Selected Publications

For a full list of publications, please consult my C.V.

Eliminating Episodic Memory? (with John Sutton & Chris McCarroll)

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (forthcoming) 

In Tulving’s initial characterization, episodic memory was one of multiple memory systems. It was postulated, in pursuit of explanatory depth, as displaying proprietary operations, representations, and substrates such as to explain a range of cognitive, behavioural, and experiential phenomena. Yet the subsequent development of this research program has, paradoxically, introduced surprising doubts about the nature, and indeed existence, of episodic memory. On dominant versions of the ‘common system’ view, on which a single simulation system underlies both remembering and imagining, there are no processes unique to memory to support robust generalizations with inductive potential. Eliminativism about episodic memory seems to follow from the claim that it has no dedicated neurocognitive system of its own. After identifying this under-noticed threat, we push back against modern eliminativists by surveying recent evidence that still indicates specialized mechanisms, computations, and representations that are distinctly mnemic in character. We argue that contemporary realists about episodic memory can retain lessons of the common system approach while resisting the further move to eliminativism.

Autonoesis and the Galilean Science of Memory: Explanation, idealization, and the role of crucial data

European Journal for Philosophy of Science 13:42 (2023) 

The Galilean explanatory style is characterized by the search for the underlying structure of phenomena, the positing of "deep" explanatory principles, and a view of the relation between theory and data, on which the search for "crucial data" is of primary importance. In this paper, I trace the dynamics of adopting the Galilean style, focusing on the science of episodic memory. I argue that memory systems, such as episodic and semantic memory, were posited as underlying competences producing the observable phenomena of memory. Considered in idealized isolation from other systems, episodic memory was taken to underlay the ability of individuals to remember events from their personal past. Yet, in reality, memory systems regularly interact, standing in many-to-many relations to actual memory tasks and experiences. Upon this backdrop, I explore a puzzle about the increasing prominence of the notion of autonoetic consciousness in Tulving's theory of episodic memory. I argue that, contrary to widespread belief, the prominence is not best explained by the purported essential link between autonoetic consciousness and episodic memory. Rather, it is explained by the fact that autonoetic consciousness, hypothesized to uniquely accompany episodic retrieval, was considered a source of crucial data, predictable only from theories positing a functionally distinct episodic memory system. However, with the emergence of a new generation of theories, positing wider memory systems for remembering and imagination, the question of the relation between episodic memory and autonoetic consciousness has been reopened. This creates a pressing need for de-idealization, triggering a new search for crucial data.

Autonoesis and Episodicity: Perspectives from philosophy of memory (with Andre Sant'Anna & Kourken Michaelian)

WIREs Cognitive Science, e1665 (2023)

The idea that episodic memory is distinguished from semantic memory by the fact that it involves autonoetic consciousness, initially introduced by Tulving, has been influential not only in psychology but also in philosophy, where a variety of approaches to autonoesis and to its relationship to episodicity have been developed. This article provides a critical review of the available philosophical approaches. Distinguishing among representational, metacognitive, and epistemic accounts of autonoesis, it considers these in relation to objective and subjective conceptions of episodicity and assesses them against immediacy and source criteria that any philosophical account of autonoesis should arguably aim to satisfy.

Episodic Representation: A mental models account

Frontiers in Psychology 13: 899371 (2022).

This paper offers a modeling account of episodic representation. I argue that the episodic system constructs mental models: representations that preserve the spatiotemporal structure of represented domains. In prototypical cases, these domains are events: occurrences taken by subjects to have characteristic structures, dynamics and relatively determinate beginnings and ends. Due to their simplicity and manipulability, mental event models can be used in a variety of cognitive contexts: in remembering the personal past, but also in future-oriented and counterfactual imagination. As structural representations, they allow surrogative reasoning, supporting inferences about their constituents which can be used in reasoning about the represented events.

Causation in Memory: Necessity, reliability, and probability

Acta Scientiarum 43(3): e61493 (2022)

I argue that causal theories of memory are typically committed to two independent, non-mutually entailing theses. The first thesis pertains to the necessity of appropriate causation in memory, specifying a condition token memories need to satisfy. The second pertains to the explanation of memory reliability in causal terms, and it concerns memory as a type of mental state. Postcausal theories of memory can reject only the first (weak post-causalism) or both (strong post-causalism) theses. Upon this backdrop, I examine Werning’s (2020) causalist argument from probabilistic correlation. I argue that it doesn’t establish the necessity of appropriate causation, and thus it can only target strong post-causalist theories. I end up by presenting some general considerations, suggesting that memories may not always be causally linked to past experiences. 

Memory as Triage: Facing up to the Hard Question of memory

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 12: 227-256 (2021)

The Hard Question of memory is the following: how are memory representations stored and organized so as to be made available for retrieval in the appropriate circumstances and format? In this essay, I argue that philosophical theories of memory should engage with the Hard Question directly and seriously. I propose that declarative memory is a faculty performing a kind of cognitive triage: management of information for a variety of uses under significant computational constraints. In such triage, memory representations are preferentially selected and stabilized, but also systematically modified and integrated into generalized, model-like representational structures. Further, I propose a hybrid theory of remembering, which takes into account both the nature of the cognitive processes underlying remembering and the norms that govern representational success in relevant cognitive/epistemic contexts.

In the philosophy of memory, singularism is the view that episodic memories are singular mental states about unique personally experienced past events. In this paper, I present an empirical challenge to singularism. I examine three distinct lines of evidence from the psychology of memory, concerning general event memories, the transformation of memory traces and the minimized role temporal information plays in major psychological theories of episodic memory. I argue that singularist views will have a hard time accommodating this evidence, facing a problem of transitional gradation. I then look at some potential consequences for the larger debate, highlighting the way in which singularism has featured in three important recent arguments in the philosophy of memory.