Episodic memory and common sense: how far apart?

Endel Tulving


Research has revealed facts about human memory in general and episodic memory in particular that deviate from both common sense and previously accepted ideas. This paper discusses some of these deviations in light of the proceedings of The Royal Society's Discussion Meeting on episodic memory. Retrieval processes play a more critical role in memory than commonly assumed; people can remember events that never happened; and conscious thoughts about one's personal past can take two distinct forms—‘autonoetic’ remembering and ‘noetic’ knowing. The serial—dependent—independent (SPI) model of the relations among episodic, semantic and perceptual memory systems accounts for a number of puzzling phenomena, such as some amnesic patients' preserved recognition memory and their ability to learn new semantic facts, and holds that episodic remembering of perceptual information can occur only by virtue of its mediation through semantic memory. Although common sense endows many animals with the ability to remember their past experiences, as yet there is no evidence that humanlike episodic memory—defined in terms of subjective time, self, and autonoetic awareness—is present in any other species.

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