Project P3

Scenarios in generative episodic memory: Towards a naturalistic account of conscious recall

In this project we develop a characterization of scenarios that allows us to view episodic memory recall as the generated simulation of a scenario from a philosophical point of view

Tulving (1985) characterized episodic memory as a re-experiencing of the past and thought that a particular ‘autonoetic’ form of consciousness is necessary to account for the distinctive subjective character that accompanies the conscious recall of personally experienced events. The project develops a naturalistic account of conscious recall and proposes that it can be understood as a generated simulation of a scenario rather than as the retrieval of stored information. As a starting point, the project takes account of the following phenomenological aspects of conscious recall: (i) autonoesis as characterized by a sense of the self and a sense of pastness, (ii) experience-likeness, which is linked to the property of phenomenal transparency, (iii) perspectiveness as related to the distinction between field and observer memories, (iv) epistemic generativity, according to which episodic memory serves as a genuine source of knowledge, (v) flexible manipulability of scenarios and, finally, (vi) the analogy between episodic memory as mental time travel into the past and mental time travel into the future. To reconcile the phenomenology of episodic memory with a naturalistic account, we will proceed along five work packages: (WP1) We will explicate the notion of a scenario and its role in a generative theory of episodic memory. The content of a conscious recall is a scenario that is usually both temporally and spatially extended and hosts sequences of events with objects and their properties as participants. In conscious recall a simulation of a scenario is constructed, where the episodic memory trace in combination with semantic information provides the relevant informational input. (WP2) We will develop an account of the perspectiveness of scenarios in relation to the phenomenon of perspective switching and the distinction between field and observer memories. Perspectivity involves not only visual, but also agentive, emotional and social aspects. We will distinguish between “a bystander”, “a bird’s eye” and an “out-of-body” sense in which perspective switch from field to observer memories, i.e., from a first-person to a third-person perspective, can be understood. (WP3) We will develop an account of the distinctive form of consciousness that characterizes episodic memory in terms of simulated scenarios. We will here contrast a transparency account with a meta-representation, a narrative and a viewpoint dependence account. We will explore the paradox of presentness acoording to which, on the one hand, a re-experiencing of the past would entail that, in remembering, the past event is for the subject as if it were present, whereas, on the other hand, the sense of pastness should exclude a feeling of presence. We will furthermore (WP4) develop an account of the flexible manipulability of simulated scenarios and, finally, (WP5) explain the epistemic generativity of episodic memory in terms of features of scenario construction.

Principal Investigator

Prof. Dr. Markus Werning

Prof. Dr. Sen Cheng


Dr. Anco Peeters


Iana Batalova, M.A.

The research unit FOR 2812 "Constructing scenarios of the past: A new framework in episodic memory" is a project funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG). The research unit studies the cognitive and neuronal mechanisms underlying scenario construction in episodic memory. We employ and integrate approaches from Philosophy, Psychology, and Experimental and Computational Neuroscience.


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44801 Bochum, Germany

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