Memory and the A-Series

Robin Le Poidevin


Can the structure of memory tell one anything about the nature of time? There is a certain kind of memory that appears to connect us in a special way to the past, namely `episodic memory´: remembering witnessing a certain event or performing a certain action (as opposed to merely remembering that one witnessed the event or performed that act). This kind of memory requires there to have been a relevant experience in the past, to which the memory is linked. It is this link that reveals something about time itself. Following a suggestion by John Campbell, in Past, Space and Self, this paper argues that an epistemological principle governing episodic memory has interesting consequences for our understanding of the passage of time. The principle question is that the memory cannot acquire a greater degree of veridicality (closeness to the truth) than the original experience. That in turn requires that the content of the memory be the same as, or at least be logically connected to, the content of the experience. The event or past state of affairs that makes the original experience veridical also makes the resulting memory veridical. So, for instance, if I remember the first moon landing, then it is the landing itself, or some fact about it, that makes veridical, both my current episodic memory of seeing it (on television), and the original perception. But how should we conceive of that event? Should we think of it as located in a changing `A-series´, that is, as receding further into the past? Or should we think of it as located only in an unchanging `B-series´, that is, as standing in relations of precedence, subsequence or simultaneity to other events? The first view takes seriously talk of the passage of time. The second is assiociated with what is sometimes called the `static´ conception of time, which treats passage as wholly mind-dependent and perspectival. This second view can easily accommodate the idea that in episodic memory what makes the memory veridical also made the original experience veridical. The first, it argued, cannot. For if there is an A-series, then one state of affairs is constantly being replaced by another, and past states of affairs are no longer available as truth- makers for present memories. One reply to this line of reasoning is that it is enough that there be a logical connection between past fact and present fact to secure the corresponding connection between memory and original experience. But, again, only the static view can explain this.


20th century philosophy; philosophy; philosophy of time; Wittgenstein Ludwig; A-series; B-series; episodic memory; epistemology; memory; Dummett Michael; psychology; time

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