top of page
Return to the upper page
(click here)

Remembering as a special mode of perception

     -The dualisation of environment and

                semantic/syntactic regulation in remembering-

The 15th Meeting of the International Society for Theoretical Psychology 

               (3 May, 2014,  Pontificia Universidad Catolinade Chile, Santiago, Chile)

The Slides and texts below were presented at the 15th Meeting of the International Society for Theoretical Psychology.

This presentation aims at constructing a new theory of memory and remembering that overcomes the root metaphor of memory, that is, memory traces. The classical theory originating from Ebbinghaus assumes that static traces like photos are stored in a brain and remembering is only the retrieval and reproduction of such trace. The author and his colleagues showed the veracity of experiences was reflected on ways how rememberers talked about their experiences (styles of remembering) and introduced a concept of time as ‘persistence of experiencers‘ instead of memory traces (Ohashi et al., 2002; Mori, 2008, 2009). Although they tried to brake new ground, some unsolved problems remain; how ‘persistence of experiencers’ is differentiated into isolated events when remembering; why we feel products of remembering are stored somewhere before we remember them; what makes remember possible and secures the identity of remembering different from other cognitive activities. These questions should be answered because they may revive the root metaphor in the classical theory, that is, memory traces if they remain unsolved. In order to solve them, the present study attempts to pave a way to the reconceptualisation of remembering as a special mode of perception that acutualises through the dualisation of environment and the syntactic regulation of narrative activity. Remembering begins at some necessities and requests to remember. Responding to these necessities and requests, we start exploring the environment in order to reorient ourselves in the environment. In this point, we dualise the environment into a large duration and shorter ones nested in the former. The dualisation is accomplished by the discovery of ‘something’ in dualised environment. It is an occluding edge of two adjacent durations. An occluding edge specifies the change and continuance in ‘persistence of experiencers’. To understand this conclusion, we can refer to an occluding edge in perception. When we perceive a square pole, we know another surface exists and its shape is rectangle behind the occluding edge. A large duration in remembering is correspondent to ‘perception of a square pole’ and a short one to ‘perception of each surface. Although the appearance of surfaces of the pole successively changes when we move around the pole, we know these  surfaces construct the identical pole. Remembering often terminates at the discovery of an occluding edge of durations. This type of remembering is called recognition. Another type of remembering, which is called recall, have to be explained. The achievement of the latter type of remembering is needed another emergent process of syntactic regulation of the discovered duality. This is the interpenetrating process between experiences and social mediation. To understand this process, the author use the internal measurement theory proposed by a theoretical biologist Koichiro Matsuno (Matsuno, 1989). 

I will attempt to propose a new theory of remembering.This is contents of my presentation. 

    First, my research questions are given. Then, some weakness of older theories are identified by offering some evidences and the necessity of a new theory is stressed. 

    A new theory has its foundation on an ecological theory of perception proposed by James Gibson. I will show you how to extend his theory of perception to remembering. A key word is ‘dualisation’.

    Next, I will suggest that remembering is a special mode of perception and discuss how remembering process is developing. A key word is ‘semantic/ syntactic regulation’.

    And I will answer the second research question that asks why a stored trace is still a root metaphor of memory.

Here are my research questions and objectives.

    First objective is constructing a new theory of remembering. What is needed first is to secure the temporal nature of remembering, Although time is essentil to remembering, older theories, that is, memory trace theory and social construction theory, lack its temporality. 

    The trace theory also alienates experiences from their owner, experiencers. A new theory proposed here tries to avoid the alienation.

    Second objective is exploring reasons why an atemporal and alienated trace, which is assumed in the trace theory, is still a root metaphor of memory.

There are two theories of remembering to be overcome by a new theory.

    One is the memory trace theory, which has been dominant conception of memory especially in experimental studies since Herrmann Ebbinghaus. This theory considers remembering as retrieval of stored memory traces. But it has faced much criticism; for example, Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and one of  his pupils Norman Malcolm, whose work of memory is famous, and Frederic Bartlett. In spite of their criticism, it is still a root metaphor of memory. So we should explore reasons why it is so dominant conception.

    Second theory to be overcome is the social construction theory of remembering. I partly agree with this approach because it acknowledges the important role of social mediation and successfully avoid the alienation of memory from rememberers by abandoning the conception of stored traces.

    But I have to stress its lack of temporal nature of remembering. The temporality should be the essential for remembering which distinguishes it from other cognitive activities.

    Here, I wil give some evidences which I and my colleagues found. Because of these findings, a new theory of remembering should be proposed.

    Ohashi, Mori, Takagi, & Matsushima, they are all Japanese, and Mori found that signs of real experiences appear on different narrative styles from that of fake experiences which have their origins in imagination or information heard from other people. It should be stressed that these sings telling the veracity of experiences appear on narrative styles not its contents.

    So we concluded that past experiences show their veracity through rememberers‘ bodily actions or ways how they are talked; and that past exists in rememberers’ persistent body from their experience to the present. 

    Another finding should be mentioned, that is, socially valid narratives do not necessarily show the veracity of remembering. In Ohashi et al.’s and Mori’s studies, rememberers applied different styles to real remembering from fake one, but all their narratives, whether they were real or fake, were not recognised as socially invalid. This finding tells that it is rememberers’ persistent body and its actions which secure the veracity, not socially validity of their narratives. 

    We start to construct a new theory from here.

    I found it useful to apply and extend James Gibson’s ecological theory of perception in order to accomplish my enterprise. 

    There are two key words. One is ‘direct perception’. Gibson argues that perception is not constructed representation of objects in outer world made from light stimuli. Instead, he insists that perception is achieved by picking up information specifying objects in environment by using our body. In other words, perception is never alienated from perceivers. So, this conception of perception should be extended to a conceptualisation of remembering.

    The other key word is ‘perceived time’. This term means that time is not subjective but is information to be picked up from environment. It is famous that several of Gibson’s successors have identified such information whose name is ‘time to contact‘ or ‘tau’. Gibson suggested in his last work published in 1979 that we need no imagination and memory traces to talk about the future and the past because they can be perceived. By applying his theory to remembering, we can avoid the alienation of experience from rememberers and secure the temporal nature of remembering.

    But Gibson’s theory needs to be more developed enough to apply to remembering.

    We can call a range of time ‘duration’. A duration we perceive is the ‘present’. We orient ourselves and perceive various ranges of durations. For example, you can perceive this scene as ‘Mori’s presentation on remembering’;  And you can see ‘Mori’s first day of the ISTP Congress’ here; Or it is possible to see ‘Mori’s attendance to the Congress’ or Mori’s stay in Chile’. All of them are called a ‘present event’. Which duration we are oriented to and perceive depends on information explored and specified in the environment surrounding us.

    ‘Dualisation of environment’ is a term referring to a situation where a duration is nested in a larger range of duration. A duration of ‘Mori’s presentation’ is nested in a larger duration of ‘Mori’s first day of the Congress’. In perception, we orient ourselves to either duration. On the other hand, in remembering, we orient ourselves to both durations at the same time. Remembering is based on such dual duration or environment. Remembering becomes possible when we successfully find dual duration and orient ourselves to it.

    As far as we orient ourselves to a certain duration, we only perceive such a duration as it is. But when something that makes unstable our orientation to a current duration happens and our orientation is not expected to be stable again only by an activity of perception, we shift our cognitive mode from perception to remembering and start the dualisation to reorient ourselves. While dualising environment, we are exploring some information that cannot be clearly specified in a single duration before the dualisation. 

    Imagine that at lunch time, which is approaching, someone talks to me. He or she says, “ I have some questions about your presentation. You said that remembering is perception, didn’t you?” At this point, I cannot orient myself to the current duration and start to dualise the environment. I have to explore something that satisfies his or her request in dual duration. If the exploration results in success, I would say like this: “Yes, I did. But precisely, I said remembering is a special mode of perception.” 

    Remembering is the exploration and specification of ‘something that was present and now is absent but they happened to me in the past’. By orienting ourselves in a lager duration, we recognise ourselves as the identical us who both experienced a to-be-remembered event and is persistent from then to now. 

    Remembering is microgenetic process which is proceeding in the following way. Remembering starts when our orientation to a duration becomes difficult. Difficulties are often produced by requests of others to remember something. 

    The second stage is the exploration of dual duration. The third one is the specification of dual duration. And the forth one is verbal expression of the process in which words guide information picking up that is needed to specify dual duration. These three stage are actually reciprocal and circulative process. 

    The fifth and last stage is report of results of the process. Although the last one is often recognised as remembering, it is mistaken. Additionally, from the second to the forth stage are also mistaken as retrieval which is only remove of stored traces.

    Requests and reports of remembering are often given by words. Both of them as well as words produced during microgenesis from the stage 2 to 4 set boundary conditions of remembering. They are called boundary conditions because the exploration and specification of dual duration should be accomplished consistently with the semantics and syntax these words have.

     Although experiences to be remembered has its wholeness and concreteness, boundary conditions given by words are discrete and abstract. Rememberers have to regulate gaps between whole and concrete experiences and discrete and abstract words. This process is called the semantic/syntactic regulation originating from Japanese theoretical biologist Koichiro Matsuno’s works.

    Because of such gap filling activity, remembering is generative process, never deterministic one that the trace theory assumes.

    It is supported by some evidences that remembering has the semantic/syntactic process. 

    Mori (2008) compared remembering of real experiences with that of fake ones. In this study, real experiences were produced by participants’ navigation in a unfamiliar university. And fake experiences were produced when participants heard other person’s real experiences. Both types of experiences were reported to a ‘interrogator’. Participants had been required to report both types of experiences as if both had been really experienced. ‘Interrogators‘ did not know this trick because double blind method was applied. 

    Mori found one participant called Y showed some particularities in real remembering which were different from those of fake remembering. Both rememberings were different, first, in description of objects which Y said she had encountered; second, in instability of naming objects; and third, in temporal inability to draw a map.

    Participant Y gave rich and various descriptions to objects she had encountered. In contrast, her fake remembering was poor and stereotyped in description of objects. This is shown in following Extract 1.

Y is talking about a huge stairs encountered in her navigation of a unfamiliar university. Wholeness of an object becomes fragmented into its attributes to which Y hesitatingly referred by words. 

    Y often identified objects by their names. While naming of objects was stable in her fake remembering, instable naming of objects appeared in her real remembering. See extract 2.

    Y seemed to try to talk about an information learning room. She named the identical object in three ways: ‘something-room’, ‘classroom’, and ‘a room related to information’. And she also tried to identified the object in its room number.

    Her naming variously changed in the microgenetic process of remembering. She tried to regulate gaps between wholeness/concreteness and discreteness/abstract. 

(back to the previous slide)

    Interestingly, when Y was suggested to draw a map onto which she tried to arrange objects she had encountered in the navigation, Y temporally became unable to draw. She had frozen for about one minute before she started to draw. Contrastingly, Y had no difficulties to draw a map during her fake remembering. Rather drawing a map preceded and seemed to guide her fake remembering.

    Drawing a map is one of socio-cultural media to express our experiences. It has its particular semantics and syntax. When Y drew a map, she had to regulate gaps between her whole/concrete experiences and discrete/abstract expression by words.

    All these phenomena in real remembering shows the regulative process. But it is hard to find out the same kind of process in her fake remembering. This can be thought because her fake remembering consists of verbal experiences. They have already been molded by words before remembering and the regulative process need not be so exerted. This conclusion gives some suggestion for the next question.

    In previous slides, I said that once or already verbalised experiences do not need the regulative process so much. When verbalised experiences are remembered, its process would more look like retrieval of stored traces. 

    Mori (2008) gave another evidence. He found that repetition of remembering makes its narrative styles more stable than previous rememberings, even if the participant performed real remembering. Repetitive remembering leads repetitive application of the semantic/syntactic regulation to the preceding rememberings that have already and once verbalised. This is common phenomena to ‘conventionalisation’ which Bartlett pointed out. 

    Remember, in Mori’s experiment, informed experiences were expressed in more stable styles than real ones from the first remembering.

    These findings lead us to this conclusion: When fully verbalised, experiences can be mistaken as if they are stored in verbal forms before remembering and ready for being retrieved. I think this mistaken conception of experiences is an origin of stored traces which is a root metaphor of memory.

    It’s time to answer my research questions or objectives presented at the beginning.

    The first objective was to propose a new theory of remembering and to overcome older ones. My task to reach the objective was to secure the temporal nature of remembering and to avoid the alienation of experience. Remembering was reconceptualised as microgenetic process which includes the dualisation of environment or duration and the semantic/syntactic regulation of experiences and the weakness of the two older theories was fixed. 

    The second question to be answered was reasons for misbelief on stored traces as a root metaphor of memory. Several findings suggested that fully verbalised experiences are mistaken as if they are stored in stable forms before remembering.

    Remember almost all studies in psychology of memory, especially experimental one, use verbal materials for learning and remembering. This methodology can make researchers mistake the nature of memory and remembering. 

​Thank you for listening.

bottom of page