Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Credit where it's due

Here's an interesting bit of a review in the current Times Higher of Charles Fernyhough's Piece of Light: the new science of memory.
When planning to give a talk, Fernyhough argues, we draw on relevant memories, including memories of previous talks. From them, we extract some general lessons to help us to plan our talk, such as how to engage the audience, how to keep to time, and how best to cope with the cramped room in which the talk is to be given. It is a mundane example, but deliberately so, because from it he extracts the general contention that memory enables us to imagine future events. If this is so, we might expect those who have serious memory problems, such as amnesia, to experience problems in imagining future scenarios. One might also expect overlap between the brain areas that are active when recalling past events and those active when imagining future ones. Both these predictions have recently received empirical support, and this has added weight to what medieval writers contended: that memory and imagination are intimately related. It also reminds us of one reason why we have such sophisticated memory abilities in the first place: remembering enhances our ability to deal with the present and to imagine different possible futures. 
What medieval writers contended?  Huh.  They may well have done.  But they were by no means the first to have the idea.  Try Plato's Philebus -- which is where Aristotle also got the idea, I reckon.

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