Topic 12.

Time and Memory

1. We have allowed that space and time are, as it were, the framework of our phenomenal worlds; we think of external reality in terms of events occurring in time to spatially related physical objects. No two physical objects can be in the same place at the same time; what makes any physical object that physical object is its occupancy of a specific, continuous space/time track. It is natural, therefore, that we should attempt to approach the concept of time in a way parallel with that in which we approached the concept of space. But, in so attempting, we shall, I'm afraid, meet with disappointment. Those who have stayed with me this far will be aware that I do not like to waste my time or yours in iffing-and-butting and generally shillyshallying when I am satisfied that I have the right solution (or, more often, dissolution) to a philosophical question. By the same token, I see no virtue in bluffing and blustering when, having thought as long and hard as possible about a problem, I must confess myself baffled. One such problem is the nature of time. At my present advanced age I find I must crybarleys, hope that somebody else will be more successful, wish him - or her- the best of British, and try to provide some assistance by at least clearing away some of the nonsense that has been said on the subject and which would certainly be an impediment to genuine analytic exploration.

    a. We saw that attempts to conceive Space as some kind of entity are fruitless, that what we are conceiving is spatialness - a perfectly normal universal concept abstracted from the experience of (filled and empty) spaces. It seems apparent that, in the same way, there is no entity Time, that what we are dealing with is merely temporalness. Certainly, references to time are intelligible only in relative terms, in the same way as references to space are; just as nothing is simply large or distant but must be larger than, or more distant than, something else, so nothing can be simply late or early but must be later than or earlier than something else. In our phenomenal worlds any bit of reality (simply as that bit of reality) is identified by its spatial and temporal relations with all other bits of reality.

    b) But we do need to be cautious here. It is too facile to think of time as being the `same as space, only different' in quite the way that we might think of seeing being `the same as hearing, only different'. If we were to claim that space and time are different instances of the same thing (in the way that seeing and hearing are both modes of sense-perception) we would be very hard put to it to say what that `same thing' in question is.

    In discussing space we were able, quite intelligibly, to pose and consider the question whether space, as we conceive it, is merely phenomenal. In the process we were able to think about what `non-spatial experience' would be like and, indeed, to make the point that `Stage I perception' for all of us is non- spatial. Furthermore, we have throughout treated physical (spatial) objects as simply one kind of objects-of-attention. Experience, as such, is not spatial, notwithstanding that space is experienced (compare: painting is not coloured, notwithstanding that when we paint we colour the surfaces of things). But experience is temporal. Time seems fundamental both to existence and to experience of that existence; temporal relations are presupposed by all of our considerations in a way that spatial relations are not. And if we must assume X in order to `construct' at all, it follows that X cannot be `constructed' by us.

    Here think of the intelligent, sensing flower example in Topic 11. We were able to examine how its actual experience would correlate with our spatial experience. But its temporal experience can only be regarded as just being our temporal experience. `Merely phenomenal time' seems to be a collection of words with no thinkable concept; it could be that for some people a distinction between phenomenal and objective time is intelligible - but for most of us it just isn't; we have no idea what we would be distinguishing from what.

    c. Since that is so, however regrettably, we do better to avoid uttering nonsense, to acknowledge that the concept of time remains baffling to us and to concentrate on examining our experience of temporalness, insofar as we are able to talk intelligibly about it, and achieving what measure of clarity we can. For starters let's consider some of the rather silly things people have said about time - and why they are silly -

    i) Time has been likened poetically to a never-ending stream. But in poetry we can, of course, get away with things that we can't get away with in philosophy. A stream is an entity and there are no infinite entities. `Eternity' is a nice word which fits neatly into a number of contexts - but does it have any propositional significance or is it just a word? Here look again at the point made in Topic 5 that a familiar word can become for people a symptom of a given context of words in a way that creates a kind of self-detached game with its own rules and has no connection whatsoever with perceived reality. It could well be that `eternity' is such a word. Certainly it would confound most people to conceive a situation, intelligible in sense-perceptual terms, which could count as being eternal! When we are following the stream down, it might seem eternal to us - but this means only that the end is much further away than we expected it to be.

    ii) Children's stories say things like `Long ago - before time began...'. And even people who like to be taken seriously sometimes say things like `Before the big bang ' (which amounts to much the same thing). But this is exactly comparable with `beyond space'; since `before' is a temporal-relations term, the only thing which could be before time is time - so it wouldn't be before it, it would be during it!

    We cannot contemplate non-existence; we can contemplate X only as existent and note that this is not the case. But, whatever the X may be, it must be at some time; to contemplate a time when there was no time would really be a triumph of contemplation.

    iii) Similarly people talk, sometimes apparently seriously, about `the end of time'. But here refer back to Identity (Topic 7): the end of anything is the point at which (for the identifier) the changes are such that they must be regarded as of it, not simply to it. Thus to end is to become something else (or be replaced by something else). It quite defeats imagination what time could become, or be replaced by - since any change must occur in time.

    iv) For many years novelists have played with so-called time-travel - attempting to attribute to time the dimensions (and thereby the reversability) which are intelligible in considerations of space. It is not surprising, however, that none has ever produced a logically coherent account of time-travel; If Jones `returned to' the 18th Century (as it was) then Jones would have had to be there in the 18th Century in the first place - but (refer back to the nature of personal identity, Topic 8) this would then either be two different Joneses or simply two, intermittent lifespans - both before an d after each other - which is plainly nonsense.

    v) `Time stood still' was once a popular cliché for situations in which some dramatic or romantic event took, for a period, somebody's attention totally away from the progression of perceivable events. But that progression was, of course, still going on. If it were not, what could count, for the person in question, as ( his or her) time standing still? Rip Van Winkle lost twenty years of his life but that precisely meant that twenty- years-worth of things happened that he did not know about. If nothing had happened, nothing could have counted as the twenty-years in question; there would have been no loss. Empty time, time without events, is just as unthinkable as totally empty space, space with no occupants at all.

    It may seem that we are being a mite frivolous here, that nobody really takes such sillinesses seriously. Yet it is surprising to what extent our thinking is often conditioned by the metaphors, even extravagant metaphors, that we use. We do tend to think, for instance, of time `rolling forward' and somehow, as it `rolls', rendering fixed and immutable what was previously (!) a mere flux of infinite possibilities - `The moving finger writes' - and so on. We see the future as wide open but the past as settled forever. But such an idea would make total nonsense, as we shall see, of any explanation, any predictability - and therefore any belief about the world, at all. Certainly particular events did occur when they did occur - and, equally certainly, particular events will occur when they will occur. We must avoid confusing what is the case with what is known to be the case.

    Rather more soberly, we tend to think of time as a kind of flexible combination of the past, the present and the future (at any given time!) - perhaps we could say `that which is common to all three'. This is a more promising approach, in that it plainly relates more clearly to identifiable experiences, remembering, perceiving and predicting, but it presents a number of problems that need to be examined.

    d. First, however, we should look at some of the ways in which people do talk about time - quite unmysteriously. Insofar as we do have a concept of temporalness (and pretty plainly we do all have some effectively equivalent temporal concepts), that concept must be abstracted from normal everyday experiences, the kinds of experiences we refer to when we say things like -

    How long will it take you to do that? - I'll fill in the time until you've finished -

    How soon does the show start? Have we time for a drink? -

    Did the film come before or after the book? -

    We talk of timing eggs boiling and marching in time with music and having a good time.

    And what we are talking about in all of these is a combination of -

      i) the durations of particular events

      ii) the sequences of different durations (of events)

      iii) the degree of contemporaneousness of those sequence.

    So - in much the same way as we said that space is always a space to put something in, we might say that time is always a time to do something in. But we don't generally say `a time'; we say a duration of time. And, of course, a particular duration is a quite intelligible finite entity, just as a particular space is.

    e. And, in the same way as any collection of spaces is a space (not Space), any collection of times (durations) is a duration (not Time). Particular durations - i.e. the relative durations of particular events - are the perceivable situations from which we abstract the concept of temporalness - and are, thereby, seen by us as, the instances of that concept.

    But, unlike spaces, durations are not end-to-end. There is no limit to how many different events can be (seen as) occurring at any time - or, therefore, of how many different durations (of events) can be (seen as) temporally overlapping. Since, to identify X, within the constant process of change, as one event, simply is to specify when X commences and when X concludes, relative to all other events, it follows that to isolate an event is to isolate a duration - but to isolate it in terms of `how longs', `befores' and `afters' within an, in principle limitless, sequence of overlapping durations.

    f. But we must be careful not to push the analogy with space too far. We do not perceive the particular duration (the instance of temporalness) quite as we perceive the particular physical object (the instance of spatialness). The `content' of the appearances is what `gives us' the physical object; it is the sequence of the appearance changes which `gives us' the duration (of the event). Plainly this must be so since many events can occur within the same (that one) duration.

    Obviously the inter-relation of objects and events is crucial here and perhaps we should remind ourselves that -

      i) Events are what we perceive (or recall or predict) - the event that a specific sequence of change occurs.

      ii) Objects (identities pro-tem) are what the events occur to; they are what we see as constant through the sequence of change (the events).

      Thus in observing instances of spatialness we are also observing instances of temporalness (and vice-versa) - a physical object has to have a duration and a duration (or the event which has the duration) has to involve changes to physical objects.

      iii) Events are made up of events and make up events. We do the discriminating and our awareness of events within events is indeed an awareness of relative durations - of what we call `the passage of time'.

    Here it is important to note that the duration of an event is measurable only in terms of the durations of other events. The idea of everything speeding up or slowing down uniformly is as vaccuous as that of everything doubling in size uniformly.

We might say, then, that our concept of temporalness arises from our perception of the relationships between the change sequences perceived to occur to different objects.

2. We might say this - and we might get away with it. But it still leaves an uncomfortable feeling that we are assuming our conclusions in our argument. Perceiving that time is a change-sequence, it could be felt, is possible only when a concept of temporalness has already been achieved. As against that it could be argued that change implies sequence, that to perceive that X changes (which we certainly do by any account of perception) is to perceive the temporal sequence from how it was to how it is. But we certainly cannot treat change as phenomenal since, throughout, we have treated change-sequence (the nature of the structure) as that which must be common to the phenomenal and the causal-to-phenomenal objective reality.

    a. It does seem that such perceptions of sequences (and, thereby, of the durations of events) need to occur within the framework of a broader concept of temporal relations and such a framework seems to be provided by the plainly different experiences of perceiving what is happening and remembering what has happened. In considering the perception of space, we addressed the question: Could we have the concept (that we have) of space if we did not ever move? In somewhat the same way we might consider: Could we have a concept of time (at all) if we did not ever remember? This, however, is a rather more difficult question to deal with - because it is not a question of what concept we could have, but of whether we could have a concept. Certainly, much as the first response most people would make to `What is space?' is `What we move through', so, for most people, the first response to `What is time?' would probably be `Past, present and future'. And, if pressed, they could say that the past is what we remember, the present is what is going on now and the future is what we predict (when we predict rightly).

    O.K. But we shouldn't have those `the's; past, present and future are not names of durations, they are simply descriptions of durations (or of the specific events which have those durations).

    Remember, a duration must be finite - from a `point in time' to another, later `point in time'. If we try to think of the past or the future as a duration, we find that one end keeps moving and the other end is not there at all. And when we come to the present, it just can never be there - since the past and the future must meet at that `moving point'! What we have, then, are simply three sub-classes of temporalness - pastness, presentness and futureness and the instances of these are specific events - past events are those which have occurred, which we may remember - future events are those which will occur, which we may predict- present events are those which are occurring, which we may perceive.

    And, plainly, this is always from the reference point of the present event (whenever that present may be). Future events become present events and then past events because, as we conceive (what counts as) an event, pastness, presentness and futureness are changes to it, not of it.

    b. It is interesting that the worry which people have about there being no duration which is the present and the extremely messy attempts that have been made to invent a ` specious present' - just long enough for something to happen, yet constantly shifting - arise from the mistaken idea that there are durations which are the past and the future. As soon as it is realised that there are no such entities, the problems about presentness dissolve. We are speaking only of the (relative) durations of events and -

    past events are those which are over now (whenever that `now' may be) -

    future events are those which have not started yet -

    present events are those which have started but are not yet over, which are still going on.

    It should, therefore, be plain that a present event is not in the present (there is no present which it could be in); It is, as it were (temporally) `across the now'.

    c. Since -

      i) one particular event is whatever somebody sees as a particular event - isolated by his attention from the constant change that is occurring within a given spatial framework - and

      ii) events are made up of events and make up events - so that

      iii) at any time each of us is aware of a vast range of events within events -

    it follows that what is, for anybody, a present event is any event which has, for him, some sub-events which are past (remembered) and some sub-events which are future (predicted).

    Think of an ordinary experience like watching a football match. The match itself, so long as it is going on, is a present event within the present event which is this year's football season. And within that event, the match, there is the (sub)event, the first Aston Villa goal - and within that, the (sub)event, the neat left-foot jab by the centre-forward (here think of a replay of that goal on the telly). It is obvious that a present event, whatever its duration, can only be within a present event of greater duration - but is always made up of past and future events. So that, as we watch the game, we are aware of present events of all different durations - this present kick, this present Villa rally, this present half, this present match, this present season - this present lifelong devotion to football. An event can be as long or as short as we see it as and, so long as what we are seeing as an event has started but not finished, we are seeing it as a present event.

    Thus even the history of the universe (seen as such) is a present event (and always must be!).

    d. This should make more clear the distinction we have made (Topic 10) between perceiving and remembering. What we perceive is a present event, irrespective of how long its duration may be. What we remember is a past event - i.e. an event which (for us) is complete. So that, whilst we are perceiving this present event, this football match which is going on now, we are remembering that past event (within it), that splendid goal early in the first half.

    3. With possible confusions about pastness and presentness out of the way, we can now look at the processes of our awareness of past events - the experience we call remembering.

    It has been acknowledged that there is a memory component in perception (as soon as it departs from the `Stage I' level) but this is what we normally think of as recognition - the same-again-ness we register on presentation to us of appearances. What we are now considering is the awareness of past events as past events - or, quite simply, a knowledge of past history as such. Whilst any perception-related remembering is, thereby, concerned with present events, the remembering of past events as past events (and past events in a particular temporal sequence), along with the perception of present events, implies a concept of temporal relationships - of time. Here we are probably as close as we could get to any sort of parallel between the relationship of phenomenal space to the causal-to-spatial-perception element of objective reality and a relationship between time as we think of it and that temporal sequence which seems to be in the nature of reality. The slug in the garden does indeed perceive, believe (react appropriately) and must, therefore, recognise - i.e. use those memory-functions which are essential for the perceptual process. But it seems most unlikely that it remembers past events as past events - and, accordingly, most unlikely that it has any concept of time as we think of time.

      a. We have spoken of the memory-experience - but just what exactly is this? To remember is to know that certain past events occurred. We cannot remember things which did not happen, though we can contemplate all kinds of things which might have happened but did not. So it seems fair to say that the remembering experience, identified by us as such, is what enables us to distinguish remembering (knowings about past events) from mere imaginings.

      But, of course, in both cases, remembering and mere imagining, we are contemplating situations which are not presently being perceived. It is by no means obvious, therefore, why it is that we so confidently assert in some cases that `Yes, that really did happen' - and in other cases are equally confident that we are only imagining it. Some people have claimed a greater vividness or clarity for rememberings - but this, so far as it is intelligible at all, simply does not square with experience; memories are often very wuzzy indeed and people can certainly have so-called vivid imaginations.

      Just try to remember as clearly as possible, what you had for breakfast today. That should not be difficult. Then imagine having had for breakfast today a half grapefruit, bacon and tomatoes, toast and marmalade and black coffee. That should not be difficult either. [If by chance you did have that for breakfast today, imagine something different]. Now consider what difference there was, if any, between the two experiences. You probably want to say that in one case you just knew that it really happened and, in the other, you just knew that it didn't. But how and why did you just know? In neither case was the food actually in front of you to be examined. Since we all can, and constantly do, make this distinction, we are obliged to allow that, in the experience itself, there is what might be called `the felt authority of memory' or, more simply, `a memory feel'. But what is this felt authority? In what way is it felt?

      b. When we compare imagining with perceiving we have no such problem. You can imagine a black cat sitting on your desk but you know you are only imagining it, however good you are at imagining, because you can see and feel your desk with no black cat on it. Sensing is, as established, quite involuntary - and how we are sensing governs what we can believe. Here again it is useful to compare dreaming; in our dreams we do believe whatever we imagine because the sensing which would inhibit that believing is temporarily suspended. And also hallucination, where we might believe that we are perceiving what we are only imagining because the actual experience seems to be sensing.

      But in contemplating past events and situations, we not only could, we frequently do, get it wrong. So-called childhood memories are notoriously unreliable; people are often quite convinced that they recall very clearly events in their childhoods and then discover, from records or the testimony of other people, that those events just couldn't have occurred as they seem to remember them.

      Yet, for this to be so, it is essential that there are criteria by which we check and correct our seeming-memories. And it is also apparent that this checking process rests in some way upon the compatibility of the events we seem to remember with other events we seem to remember or are otherwise aware of. This is hardly surprising; we discovered very early that any belief continues as a belief only so long as it remains coherent with the total body of belief, that any discrepancy immediately creates doubt. Think of how we all do check our recollections - `Yes, he definitely did have a dog - but it wasn't a poodle, it was a daschund; I remember Fred laughing about its belly touching the ground', `We did go to the seaside that year - but it couldn't have been in June because Aunt Jane was staying with us in June - no, it was early July'.

      So we can say that the authority of memory arises, not from the contemplating-the-situation-experience as such, but from the `fitting' of the situation contemplated into a broad context of such situations-contemplated. But this still isn't quite good enough because, as experience we are only checking whether imagined situations are in fact correct memories by other imagined situations - and it is quite possible to go on imagining whole frameworks of `mutually-supportive' states of affairs. Within a dream, so long as it lasts, everything that seems to us to be so is supported by everything else that seems to be so - yet none of it is so. When you imagined the suggested breakfast, this presumably clashed with other situations and circumstances you seemed to be remembering - yet you could have imagined a whole set of different circumstances which would have been compatible with that breakfast - and this would still not have made it feel like remembering. Our only direct, unavoidable contact with what is (as distinct from could be) the case is in our perception of present events.

      c. So here we need to take quite seriously the point made (in 3. e. above) that a present event can be of any duration - coupled with the point made earlier that, so long as the inferences all stem from presently presented appearances, we are perceiving. Note also that to perceive is to believe and that any believing is at some level of precision/vagueness. From all this it follows that, at any time, one of the present events Jones is perceiving is his own life-history - and, within that event, there is the remembered, past event (at some level of vagueness/precision), his life to date.

      Thus the `context of rememberings' in which our rememberings occur - and through which they gain their memory authority or memory-feel - is not wholly of imaginings; it extends up to, includes and is pegged to reality by presented appearances, by the here and now.

      Let us illustrate this point with a fairly fanciful example:

      Suppose a man is seized by kidnappers while he is sleeping, drugged before he wakes and deposited in a dark room where he has no contact with anybody - so that he has, when he wakes, no idea of where he is or how he got there. How long would it be before he started to have difficulties deciding which of the past situations he contemplated were rememberings and which were imaginings?

      It is also worth noting that sufferers from total amnesia have no way of knowing (remembering) anything that occurred before the amnesia started.

      We are not, of course talking of a sure-fire system for always remembering correctly; there is no such system. People do make memory errors - just as they make perceptual errors (and rather more frequently). We are talking only of how it is that we do distinguish what really happened from what simply might have happened - and why, overwhelmingly most of the time, we are right. Perceptual beliefs are checked against further perceptual beliefs and ultimately, memory beliefs are also checked against perceptual beliefs. It is not claimed that we are, or even could be, occurrently remembering everything that has happened in our lives since we were born. What is claimed is that -

        i) Each of us is (dispositionally) aware at any time of his or her life history - at some level of precision. [Here note how essential this is to our concepts of our own personal identity - and the way in which amnesia is, for the sufferer, a change of identity simply because he is not aware of a whole life history at any level of precision/vagueness].

        ii) We accept as remembered any contemplated past situation to the extent that it slots into (is wholly compatible with) this life-history. As soon as any aspect of what is contemplated seems to conflict in any way with its memory context, doubt is invoked and the kind of rechecking referred to earlier occurs - `Yes, there was a dog, but it wasn't a poodle' - etc.

        iii) As we focus on any bit of the past, its immediate surrounding (spatio-temporal) context tends to emerge occurrently (occurrent-remembering-ly) with greater precision (in greater detail) - so that incompatibilities which were not evident in the vaguer context now become evident.

        A crude, but quite useful, analogy is a light moved along a wall in the dark. A well-focussed torch will show one clear-cut area of the wall at a time - but a candle will both focus on the point of the wall nearest to the flame and provide a (gradually dimming as it gets further from that centre point) view of the whole wall. Remembering a past event is like using a candle, not like using a torch.

        iv) We must bear in mind that knowing involves believing, that believing is at some level of precision/vagueness and that error occurs only at a given level of precision/vagueness. Thus, to misremember is to assume a level of precision not justified by the imagining experience in context - Jones is remembering that Brown had a dog; he is misremembering it as a poodle.

      Let us allow, then, that what we have called the memory-feel just is the felt compatibility of the situation contemplated with the felt awareness of its life-history context (up to and including present perceptions) at the level of detail or precision appropriate to the situation in question. From this it follows that any memory can be felt as memory only insofar as it is `contained in' a perception - albeit an extremely vague and far-reaching perception.

      It is here interesting to note why it is that our so-called childhood memories are so often wrong and are so hard to correct. There simply is not, for most of us in most seemingly-recalled childhood situations, the precision of context which shows up the point at which the situation allegedly remembered departs from reality. To the extent that we have forgotten the context of memory-X, we have lost the capacity for checking the accuracy of memory-X.

      d. It should now be plain that, although we have characterised the memory-feel as the capacity for distinguishing rememberings from mere imaginings, this is not a neat either/or distinction. We have acknowledged one sense in which remembering is imagining - contemplating now, in its absence, a situation which was so. But we must also recognise the sense in which all imagining is remembering. We cannot imagine X without a concept of X-ness - and we cannot gain a concept of X-ness without having experienced all the components of X-ness. Here refer back to Topic 10 - there can be no concept without an appropriate prior set of percepts. Put very simply: Jones can imagine a purple-spotted, fire-breathing dragon only if he has experienced (and remembers) purple, spots, fire, breathing and lizard-like reptiles.

      Just try to imagine - though you will certainly not succeed - something of which you have no experience at all of its characteristics - nothing to remember. A rather delightful story in Punch many years ago concerned a prince who was granted a wish and wished for a blue-rumped gnurgle. The fairy said `OK - but you'll have to tell me what it is' to which the prince replied that he had no idea; he had wished for one so that he could find out. [I suspect that that story, which I read when I was about sixteen, set me off doing philosophy!]

      e. The thinkable - the imaginable - is the possible. And things are for us thinkable only if we remember (at some level of precision) situations which provide all the sub-concepts involved in the proposition we are thinking. From which it follows that any imagining is, ultimately, merely the remembering of events `out of sequence' - imaginatively creating an event from `sub-events of it' which did not occur in that order, in that relationship. It is because Jones does remember going for holidays and does remember being in a place called Sydney and does remember playing with his cousin Mary that he can imagine playing with Mary on holiday in Sydney (which never happened).

      We must conclude, therefore, that what makes a memory a memory - a knowing that a state of affairs pertained in the past - is not `the component parts of the content' (these must be remembered); it is the correct relating and sequencing of those component parts - at whatever level of precision/vagueness we are claiming to remember. Thus, to remember is to be aware of temporal relationships between events.

    4. We have, so far, been talking in a very general way about remembering. We have distinguished the recognition which occurs in the identification of appearances from the awareness of situations and events seen as past. But there are certain distinctions which should be considered within that awareness of the past as such.

      a. We have allowed that remembering is dependent upon perceiving - we cannot recall what we have not experienced - and our analysis of the perceptual process identified three stages -

        i) the perception of how the structure of sense-stuff is appearing to us -

        ii) the perception of this structure (this appearance) as presented by (the surfaces of) physical objects in the external world -

        iii) the perception of these external world presentations as situations of particular, familiar kinds - the identification of particular states of affairs in the external world - with all their further implications for us.

      It should be profitable, therefore, to consider what relationship there may be between each of these stages and the subsequent remembering of the event perceived.

      b. So let's look at what we might call the memory-parallels of each of the stages, the after-the-event awareness that stems, as it were, from each of them respectively -

        i) The parallel with Stage 1 could only be remembering the `how' (as such) of the appearance (i.e. the appearing) - being aware, when the sensory experience is no longer occurring, of how the experience was (as distinct from what it was of), recalling the sensory component of the perception. Try recalling how a rifle-shot sounds, how a letter-box looks, how coffee smells when it is being ground - without reference to them being rifle shots, letter boxes or coffee. This is, in effect, remembering the `unclassified classifiable', the new-infant-type experience, the given- in-sensing. And it is known as imaging [Not to be confused with imagining which must always involve `thats' but may or may not involve `hows' - Jones could imagine that he has been appointed Prime Minister without any imaging involved at all].

        ii) The parallel with the second stage seems to be remembering the thing or event itself - that which presented the appearance. When we ask somebody - `Do you remember your wedding?' or `Do you remember Fred when he was six?' we seem to be asking more than `Do you remember that you were married?' or `Do you remember that Fred once was six?'. We quite understand the reply for instance, `No. Of course I remember that I was married in 1950 - but I don't remember the event at all'. So, remembering it at least feels different to us from remembering that. We might go so far as to say things like `It's funny; I remember having a holiday in Dorset when I was almost five, but I can't remember anything at all about it'. As we shall see, this is absurd; what could count as remembering having the holiday if nothing at all were remembered about it? Yet we would generally accept the response as an intelligible communication - so it must be conveying something to us.

        iii) Stage III is perceiving that a particular state of affairs in the world pertains. It should be noted that, once this stage is reached - i.e. we know that a given state of affairs is so - how we came to know becomes irrelevant; the proposition is intelligible in conceptual, not perceptual terms. The memory parallel of Stage III therefore, is plainly simple propositional remembering - remembering that X was Y.

      Now compare: Jones remembers that -

        a. He went to sea in 1942 when he left school

        b. Italy invaded Abyssinia when he was nine

        c. Oliver Cromwell's side won the Battle of Naisby.

      Simply as propositions, all three -

        a. assert that Jones believes something which is so - i.e. knows something to be the case

        b. are concerned with past events.

      So, as propositional remembering, they are all of the same kind. How Jones came to know these things is totally irrelevant. That he does know them is his remembering. This is a point about which there can be considerable confusion - so think about it carefully. Nobody denies that Jones learned these things differently - that he went to sea by being there, that Abyssinia was invaded by hearing or reading about it while it was happening, that Oliver Cromwell won the Battle of Naisby by being taught this in school. But all learning involves perception - whether it be of the states of affairs learned about or of symbol-tokens such as (understood) written accounts or, for that matter, natural-sign-tokens (as when we learn that there has been an accident from the smashed car at the side of the road). And perceiving any state of affairs always involves `going beyond the given'. Thus, to remember that X is so, in the dispositional sense, is simply to have learned (perceptually; there is no other way) that it is so and not forgotten that it is so.

      c. We can return now to the point (b. ii) above) that, although we might say that we remember that an event occurred but do not remember that event, we must remember something about it or there would be nothing to count as the `it' which we remember to have occurred. [Think again of the unthinkability of a `bare this']

      In examining perception, the point was made very strongly that the only real shift is from stage I to stage II, that, thereafter, we are simply moving more deeply, as it were, into precision of identification of external world situations. As soon as we have gone beyond stage I, we have moved from the `how' of the appearance to `that this before me is a ... (that X is Y in the external world). To identify the appearance as of a physical object is the same kind of inference as to identify the appearance as of a burglar about to rob our neighbours and cause them great distress. This being so, it is quite natural that the `memory parallels' of stages ii and iii of perception should have no clear-cut boundary between them; the difference can only be one of degree.

      Suppose Jones tells us that he actually remembers going to sea in 1942, clearly recalls the event itself, but that he only remembers that Abyssinia was invaded in the mid-thirties and has no recollection at all of actually learning this.

      How different are these two rememberings? Well, firstly, Abyssinia being invaded and Jones's learning about this are two quite distinct events and, therefore, if the events are remembered, two quite distinct memories. And it cannot affect the nature of the memory of one of these events that the rememberer does or does not remember the other event. So whether or not Jones remembers learning what he remembers is quite irrelevant.

      So the difference between the going-to-sea and the invasion-of-Abyssinia memories boils down to no more than that: in the Abyssinia case Jones can assert confidently only the very vague statement that in the mid-thirties Italian troops invaded and conquered Abyssinia whereas, in the going-to-sea case, Jones can fill in a host of detail - almost as if he were observing it happening now. But look at this very carefully - and note that:

        i) It can ever be (at best) almost as if. If it were happening now it would be there to be observed and any question about it could be answered. In memory that is not the situation. Quiz Jones on exactly how many officers were on deck when he boarded the ship, where they were standing, exactly what they said to him - and so on. In remembering we do not `relive the past', whatever poets may say; we merely are aware of some things that happened, (some past events) -

        ii) Awareness is always propositional (what else could it be?) - So the difference between the two rememberings rests solely in how many different propositional rememberings of (sub-events of) the event in question are involved. When these add up for us to a substantial coverage of what we think of as that event we talk of remembering the event; when they do not, we talk of remembering only that it occurred.

      d. This, however, is not the whole story., For most people (there are some who vehemently deny any such experience) `remembering the event itself' involves at least some imaging of the appearances that were presented by it. So, in an indirect way, there is a connection with remembering the learning that it was so (since all learning is perceptual and all perceiving involves sensing).

      Here we must be careful. We do acknowledge that there is a clear-cut difference of kind between imaging - being aware after the event of how (sensory) appearances presented - and propositional remembering - being aware after the event that a state of affairs pertained. But this does not imply that there are two different ways of remembering, any more than the fact that we can identify the sensory-component of perceiving implies that there are two different ways of cognising.

      There seem to be a number of very common mis-conceptions about imaging, so we need to be quite clear that -

        i) there are no queer entities called images involved, no little pictures or noises in our heads. There are images - such things as pictures, statues, reflections in mirrors and those after-images which we see when we close our eyes after being in bright light. But these are involved in perceiving, not in remembering. When we image we are not looking at, or hearing, or smelling or feeling anything present at all.

        ii) We are simply aware of how an appearance did look, sound, feel, smell or whatever - aware of the mode of perception as distinct from the `message' of the perception (the propositional belief created).

        iii) It follows from this that, in itself, imaging provides no information about the world at all; its connection is with the sensing-component of perception. And sensing, as we have seen, is not any kind of cognition. Only when it is related to a propositional remembering can it have any memory significance; we are then remembering not only that a particular event occurred but also how that event presented appearances to us.

        iv) But perceiving, which is sense-dependent, is discovering that certain states of affairs pertain. Once the discovery has been made - i.e. we know that a given proposition is true - the `sensory part' is no longer vital. So that imaging is not essential to the remembering of past events at all. Indeed some people claim that they never image, that they did in their youth but have long since ceased to do so. For the vast majority of us who do, just about all the time, the imaging seems to add greatly to our rememberings - but it does so only in the way that illustrations in story books add to the story. It is nice to have them but they are an optional extra; we could follow the story without them.

      Here refer back to the possibility (Topic 10, 3. b.) of `stoppping at stage I' in perception - registering a sound just as that sound, etc. Parallel with this, we can and sometimes do image when we have not in fact perceived the state of affairs (as that state of affairs) which presented the appearances imaged. This could happen quite often in dreaming but, even in waking life, most of us have had such experiences as driving through a village that has a village clock, noting that there was a clock but not noting the time and, then, after passing through the village, wondering what the time was and `reading this' from our imaging - our recollection of how the clock-face presented to us (the unclassified classifiable) much as we could have read it from the clock-face itself, but didn't.

      e. The problem with this, however, is that it works only for very short time-spans - because, as we saw in 4. d. above, all imaging is remembering and it is just as easy to do the wrong imaging (for the event in question) as it is to do the right imaging. Here think of those phoney childhood-memories; these are often accompanied by very `vivid' imagings which seem to confirm them as memories. [It is worth noting that, if we have imaged something often enough, we can remember that imaging]. Think also of somebody being cross-questioned in court: `You say that, at that moment, he put his hand into his pocket. Now - this is important - was it his right hand into his right pocket or his left hand into his left pocket?' If the witness had registered this at the time he would confidently reply `Left' or `Right'. If he had not, however, he would find that he could image either with equal facility. We accept our imagings as `correct' because they fit with our propositional rememberings, not the other way round.

      f. This does not mean, however, that imaging is of no importance - far from it. Firstly, those people who claim that they never image might find it hard to explain that they do know how purple looks, how a spider crawling over you feels, how thunder sounds, when they are not looking at anything purple, feeling spiders or hearing thunder. They may, of course, say that they don't, that they only recognise these situations when they do occur - and we may believe them.

      But they cannot deny that they do perceive that events are happening. And the vital role of imaging is in perception, not in memory. Consider carefully the process of perceiving an event - bearing in mind that there is no present for the perception to be `in'. A sequence of appearings is for us the sequence of changes in the external world that count (for us) as the event perceived. But we could not have a sequence of appearings, a continuity of appearance-changes if we did not image. As we have seen, a present event (that which we perceive) has a duration, part of which is predicted and part remembered. It follows, then, that what we think of as the sensing which continues throughout the perceptual process (and forms the data for the perceptual judgements) is in fact sensory input manifested in imaging. Thus, in the light of our analysis of presentness, we cannot avoid the conclusion that if we did not image we could not perceive at all.

      g. But we are here concerned with remembering and, notwithstanding that we tend to think of those cases where we are both aware, propositionally, of a mass of detail and also aware, in imaging, of the presented appearances themselves as special cases - as actually `remembering the event itself' - we can now say quite confidently that remembering just is knowing that certain past events did occur (and sometimes of how they `presented appearances') as a result of past perceptual experience - whether that experience was of the event itself, of reports about the event or of deductions made in the past from a combination of these. To remember is to accept as true propositions about past events which are true.

      To misremember is to accept as true propositions about past events which are not true because their truth seemed to us to be compatible with our own total awareness of our life-histories at the level of precision with which we were `viewing' those past histories at the time of contemplating those propositions - so that, for us, they had the memory-feel. Memory-beliefs, like all beliefs, can be at any level of precision/vagueness and, the more precise they are, the greater the likelihood of error. But, just as to misperceive the tree as a poplar is to perceive that it is a tree; so, to misremember the seaside holiday as at Blackpool is to remember that there was a seaside holiday.

Return to Top of Page
  • 1) Possibility, Probability, Actuality and Necessity

  • 2) The Nature of Believing

  • 3) The Nature of Knowing

  • 4) Inference and Significance

  • 5) Symbols, Language and Communication

  • 6) Fact, Propositions, Statements and Sentences

  • 7) Identity and Similarity

  • 8) Personal Identity - the `Centre of Experience'

  • 9) Sensing

  • 10) Perception and prediction

  • 11) The perception (and nature) of space and `objects'

  • 13: Causality

  • 14: Choice - the notion of freedom

  • 15: Value judgements, the good and the bad


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