The Teleology and Taxonomy of Memory

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In the most technical sense, memory is the capacity of a soul to retain, recognize, and recall specific events and experiences that have been built up over numerous lifetimes. With that being said, it would seem that an understanding of memory is absolutely essential in the process of making sense of the seemingly inexplicable continuity of self. In other words, unless an individual could remember something then he or she would not have an identity, because the different character components in someone are really based on the number of retrievable memories in the soul of that individual. This is how past lives can be forgotten about, even though the memories remain. Someone can also lose sight of who they are altogether, such that the soul is vacant but the body lives on during dementia.

In his book Brainscapes, Richard Restak asserted that “under normal circumstances we are able to maintain our sense of identity — who we are — only by forming new memories from moment to moment and accessing old ones at a leisurely command. It is precisely the loss of identity, secondary to a devastated memory, that occasions such sadness and dismay in the relatives of the Alzheimer’s victim; they recognize that the person whom they knew and loved, but who no longer recognizes them, has ceased to exist” (20–21).

Even though there is definitely significant disagreement about the exact nature of memory among the scientific community, specifically regarding the utility of taxonomic claims based on the ontological implications of particular kinds of proposed distinctions, there is good reason to believe that there are discernible kinds of memory processes or systems in the metaphysical domain of the soul. As part of this, the academic division of labor has done a great deal of work to produce a wide variety of different approaches toward the study of nearly every aspect of existence, including the concept of memory, particularly in the disciplines of psychology, neurology and even theology.

As an example of this, from an epistemological point of view, memory appears to be a particular source of knowledge that is similar to but still very much distinct from other psychological phenomena like that of perception and imagination. That is to say, given that someone could remember experiences and events which are not presently happening, memory must differ from perception at least in that sense. Along with this, someone could remember events which actually happened in the past, so memory is unlike imagination in that sense. None-the-less, there does seem to be a close relationship among remembering things through the process of reconstructing old experiences and perceiving or imagining through the process of constructing new experiences. This is how false memories form.

In addition to this, from a sort of teleological perspective, the processes of remembering and forgetting seem to relate to the specific physical functions and dysfunctions of nervous systems in certain vertebrate and invertebrate species. As part of this, it is a well known fact that the neurons that wire and fire together will tend to retain stronger synaptic connections than those that do not. So, whenever a neuron is activated within the external physical space of the body, it tends to activate other neurons as well. This physiological collective recreation of the original pathway pattern explains memory as a reactivation of the same set of neurons that were activated at the moment a memory was initially encoded, during one’s present lifetime.

In regards to this approach Floyd Bloom and Arlyne Lazerson wrote that “many regions and structures in the brain in addition to the cerebral cortex are critical to learning and memory. Memories also appear to be stored in a distributed and redundant way in the cortex” (253). Additionally, in the book Mysteries of the Mind, Dr. Restak claimed that “Memory involves the integration of a complex collection of abilities, each of which depends on different learning mechanisms and different areas of the brain…Memories of faces and objects reside within the temporal lobes; landscapes and patterns are relegated to the parietal lobes; and social encounters wind up in the frontal lobes. But since we remember integrated experiences — not just the separate sights, sounds, and other sensations associated with an event — all these memory components must be linked together into a whole. This linkage is accomplished by the association cortices, which occupy the lion’s share of the neocortex” (104–107).

TAXONOMICAL CLASSIFICATIONS:

SHORT-TERM MEMORY

Short-term memory is fleeting and easily interrupted, lasting only long enough to allow a specific record to be briefly emerge in the soul. This period is roughly twenty to sixty seconds in duration. In addition to this metaphysical quality of transience, short-term memory also has a very limited storage capacity. In general, this type of memory is only able to accommodate about five to nine different pieces of subject matter, based on the qualia of which they are composed.

LONG-TERM MEMORY

Long-term memory is enduring and steadfast, accompanying significant structural changes in the dimensions of internalized metaphysical space. These memories come in two different forms, being declarative and non-declarative. Although the exact structures and functions involved in long-term memory are not necessarily well understood, the medial portion of the temporal lobes in the body is certainly essential in the formation of new long-term memories.

DECLARATIVE MEMORY

Declarative and explicit memories refer to the knowledge that an individual can readily express and is aware of having. As a result these memories can be intentionally retrieved in the soul. In declarative remembering, an individual seeks to track the truth by reproducing facts in sharp contrast to non-declarative memories that do not represent reality or the past in the same sense. According to The Human Mind Explained, “Semantic and episodic memory are subsections of declarative memory. Semantic memory is the knowledge of facts — language and concepts — which the brain files in categories and which seems to involve the left temporal lobe. Episodic memory is of an event in one’s life and everything about it, including emotional reactions to it” (131).

SEMANTIC MEMORY

Semantic and propositional memories refer to what something is or does. These typically come in three different types. There is the knowledge that concepts belong to various categories, the knowledge that concepts have certain properties and certain relationships to other concepts, and the knowledge that concepts can be combined with other concepts. So, if metaphysical memory systems exist along with these processes, a semantic memory system must consist of the vast informational network that underlies an individual’s overall knowledge of the world in general.

EPISODIC MEMORY

Episodic and biographical memories reflect who someone is as a distinct frame of reference. They allow an individual to consciously recall the happenings of their own past by retrieving specific information that was acquired on a particular occasion. This knowledge of individual experience is based on what one has done throughout their life, and this is tremendously important because the most crucial aspect of identity is an ability to conjure up the remote occurrences of one’s own existence. Therefore, if memory systems exist, an episodic memory system must consist of the conceptual narrative that underlies an individual’s knowledge of their own unique history as a particular identity in their current lifetime.

NON-DECLARATIVE MEMORY

Non-declarative and implicit memories refer to the knowledge that an individual cannot readily express and may not be aware of having. As a result, these kinds of memories cannot be intentionally retrieved at will. According to The Human Mind Explained, “Non-declarative memory covers motor skills, such as playing football or riding a bicycle. These memories are thought to reside in the cerebellum and do not seem to involve the hippocampus” (131).

PROCEDURAL MEMORY

Procedural and habitual memories relate to how to do something. So, if memory systems exist, a procedural memory system would presumably consist of the entire range of abilities that relate to an individual’s knowledge of the specific performance of various different tasks. Yet again, in the book Mysteries of the Mind, Richard Restak put forth the idea that “In contrast to declarative memory, procedural memories do not seem to require the integrity of the hippocampus. Motor skills such as bicycle-riding reside principally in the premotor cortex and structures beneath the cortex, such as the basal ganglia and cerebellum… Since conscious effort and even awareness aren’t required for biking and many other activities — except when first learning them — the programs for these activities are best left to the subcortical areas” (107).

INSTINCTUAL MEMORY

Instinctual memories are a particular form of non-declarative memory that exist in the subconscious within past life memory. These motivational forces are forged over tremendous lengths of time in order to produce atavistic behavioral actions that occur prior to any thoughts of consequence. These complex reflexes are the result of what psychologists call fixed-action patterns and other kinds of instincts. They are present at birth existing in the absence of sensory experience, having been incorporated into the soul over long periods of time as the result of a tendency to encode a readiness to respond to certain stimuli in particular ways. These kinds of memories are often present in biological systems whenever the state of an organism depends on past history as well as present conditions, requiring fragments of experience to be transmitted from one lifetime to the next. As an example of this, a prodigious savant knows things that he or she never learned in their current lifetime.

Bloom, Floyd E. and Arlyne Lazerson. Brain, Mind, and Behavior. New York: Freeman, 1988.

Greenfield, Susan A. The Human Mind Explained. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996.

Restak, Richard. Brainscapes. New York: Hyperion, 1995.

Restak, Richard. Mysteries of the Mind. Washington: National Geographic Society, 2000.

Squire, Larry R., ed. Encyclopedia of Learning and Memory. New York: Macmillan, 1992.

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An Autodidact Polymath

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