Thursday, 8 December 2016

New Directions in the Philosophy of Memory Workshop

In this post Kourken Michaelian and Chloe Wall report from the workshop New Directions in the Philosophy of Memory.

Funded by a generous grant from the University of Otago's Division of Humanities, researchers from Australasia and Europe gathered in Dunedin, New Zealand on 25-26 October 2016 for a workshop on New Directions in the Philosophy of Memory. The workshop, organized by Kourken Michaelian, was the second of two events linked to a planned book—edited by Michaelian, Dorothea Debus, and Denis Perrin—featuring papers describing new lines of research in this burgeoning field; the first was held at the University of Grenoble earlier in 2016 as part of a broader interdisciplinary event.

The two days of the workshop included eight talks. On the first day, Kourken Michaelian’s “Confabulating, misremembering, relearning: The simulation theory of memory and unsuccessful remembering” argued against taxonomies of memory errors that are based on the causal theory of memory. The talk then developed an alternative taxonomy based on the simulation theory of memory.

Denis Perrin's “The procedural nature of episodic memory” showed that accessing declarative (especially episodic) memory requires skills held in procedural memory. It is therefore mistaken, he argued, to distinguish sharply between declarative and procedural memory, when in fact, procedural memory enables declarative memory.
André Sant’Anna, in “Thinking about events: A pragmatic account of the objects of episodic hypothetical thought”, argued that a pragmatist approach can help to distinguish memory from other forms of episodic hypothetical thought. In particular, he claimed, we can determine whether a given episodic hypothetical thought qualifies as memory by considering the habits of action that it recruits.

Finally, Jordi Fernández, in “Functionalism and the nature of episodic memory”, pointed to a number of problems for existing causal and narrative theories of remembering. The talk then developed an alternative functionalist theory designed to avoid these problems.
The first day of the workshop was followed by a public talk, delivered by John Sutton, on “Situating cognitive futures (and pasts): Small groups and shared histories”.

On the second day, Dorothea Debus's “Handle with care: On the fragility of recollective memories, and some ethical implications” argued that recollective memories are “fragile” in that they are sometimes unavailable and easily distorted. Because memories are both fragile and important, she claimed, subjects may have some responsibility when handling their and others’ recollective memories.

Philip Gerrans' “Subjective presence in mental time travel” discussed empirical work challenging the view that the default mode network is necessary for self-awareness in remembering. By considering the computational nature of the production of self-awareness, he claimed, we learn that it is not affective processing in the anterior insular cortex but rather predicted affective processing that generates self-awareness.
Chloe Wall, in “Are memory and testimony analogous?”, sketched an analogy between memory and testimony. After considering a variety of objections based on intentionality and mindreading, she argued that these objections do not succeed in undermining the analogy.

Finally, John Sutton, in “Shared remembering and distributed affectivity: Intimacy, memory, and emotion-regulation,” explored the ways in which shared remembering is socially, materially, and culturally situated. He examined how memory and affect are shared in ongoing close relationships and how these relationships influence and are influenced by shared remembering.

The second day of the workshop was followed by another public talk, delivered by Denis Perrin, on “Memory and anaphora”. Both attendance at the public talks and the lively atmosphere of the workshop itself indicated growing interest in and awareness of the philosophy of memory as an increasingly dynamic research area.

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