Memory and Time Essay

Memory and Time Essay

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Critically assess the theory that our memory for the past is a crucial element in imagining the future.


Human beings do not have the ability to travel in time; therefore the only way to detach themselves from the present is through their mental world, where they can access past recollections as well as prospective expectations. The only memory system allowing individuals to mentally time travel is episodic memory. Bartlett (1932) proposed the idea that memory is not an actual reproduction of the past, but a constructive process in which distinct pieces of information from various sources are drawn together. Therefore episodic memory does not just hold and retrieve exact replicas of past experiences but rather holds detailed distinctive informations which allow individuals to recollect past events.
Schacter and Addis (2007) argued that details from the past episodes are also crucial for fabricating or imagining future scenes and occurring. This ability is referred to as prospection or episodic future thinking. Re-experiencing of past events and the capacity of the pre-experience episodes in the future are enabled by the same episodic memory system. However as the future is not an exact duplication of the past, they argue that simulating of the future happenings is enabled by a constructive, rather than reproductive system, able to extract and recombine elements from the past experiences in order to imagine the future. If this claim is correct there should be a considerable overlap in psychological as well as in neural processes involved in remembering the past and imagining the future.
Shao, Yao, Ceci and Wang (2010) reject Schacter and Addis’ idea, claiming that future scenarios are not merely a reflection of the past but ...


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...nd into the future operates on the same cognitive capacities. The argument was supported with presenting brief descriptions of behavioural studies and neuroimaging experiments, presenting evidence for the claims that recollecting the past and envisioning the future involve a shared brain network and that imagining future scenarios requires collecting and amending details from the past. Contradictory to this view, the essay presented Shao, Yao, Ceci and Wang’s theory of the importance of individual concept of self on envisioning future events, showing differences in peoples past and future self concepts. Furthermore, the essay was summed up with the idea that both views should meet on a common ground, as mental time travel into the past and the future is enabled by a shared brain network, however it is also influenced by acquired non personal knowledge of the world.

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