KP: You are an expert on memory. How did you become interested in this topic?
SR: I became interested in memory as I was starting to put together a dissertation back in graduate school. Originally, my interest was in the personal/subpersonal distinction but I was spinning my wheels a bit. My advisor, Carl Craver, posed a question to help get me going: are memory traces personal or subpersonal? In pursuit of that question (still a difficult one to answer), my interest shifted to memory itself. There were so many interesting philosophical questions about memory—and so little connection with the vast amount of research on memory in both psychology and neuroscience. I was excited about how little work had yet been done on these intersections and that excitement has kept me going to this day.
KP: Your work focuses on cases of memory error, which you call cases of misremembering. What is distinctive about cases of misremembering?
SR: I’m fascinated by memory errors in general because they serve as an instance of a general rule for inquiring into cognitive and biological systems—you can learn a lot about how and why they work by observing what happens when they break. To this end, I’m interested in moving beyond broad discussions of false memory to promote a more refined taxonomy of memory errors that distinguishes all of the various ways that attempts to remember can go awry.
Misremembering errors struck me as a good place to start on this larger project because they are easily produced and distinctive, plus they have a quasi-paradoxical nature that makes them especially appealing to philosophers. Misremembering errors, as I characterize them, are an interesting blend of success and failure—they are errors that rely on retention. Specifically, I define misremembering as “a memory error that relies on successful retention of the targeted event. When a person misremembers, her report is inaccurate, yet this inaccuracy is explicable only on the assumption that she has retained information from the event her representation mischaracterizes” (2016: 434).