Episodic memory and autonoetic consciousness: a first–person approach

John M. Gardiner


Episodic memory is identified with autonoetic consciousness, which gives rise to remembering in the sense of self–recollection in the mental re–enactment of previous events at which one was present. Autonoetic consciousness is distinguished from noetic consciousness, which gives rise to awareness of the past that is limited to feelings of familiarity or knowing. Noetic consciousness is identified not with episodic but with semantic memory, which involves general knowledge. A recently developed approach to episodic memory makes use of ‘first–person’ reports of remembering and knowing. Studies using this approach have revealed many independent variables that selectively affect remembering and others that selectively affect knowing. These studies can also be interpreted in terms of distinctiveness and fluency of processing. Remembering and knowing do not correspond with degrees of confidence in memory. Nor does remembering always control the memory response. There is evidence that remembering is selectively impaired in various populations, including not only amnesic patients and older adults but also adults with Asperger's syndrome. This first–person approach to episodic memory represents one way in which that most elusive aspect of consciousness, its subjectivity, can be investigated scientifically. The two kinds of conscious experiences can be manipulated experimentally in ways that are systematic, replicable and intelligible theoretically.

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