Project P6

Episodic memory traces: Causal, content and epistemic aspects of the link between experience and recall

Minimal Generationism is defended against three alternative views: Total Preservationism, Partial Preservationism, and Radical Simulationism.

Many memory theorists have postulated memory traces as a means by which information about events experienced in the past is stored such that this information, at a later point in time, can be recalled for the purpose of remembering. In this spirit, the Causal Theory of Episodic Memory postulates memory traces not only as a causal link between experience and remembering, but also as a preserver of representational content. The main goal of the project, on the one hand, is to criticize the preservationist notion of memory traces, as defended by the Causal Theory, and to replace it with a minimal generative notion of memory traces in the framework of Generative Episodic Memory. On the other hand, the project also opposes the radical denial of memory traces proposed by the simulation theory, i.e., the view that remembering need not be coupled to experience through a memory trace at all, not even through a causal link, but merely consists of a simulation of a past episode. While rejecting the Causal Theory, Minimal Generationism, the view to be developed in the project, accepts four main desiderata of the Causal Theory: (i) What is remembered should bear an appropriate content relation to what was experienced. (ii) A remembering should be about a particular event in the past – not just a type of event – and thus must have reference. (iii) Any theory of episodic memory should render episodic memory epistemically reliable because episodic memory is a genuine source of knowledge. (iv) Any theory of episodic memory should avoid the problem of relearning: A situation where a once experienced event has been forgotten and later, due to an external information source, the relevant information is re-acquired should not count as a case of remembering. Finally, an overall constraint on any theory of episodic memory, as has been proposed by Cheng & Werning (2016) and taken up by several authors, is that it should correspond to a natural kind. That is, an account of episodic memory should explain why instances of episodic memory share a characteristic set of properties because of some underlying uniform causal mechanism. The project proceeds along six work packages: In (WP1) we will develop a minimal generative notion of memory traces as causal links without representational content. In (WP2) we will demonstrate how minimal memory traces provide an appropriate content relation between experience and remembering and secure the reference of remembering. We will show in (WP3) how minimal memory traces render episodic memory epistemically reliable and in (WP4) how Minimal Generationism avoids the problem of relearning. In (WP5) we will revise a previous analysis we gave on episodic memory – the Sequence Analysis – in the light of Minimal Generationism and show that it succeeds in identifying a natural kind. Finally, in (WP6) we will outline the strengths of Minimal Generationism vis-à-vis the Causal Theory and the Simulation Theory.

Principal Investigator

Prof. Dr. Markus Werning


Francesca Righetti, M.A.

    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
  • 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
  • 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, 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.


Universitätsstr. 150,
44801 Bochum, Germany

Tel: +49 (0)234 32 27996
Fax: +49 (0)234 32 14210