Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Is memory addressed in the O'st epistemology?

Rate this topic


Nate T.
 Share

Recommended Posts

Something I've been thinking about for a while:

I've just finished a fairly thorough reading of IOE, and nowhere in it does Rand seriously address the concept of memory and how it fits into the development of Objectivist Epistemology. The only part I can think of (off the top of my head) is in the workshops where Rand mentions that if a collection of referents forming the meaning of some concept were to disappear somehow, that the referents of the concept would still exist as memories.

In any case, holding a chain of reasoning in your mind requires a working memory. As such, I'm pretty sure that we can dismiss attacking one's memory as a stolen concept fallacy. Does this show that we need to hold memory as axiomatic? If so, does this affect the development of Epistemology in some way?

Also, since I haven't read very much of Rand's formal philosophy, I'm not sure if she addresses this elsewhere. If she does, can someone please point me to a source?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've just finished a fairly thorough reading of IOE, and nowhere in it does Rand seriously address the concept of memory and how it fits into the development of Objectivist Epistemology.  The only part I can think of (off the top of my head) is in the workshops where Rand mentions that if a collection of referents forming the meaning of some concept were to disappear somehow, that the referents of the concept would still exist as memories.

It would help if you gave a quote or page number so we could see exactly what you're saying. But I have a guess (see below). In my understanding, if the

units i.s. the concrete entities were to disappear, the referent of the concept would disappear: the units and the referents are one and the same thing. But something would still exist, namely the concept. In other words, referents are the entities "out there", and concepts are what we have "in here". Here's a quote from Rand:

If you remember that there were cups, and now somehow they have disappeared, the concept still has meaning—as a memory. The person waving the wand would also have to erase your memory of such existents. If he could do that, then of course the concept and the meaning would disappear

Memory does play an essential role in Objectivist epistemology. Many of the relevant issues are not philosophical but are scientific, having to do with how human memory works, so of course you shouldn't expect a really extensive treatment of the nature of memory in ITOE.

In any case, holding a chain of reasoning in your mind requires a working memory.  As such, I'm pretty sure that we can dismiss attacking one's memory as a stolen concept fallacy.  Does this show that we need to hold memory as axiomatic?  If so, does this affect the development of Epistemology in some way?

I don't think memory needs to be a considered an axiomatic concept. On the other hand, it is a fact that humans by nature have memory (and memory of a certain type). You can grasp the nature of memory by reference to consciousness, existence and identity. For instance you can see a branch fall to the ground in your back yard (that experience is axiomatic), and 2 hours later you can go outside and see the branch again. Because you do have a memory of the event, you can focus on the fact of the branch being there when it has not always been there; and furthermore you can focus on the memory either before re-seeing the branch, or right after seeing the branch. The important thing is that when you remember the branch before re-seeing it, you now have an expectation that the branch will still be there (standard caveats about dogs carrying off the branch naturally apply), and indeed that expectation is satisfied, at least often enough that the concept "memory" can be validly formed.

Imagine a universe where you had memory-like experiences and perception of the here and now, only there was no connection between the quasi-memories and the here and now percepts. (How does this happen? Well, either causality just plain doesn't hold, or else you don't have memories, and what you have is random mental impressions). Then the relationship between "remembering" something and subsequently re-seeing it would be random. But since we can reliably correlate the mental impressions and the immediate perceptions about things that happened, we can understand that correlation in terms of the concept "memory".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

...

Nate, there is an an excellent four-part article titled Biology Without Consciousness -- And Its Consequences published in the February, March, April, and May 1968 issues of The Objectivist. The third part of the article (April) focuses on "The Concept of Memory." The article was not written by Ayn Rand (it was written by neuro-physiologist Robert Efron) but all the material in the The Objectivist was edited and approved by Miss Rand. The purely scientific aspect of the article is somewhat dated -- in that there is a great deal more we have now learned in neurobiology -- but the essence of the article, and its philosophical implications, remain.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Something I've been thinking about for a while:

I've just finished a fairly thorough reading of IOE, and nowhere in it does Rand seriously address the concept of memory and how it fits into the development of Objectivist Epistemology. 

I think that is because memory is not a conceptual issue but is, instead, an automatic function of consciousness included in the perceptual level. Observe that a memory is a retained percept and that lower animals that do not have concepts are capable of remembering and learning.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well as for memory it's a pretty complex thing in psychology as I've learned in class. I found that basically memory is mostly contextual. It changes with new things we learn. It's really neat I'll have to draw out the current 'model' of memory. But remember, they just got a model, that doesn't mean it's 1-to-1 as a theory. o_O It's sorta complex to explain.

-- Bridget

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the responses, everyone. :)

First of all, Betsy, I really like the idea that memory is a type of perceptual function. In that sense, would it be correct to state that a denial of the validity of memory would be, in effect, a denial of the validity of sense perception, which is concept stealing?

David, your guess is right-- I'll try to quote things directly next time, but I didn't have the book with me. I remember something else in Peikoff's paper about the Analytic/Synthetic dichotomy that might be relevant here, something about a strict adherent of the Analytic/Synthetic dichotomy who calls into question the validity of memory in order to attack concepts; quote to come later.

In any case, I like your "branch" example of how one would come to form the concept of "Memory", but I was more addressing the fact that we seem to rely upon memory to form concepts. I guess the questions that I'm asking (of everyone) are: is having a valid memory a necessary condition for forming concepts? If so, does this make "Memory" a concept which is implicit in all others (like "existence" or "consciousness"), or does it give "Memory" some other special status?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I guess the questions that I'm asking (of everyone) are: is having a valid memory a necessary condition for forming concepts?

Clearly so, for otherwise we would just perceive an undifferentiated chaos here and now.

If so, does this make "Memory" a concept which is implicit in all others (like "existence" or "consciousness"), or does it give "Memory" some other special status?

Concepts such as "existence" and "consciousness" are axiomatic concepts in that they identify an irreducible fact of reality. Memory is a conscious process that has a physical component, a complex bio-neurochemical interaction that is likely encoded by altering synaptic connections. So I would say that memory as a conscious process is axiomatic, but not its physical component.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi, Stephen,

Concepts such as "existence" and "consciousness" are axiomatic concepts in that they identify an irreducible fact of reality. Memory is a conscious process that has a physical component, a complex bio-neurochemical interaction that is likely encoded by altering synaptic connections. So I would say that memory as a conscious process is axiomatic, but not its physical component.

I agree that memory as a function of consciousness is a primary, since we need memory to form concepts. And I think that's it's worth stating explicitly, since one could try to attack concept-formation through the 'unreliability' of memory much as in the same way as one could try to attack sense perception. And that's why it made me nervous that Rand didn't mention it in IOE.

But what do you mean when you say that memory as a physical component is not axiomatic? I wouldn't think that a physical component of anything could be axiomatic or not, since it isn't a concept but a physical existent.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But what do you mean when you say that memory as a physical component is not axiomatic?  I wouldn't think that a physical component of anything could be axiomatic or not, since it isn't a concept but a physical

existent.

A chair is a physical existent, but we also have a concept "chair." I was separating memory as a process of consciousness from its physical component in the brain. The former is irreducible, while the latter is reducible to the neural processes of which it is composed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Stephen,

A chair is a physical existent, but we also have a concept "chair." I was separating memory as a process of consciousness from its physical component in the brain. The former is irreducible, while the latter is reducible to the neural processes of which it is composed.

Okay, that makes sense. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A chair is a physical existent, but we also have a concept "chair." I was separating memory as a process of consciousness from its physical component in the brain. The former is irreducible, while the latter is reducible to the neural processes of which it is composed.

I assume that you mean that consciousness is irreducible.

You mean to say that consciousness is an inanimate property of matter or an inanimate property of the human brain (or rather the structure of the human brain)?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You mean to say that consciousness is an inanimate property of matter or an inanimate property of the human brain (or rather the structure of the human brain)?

I do not know what you mean by an "inanimate property." However, what I know is that the brain somehow gives rise to consciousness, but that consciousness is not reducible to matter. Conscious processes are not the same thing as neural processes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...