habit, has a strong link to procedural knowledge and remembering how to perform actions. In contrast to perception, memory refers to things which are not currently happening. And in contrast to imagination, memory refers to things which we believe really happened. Some would argue that memory is not itself a source of knowledge, but instead is a process which we use to recall knowledge gained in the past. However, although memory refers to knowledge gained in the past, it can be argued that even new knowledge is dependent on and influenced by memory. For example, how we interpret new situations can be heavily influenced by experience and previous events. In this way, apart from being a “storage unit” for existing knowledge, memory can also be a mechanism that allows us to process new and unique situations.

The importance of memory can be highlighted by imagining the challenges that would be presented by losing our memory. Because so much of our personal knowledge is in the form of memory, issues surrounding the reliability of memory are also crucial. Memory retrieval is often regarded as unreliable, for example, because it is seen to be subjective or heavily influenced by emotion. However, we rely on our memory every day and because many of our memories seem to be reliable, this gives us confidence that our other memories are reliable.


'The Fiction of Memory', Elizabeth Loftus.
http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_loftus_the_fiction_of_memory

The impact of contamination, misinformation and even psychotherapy on our memories.