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A Place for the Memory Trace

Tuesday, November 21, 2023, 3:40 pm – 5:20 pm

This colloquium talk is planned as an in-person event with the speaker joining online. Registration is only required for non-CEU members. 


Memory traces are a persistent yet puzzling feature of our thinking about memory. Many contemporary philosophers and memory scientists view traces as unnecessary—outdated and old-fashioned—but disagree about what’s being rejected and why. We need a clearer understanding of the role they are meant to play in an account of remembering, and what they must be like in order to play that role. In this talk, I take on the first half of this project. I review a set of standard arguments given for the existence of memory traces, finding problems with each. I then propose a new argument: the existence of memory traces provides the best explanation of our ability to remember particular past encounters. As part of the move away from trace-based accounts of remembering, many memory theorists now try to explain such cases of remembering particulars in terms of general cognitive principles. Looking closely at examples, however, exposes the limitations of this approach. Separating the roles of traces from that of general cognition not only helps explain remembering, it also sheds light on a unique and underappreciated aspect of human cognition.


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