"If something is to stay in the memory, it must be burned in: only that which never ceases to hurt stays in the memory." -Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of MoralsIs
Is memory primarily individual? Or is it social?
Individual memory can be thought as communication with the self over time. " I, entelechy, form of forms, am I by memory because under ever-changing forms." (Stephen Dedalus) "Memory is the real name of the relation to oneself, or the affect of self on self." (Deleuze, Foucault, p.107)
In Rewriting the Soul, Ian Hacking asks whether memory is the name of what once was called the soul. For Hacking, the Western moral tradition, encapsulated in the Delphic injunction to "know thyself," expresses a deeply rooted conviction that a self-knowledge is central to becoming a fully developed human being. In the modern area, this self-knowledge has increasingly focussed on issues of memory.
Individual memory can be broken into three classes:
personal memory claims concerning events in the past, which figure significantly in our self-descriptions; This is also called episodic memory
cognitive memory claims, concerning things we learned in the past; (also called semantic, or categorical memory)
habit-memory , our capacities to reproduce performances (like riding a bicycle)-- also called procedural memory.
In infancy, the child lives in the moment. It is only as he grows older that memory becomes predominant over present impression. Freud hypothesized that a memory of a percept and / or experience may be laid down at a time when the infant cannot perceive the meaning of this experience. Such a memory trace can be "revived" at a later date through a similar perception or experience, at which time it can have a great and even traumatic impact. Thus "hysterical symptoms are derivatives of memories that are operating unconsciously." (Aetiology of Hysteria, 1896) Freud came to this conclusion when faced with the dream of a patient which indicated that the patient had observed parental intercourse at the age of one and a half. (the Wolf man) The idea that the primal scene has a different meaning when experienced by the child from what it means when remembered or repressed by the adolescent is of fundamental importance to understanding Freud's approach to memory.
see also screen memories
Recollection / Repetition:
"Every recollection refers not only to the remembered event or person or object but to the person who is remembering." (Israel Rosenfeld, The Strange, Familiar, and Forgotten, p. 42) In any psychodynamic approach to remembering and recollection, the changes in the person over time must be integrated into the account. According to Kurt Goldstein, "An event can be remembered only in that modality in which it first appeared." (Goldstein, p.246) -- Such an assertion would appear to run directly counter to Freud's approach described above.
Are there units of memory? Are they scenes? episodes -- small but coherent chunks of lived experience? How long do memories last? Short term / long term memory are primarily objects of the experimental study of recall, that can be differentiated from neurological studies of the brain, on the one hand, and the study of the psychodynamics of memory, on the other. Francis Crick refers to "iconic memory," a very short-term visual memory necessary for visual processing. (see vision )The English psychologist Alan Baddeley has studied a slightly longer-term form of visual memory that he calls "working memory." see also qualia
Central to the study of memory as understood in psychoanalysis is the distinction between two contrasting ways of bringing the past into the present: acting out and remembering. (see "acting out" in Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis) Acting out is a type of action in which the subject, in the grip of unconscious wishes and fantasies, relieves these in the present with an impression of immediacy which is heightened by the analysand's refusal or inability to acknowledge their origin, and, therefore, their repetitive character. The compulsion to repeat "under the condition of resistance" has replaced the capacity to remember. As Freud puts it, the neurotic "repeats without remembering."
How do we distinguish memory from imagination? Generally, this ability hinges on the recall of "source information," our ability to recall precisely where and when an event ocurred. (see Daniel L Schachter, Searching for Memory, pp 114-116) Memories of external occurrences typically contain perceptual details about the context or setting of an event, whereas memories of internal events (such as thoughts and fantasies) typically contain little contextual information. When we cannot recall anything specific about context or setting, we lose an important basis for determining whether a "real" external event occurred. Conversely, if an imagined or fantasized event does contain details about context and setting, we are inclined to believe it is a real memory of an actual event.
Is there a "memory without words:" a motor memory, a perceptual memory, and an affect memory? Gerald Edelman argues that memory is non representational. It is the ability of a dynamic system to repeat or suppress a mental or physical act. In this view, there are as many memory systems as there are "systems capable of autocorrelation with their previous states over time." (Universe of Consiousness, p. 210) The workings of the immune system, whose antibodies are not representations of foreign bodies, but which can recognise antigens and repeat immunological performances that were previously aquired, are an example of a non-representational memory system. "Memory itself is a system property that allows the binding in time of selected characteristics having adaptive value."
Edelman looks at memory as a (Darwinian) selectional system. For him all selectional systems share the property of degeneracy, which is not a loss of structure over time, but rather "the capacity of structurally different components to yield similar outputs or results." (ibid, p. 86) In these systems there are typically many different ways, not necessarily structurally identical, by which a particular output occurs. Edelman sees degeneracy at work in the immune system, in the brain, and in evolution itself.
The issues addressed by neurological and functional approach differ significantly from the issues of representational memory. For example, an operative task, such as walking, can vary over time, use different connections within and among brain structures and the muscoloskeletal apparatus, but achieve the same functional result, even in the face of lesions. It is no longer the differences in modalities of recollection that are important but rather the overall capacity to repeat. Thus Edelman calls memory in a degenerative selectional system "recategorical, not strictly replicative."
Social / Philosophical Memory:
"The mystical memory of a blessedness without history haunts man from the moment he becomes aware of his situation in the cosmos." Mircea Eliade. see myth
As Maurice Halwachs points out, "It is in society that people normally aquire their memories. It is also in society that they recall, recognize, and localize their memories." (On Collective Memory, p. 38) Even if reveries and dreams of the past can seem free and personal, for Halwachs "the mind reconstructs the past under the pressure of society." (p.51)
If memory is considered as social, the study of memory turns to those external mnemonic devices: such as objects, rituals, social memory through tools, "figurative behaviour," and language. (Leroi-Gourhan) For Freud, technical instruments like the camera or the gramophone are materializations of the power man possesses of recollection, of memory. (Civilization and its Discontents, p. 38) (see prosthesis)
In the age before printing , a trained memory was vitally important. The art of "mnemotechnics" was invented by the Greeks, was passed on to Rome, and descended in the European tradition. This art sought to memorize through a technique of impressing " places" and " images" on memory. Frances Yates has uncovered some of this forgotten tradition. She reminds us that the manipulation of images in memory must always to some extent involve the psyche as a whole, and that an art which uses contemporary architecture for its memory places will also have its classical, Gothic, and Renaissance periods, like the other arts. (The Art of Memory, preface.)
Vico considered memory as one faculty with three aspects: (1) remembering things, (2) altering or imitating things -- imagination, and (3) giving things a new turn by putting them in proper arrangements--ingenuity or invention. The differences in Vico's categories indicate different amount of reworking or creative interpretation.
If the art of memory has a long history, the science of memory, according to Ian Hacking, was constituted in the late nineteenth century.
Turn of the century philosophers like Henri Bergson and William James, and later Edmund Husserl, all assumed that any moment must involve consciousness of what has gone before, otherwise it would be impossible to hear a melody, maintain personal identity, or think. For Bergson duration is a source of freedom, which we must seek in the dynamics of experience. (see Kern, Culture of Space and Time) For Bergson, any perception occupies a certain duration. Memory "covering as it does with a cloak of recollections a core of immediate perception." (Matter and Memory, p 34) also contracts a number of external moments into a single internal moment. This focus on the personnal past (by Nietzche, Ibsen, Freud, Bergson, Gide, Proust, Joyce, and the Futurists) lines up with the shift of focus from homogeneous public time to the varieties of private time in the early twentieth century. "The overbearing deterministic formal systems of nineteenth-century historicism produced broad, general laws of history, whereas these thinkers wanted to understand the unique responses of individuals to particular circumstances." (Kern, p.63) (see also forgetting)
Bergson distinguishes between the backward-turning recollection of a thing in the past -- personal memory- images ( representation) -- and the forward movement of learned motor mechanisms that inform action in the present: habit.
According to Bergson, memory is a representation. Habit enables us to adapt ourselves to a present situation. It acts our past experience but does not call up its image. It is stored in a mechanism which is set in motion by an initial impulse. "Of these two memories, of which the one imagines and the other repeats, the second may supply the place of the first and even sometimes be mistaken for it." (p.82) The former is "as capricious in reproducing as it is faithful in preserving," while the latter is conquered by effort and dependent on our will. (p.88)
For Proust, involuntary ( body) memory is discontinuous and fortuitous. It produces pleasure that can be sustained by art, for example, through metaphors. Proust's purpose was to "describe men first and foremost as occupying a place, a very considerable place compared to the one which is allotted to them in space ... in the dimension of time." Flashbacks or particularly vivid and unexpected moments of re-experiencing seem to have a particular reality feeling.
In How Societies Remember, Paul Connerton calls for the analysis of "social habit-memory" as consisting essentially of legitimating performances, a particular kind of ritual. He draws upon the work of Maurice Halbwachs, (Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire and La mémoire collective ) who thought of memories as bound together into an ensemble of thoughts common to a group. For Halbwachs, groups provide individuals with frameworks within which there memories are localized, by a kind of mapping into both the mental and material spaces of the group. For Halbwachs the idea of an individual memory, absolutely separate from social memory, is an abstraction almost devoid of meaning.
The politics of memory occurs both at the communal level, (eg. memories of the Holocaust) and at the personal level. In the twentieth century certain forms of psychological trauma , have surfaced into public consciousness in affiliation with political movments -- hysteria, shell shock, and sexual and domestic violence. For Nietzche, " pain is the most powerful aid to mnemonics." "Man could never do without blood, torture, and sacrifices when he felt the need to create a memory for himself." "If something is to stay in the memory, it must be burned in: only that which never ceases to hurt stays in the memory." (Genealogy of Morals, Ecce Homo)
Is memory primarily about narrative?
Memory and the Brain:
Franz Joseph Gall's theory of localization of character attributes, early 19th century
The scientific hypotheses that the brain is the organ of the mind and, more specifically, that characteristics of human personality are localized within the brain, so that "each particular cerebral part, according to its development, may modify, in some degree, the manifestation of a particular moral quality, or intellectual faculty", were fundamental to nineteenth century "phrenology." (literally, "discourse on the mind"). Popular interest was aroused by Franz Joseph Gall's assertions that character traits could be found in an examination of the external bumps on the skull, but the scientific community was more lastingly impressed by Gall's claims that the structure and function of the brain as "organ of the mind" could be analyzed by observation rather than speculation. (cf Wilder Penfield's experiments on the brain.)
What is at stake in the issue of localization of memory is the rule of the psychophysiological hypothesis (at least in a narrow version of it, which seeks point-to-point mappings of brain and memory. If internal representations are defined as " neuronally encoded, structured, versions of the world that could potentially guide behavior," then "learning" is the creation or modifications of such an internal representation, produced by experience.
(see local / global)
In his discussion of the localization of language functions in the brain, Terrence Deacon suggests a different approach -- one which lets go of the localization of function while retaining something like the localization of computation -- of how language functions map onto brain functions. The neurological distribution of functions will follow its own logic, which need not parallel a linguistic analysis of these same functions. for Deacon, "The central problem faced by researchers studying the brain and language is that even the minutest divisions of cognitive function we hope to explain at the psychological level are ultimately the productions of the functioning of a whole brain -- even if a damaged one -- whereas the functions we must explain at a neurological level are the operations (or computations) of only a small fragment of this highly integrated and distributed network of functions. " (The Symbolic Species, p.287)
Henri Bergson stressed the link between perception, matter, and the nervous system, but separated out memory and spirit. It is thus important that memory not be localized. Issues of perception, tied to movement, and to psychology, are separated from issues of memory and metaphysics, in which "the mind strives to transcend the conditions of useful action and to come back to itself as pure creative energy." (preface, p.15)