What are the benefits of memory distortion?

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a b s t r a c t 1. Introduction The purpose of this paper is to determine whether memories can have any benefit for their subjects while being dis-torted. 1 There are a number of things that one may have in mind by 'benefit' while referring to memory. For that reason, the formulation of the issue that will occupy us here admits several possible readings. It will therefore make for clarity if we begin our discussion by specifying, in Section 1, the types of benefits with which we will be concerned in this discussion. One may also have different things in mind by 'distortion,' depending on one's views about the function of memory. Thus, in order to formulate the topic of our discussion precisely, I will distinguish, in Section 2, two pictures of what memory is supposed to do, and two associated notions of distortion. Next, I will put forward two types of memories that, I will argue, can qualify as cases of beneficial distortion under very specific circumstances. In Section 3, I will discuss the case of so-called 'observer mem-ories' and, in Section 4, I will discuss the case of so-called 'fabricated memories.' My contention will be that, in both cases, some of those memories can, on the one hand, be advantageous for the subject to have while, on the other hand, her faculty of mem-ory has failed to perform its proper function by producing them. The significance of this claim for the two pictures of what memory is supposed to do will be explored in Section 5. 2. Epistemic benefits and adaptive benefits There are at least two ways in which having a memory can be beneficial for a subject. One of them is epistemic. Having a memory may provide the subject with knowledge of, or at least justification for a belief about, the past. The memory does this by supplying the subject with evidence, or grounds, for a certain belief; a belief in the content of the memory or, more 1 In what follows, I will use 'a memory' and the plural 'memories' to refer to memory experiences, and I will use 'memory' to refer to the faculty that produces memory experiences. Hopefully the context will help to avoid confusion. The discussion of the various types of benefits that memory experiences can carry will assume that those experiences have propositional content. With that exception, nothing in the discussion that follows will hinge on precisely how one construes the notion of a memory experience.




Fernández, J. (2015). What are the benefits of memory distortion? Consciousness and Cognition, 33, 536–547. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2014.09.019

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