Simulationism and Memory Traces

In Lynn Nadel & Sara Aronowitz (eds.), Space, Time, and Memory. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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In the philosophy of memory there is a tension between a preservationist and a constructivist view of memory reflected in the debate between causalism and simulationism. Causalism is not only committed to the claim that there must be an appropriate causal connection between the remembered event and the content represented at retrieval but also that such connection is possible because of a content-preserving memory trace. Simulationism, by contrast, rejects the need for an appropriate causal condition and, thereby, makes the appeal to memory traces unnecessary. In this paper I argue that while the are strong conceptual arguments and empirical evidence to support a constructivist view of memory, the empirical evidence also suggest that the initial formulation of simulationism needs to be revised. In particular, I argue, first, that simulationism’s commitment to a single cognitive system for mental time travel is likely wrong, and second, that simulationism cannot get rid of memory traces altogether, as they are still explanatorily indispensable when it comes to explaining a large number of memory-related phenomena. At the end, I end up suggesting a way of thinking about memory traces that, I think, is compatible with simulationism and a constructivist view of memory. If the view I put forth is on the right track, then an updated version of simulationism can help to dispel the dichotomy between causalism and simulationism as a false one.

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Felipe De Brigard
Duke University


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