IJN Colloquium

Neither Preservation, nor Imagination : Episodic Memory as a ’Prediction of the Past’ from Minimal Traces

Markus Werning (Ruhr University Bochum)
Practical information
20 March 2020

ENS, Pavillon Jardin, conference room, 24 rue Lhomond, 75005 Paris


The current philosophical debate on memory is dominated by two camps. On one side, we face modified versions of the Causal Theory that hold on to the idea that remembering requires a memory trace that causally links the event of remembering to the event of perception and carries over representational content from the content of perception to the content of remembering. On the other side, a new camp of Simulationists is currently forming up. Motivated by empirical and conceptual deficits of the Causal Theory and its modifications, they reject, both, the necessity of preserving representational content and the necessity of a causal link between perception and memory. They argue that remembering is nothing, but a specific form of imagination, and differs from other forms only in that it has been reliably produced and is directed towards an episode of one’s personal past. Sharing the criticism of the Causal Theory and its demand for an intermediary carrier of representational content, I will argue that a causal connection to experience is, still, necessary to fulfill even the minimal requirements of past-directedness and reliability, accepted even by Simulationists. I will develop an account of minimal traces devoid of representational content and exploit an analogy to the predictive processing framework of perception. As perception can be regarded a prediction of the  present on the basis of sparse sensory inputs without any representational content, episodic memory can be conceived of as a “prediction of the past” on the basis of a merely causal link to a previous experience. The resulting notion of episodic memory will be validated as a natural kind distinct from mere imaginary processes.