Project P3

Reframing episodic memory within its proper bounds: The role of non- perceptual factors in remembering

Reports, fictional narratives and even dreams can all create "memories". Are the underlying mechanisms of the same kind as in memories that are formed when one experiences actual events with one’s own senses? Can those memories also be regarded as a source of some kind of knowledge?

Episodic memory is traditionally conceived of as the remembering of events from one’s personal past, experienced with one’s own senses. However, hallucinations and dreams, vicarious experiences with other people, or even narrative experiences with literature, may all lead to memories that exhibit qualities typically considered to be indicative of episodic memory, such as vividness, sequentiality and a first-person perspective. Our project aims to account for this tension by arguing for a reframing of the boundaries of episodic memory as a natural kind. It does so through a naturalistic approach that compares the neurobiological features of both perception-based and certain non- perception-based memories. Specifically, these features are: (F1) the experience-like brain state that grounds the memory; (F2) the mechanism that constructs a scenario of the remembered event and reflects the immersive, sensorimotor and emotional character of the original experience; and, (F3) the minimal memory trace that acts as an appropriate causal link between the experience-like brain state and the remembering event and warrants the reliability and specificity of the memory. The comparison of these features raises a number of challenges that will be addressed through five work packages. In WP1, we assess the grounds to extend the natural kind of episodic memories to include cases that are not based on personal, perceptual experience. We understand a natural kind as the maximal class whose members are likely to share their properties because of some uniform underlying causal mechanism. WP2 addresses the factivity challenge, which is raised because memories based on non-veridical experiences are not grounded in actual events. In response, we develop a presuppositional account of factivity and explain reference relations in episodic memories in terms of referential parasitism. WP3 will elucidate how both perception- and non-perception-based memories, despite their phenomenological differences, feed into minimal memory traces by similar mechanisms. In WP4, we will develop an answer to how, in non-perception-based memories, the notion of memory perspective needs to be re-evaluated, by dissociating self from first-person perspective. Finally, in WP5, we will develop an embodied account that casts remembering in terms of an immersive, sensorimotor, and emotional scenario construction informed by a minimal trace and supplemented with semantic information, in contrast to prevailing imagistic views that conceive of memory as principally having sensory content. The results of these investigations will inform debates on the relation between memory and imagination. If it turns out that the natural kind of episodic memories needs extending, then our findings will have a potential impact on scientific study and clinical intervention contexts that target episodic memory.

    in press

  • Constructing a wider view on memory: Beyond the dichotomy of field and observer perspectives
    Peeters, A., Cosentino, E., & Werning, M.
    In I. Vendrell Ferran & Berninger, A. (Eds.), Memory and Imagination Routledge
  • 2023

  • Factivity Variation in Episodic Memory Reports
    Liefke, K., & Werning, M.
    In New Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence (pp. 110–127) Springer Nature Switzerland
  • 2022

  • Seeing What I Did (Not): Cerebral and Behavioral Effects of Agency and Perspective on Episodic Memory Re-activation
    Jainta, B., Siestrup, S., El-Sourani, N., Trempler, I., Wurm, M. F., Werning, M., et al.
    Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 15
  • 2021

  • Experiential Imagination and the Inside/Outside-Distinction
    Liefke, K., & Werning, M.
    In New Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence (pp. 96–112) Springer International Publishing
  • How do we perceive cultural affordances?
    Peeters, A.
    Algemeen Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Wijsbegeerte, 113(3)
  • The pre-reflective roots of the madeleine-memory: a phenomenological perspective
    Righetti, F.
    Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
  • 2020

  • Predicting the Past from Minimal Traces: Episodic Memory and its Distinction from Imagination and Preservation
    Werning, M.
    Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 11(2), 301–333
  • Predicting the Past from Minimal Traces: Episodic Memory and its Distinction from Imagination and Preservation
    Werning, M.
    Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 11, 301–333
  • 2018

  • Evidence for Single-Type Semantics—An Alternative To e/t-Based Dual-Type Semantics
    Liefke, K., & Werning, M.
    Journal of Semantics
  • accepted

  • Factivity variation in experiential `remember’-reports
    Liefke, K., & Werning, M.
    In A. Butler et al. (Ed.), New Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence, JSAI-isAI 2021 Springer

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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