Truth in memory: the humanities and the cognitive sciences

In Iain McCalman & Ann McGrath (eds.), Proof and Truth: the humanist as expert. Australian Academy of the Humanities. pp. 145-163 (2003)
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Mistakes can be made in both personal and official accounts of past events: lies can be told. Stories about the past have many functions besides truth-telling: but we still care deeply that our sense of what happened should be accurate. The possibility of error in memory and in history implies a commonsense realism about the past. Truth in memory is a problem because, coupled with our desires to find out what really happened, we recognize that our individual and collective access to past events may be indirect. This chapter sketches some approaches, from across the disciplines, to such problems about authority over the past. I open up recent lines of research on autobiographical memory which should be more accessible in the humanities and social sciences. Psychological work on constructive remembering should not be seen as sceptically challenging the very possibility of everyday authority over our own past, but as identifying specific forms of fallibility. I argue that the study of historical and social processes is an integral part of the cognitive sciences of memory, not a humanistic curiosity.
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