Refereed articles

Information articles

Notes on contributors

Print friendly version

On the Likely Form of 'Autobiographical Memory' for Aristotle

James William Ley

What is the possibility of drawing together, in interdisciplinary study, investigations of the brain and memory, culture and technology? This paper affirms that we must consider culture and technology in any attempt to understand human memory and the brain. But in writing about Aristotle, I hope to show that he has things to say about the relation of mind, culture, memory and technology that need to be addressed before we can properly speak of the brain.

I address questions about the apparently narrative structure of autobiographical memory mainly in relation to Aristotle’s Poetics. To do this I must ask you to believe that what Aristotle addresses in that work is not just something about the poetics of the Greek world, but about human cognitive poetics in general, about the rules and reasons for narrative expression in the kind of animals we are as humans.

The reason for reading the Poetics in relation to autobiographical memory is that it contains plausible explanations of the omission and distortion of events involved in autobiographical memory that may be at odds with those voiced elsewhere in the interdisciplinary study of memory. This different perspective is important because inferences to the protocols and architecture of the brain are made on the basis of accounts of the phenomena of remembering. If Aristotle’s ideas succeed in any way in unsettling our understanding of omission and distortion in autobiographical memory then they serve to caution us about the difficulty of the abductive inference from mind and culture to brain. If we are to engage in inference to the best explanation about the brain it can only be after arriving at some certainty about what its ways of remembering are and how they operate.

Aristotle’s Poetics also allows us to relate the mental and cultural activity of narrative to technology, here in the form of writing, more particularly, history-writing (seen by Aristotle as a complete sequential recount rather than as a selective narrative). The non-utility of this application of technology, the fact that a more accurate and complete representation of more of the detail of the past actually fails to contribute to our understanding of those events, helps us to understand what kind of process narrative is for Aristotle and how this process is related to the material it treats.

Consideration of history writing in relation to human action also provides an instance in which the application of a cognitive technology is not an immediately helpful prosthesis but instead appears as an encumbrance. While the artifice of writing allows more complete and detailed retention of what humans did in the past, for Aristotle, this additional retained material adds to the noise against which we attempt to discern the signal and meaning of the past. Just as for Borges’ character Funes, remembering more does not necessarily mean understanding the past better.

Consideration of history writing additionally gives us ground to consider a possible anachronism in our study of autobiographical memory. If we judge and lament the accuracy, or lack of accuracy, in the treatment of the past provided by autobiographical memory, we may be employing the standard and artefact of the technology of writing in relation to a process of the mind or brain that long predates this technology. Who says that all the processes of the mind or the brain have to be assessed by the standards of later devised technology?

Here I want to compare two short passages talking about natural propensities of the human mind, about the things that humans do to understand events in some way that other animals seemingly do not. The purpose of this comparison, continued through this paper, is to suggest that Aristotle is neither alone, nor confined within the past, nor confined within the discipline of philosophy in his ideas about how we remember and understand the past. The first passage comes from Thomas Suddendorf and Michael Corballis’ essay “Mental time travel and the evolution of the human mind” (1997, 1):

The human ability to travel mentally in time constitutes a discontinuity between ourselves and other animals. Mental time travel comprises the mental reconstruction of personal events from the past (episodic memory) and the mental construction of possible events in the future. It is not an isolated module, but depends on the sophistication of other cognitive capacities, …These capacities appear to mature in children at around age four. Furthermore, mental time travel is generative, involving the combination and recombination of familiar elements, …is relatively unconstrained, and allows a more rapid and flexible adaptation to complex, changing environments than is afforded by instincts or conventional learning.

The second comes from the fourth chapter of Aristotle’s Poetics. Aristotle is speaking of mimesis or imitation as the source of human poetry in the broadest sense. Imitation of events at any later time is only possible if they have been retained in some way. To imitate is to present again something seen before and remembered. But for Aristotle this productive or constructive way of bringing the past before us again allows us to learn about it.

In general, two causes seem likely to have given rise to the art of poetry, both of them natural.

Imitation comes naturally to human beings from childhood (and in this they differ from other animals, i.e. in having a strong propensity to imitation and in learning their earliest lessons through imitation); so does the universal pleasure in imitations. What happens in practice is evidence of this: we take delight in viewing the most accurate possible images of objects which in themselves cause distress when we see them (e.g. the shapes of the lowest species of animal and corpses). The reason for this is that understanding is extremely pleasant, not just for philosophers but for others too in the same way, despite their limited capacity for it. This is the reason why people take delight in seeing images; what happens is that as they view them they come to understand and work out what each thing is (e.g. ‘This is so-and-so’) If one happens not to have seen the thing before, it will not give pleasure as an imitation, but because of its execution or colour, or for some other reason.

Given, then, that imitation is natural to us …from the beginning those who had the strongest natural inclination towards these things generated poetry out of improvised activities. (Aristotle 1996, 1448b3-23)

Suddendorf and Corballis are talking about mental time travel, while Aristotle’s topic is the propensity to imitation. Imitation for Aristotle, however, clearly includes what Suddendorf and Corballis describe as mental time travel. This is not to deny that Aristotle has in mind at first simple imitation, mimicry or mirroring, and at least visually accurate representation, but to say that he also sees the representation of things past, the representation in which humans learn and understand, to be a reduced and re-oriented treatment. That is, it is a treatment in which events at widely different times are brought into conjunction and many events in between are left out. When reading the essay on mental time travel and when reading the Poetics, we read of a process in which humans understand the past (for Aristotle) and the past and future (for Suddendorf and Corballis) not by scrolling through events in their original complete and unbroken sequence, or projecting such a future unbroken sequence, not by considering all the data, but by reducing and reconstructing these events to form smaller versions of the past and projections of the future. That is, paradoxically, humans in a way natural to them, but apparently not to other animals, understand more about the past (and the future) from less complete and less accurate (as to what happened or what will happen) representations of events than they would from the unbroken repetition or projection of those events.

The other matter that separates these two passages is the pleasure that Aristotle states and reiterates. This pleasure is not in any mere entertainment. It is, as we read of elsewhere in Aristotle, a pleasure occasioned by understanding, a pleasure in the satisfaction of our natural desire for knowledge. This pleasure of understanding taken in a treatment of the past that is something other than a solemn and accurate recount needs attention later in relation to distortion. Suddendorf and Corballis do not speak of pleasure in consideration of mental time travel and this seems to leave out of consideration that pleasure itself, or pleasure in what appears as understanding, could stand as a motive in the treatments of the past and future shaped in mental time travel. They see clearly that by the age of four children are “consummate actors” able to “detach from their own states and assume the states of others” and to “escape the present and simulate the past without interference”, but they do not go so far as to say that children invariably seek pleasure and take pleasure in doing this (Suddendorf & Corballis 1997, 7).

Despite the historical gulf separating these works, they aim at the same phenomenon, as natural to humans now as it was then. Saying that there is such a human nature does not yet explain its operation, how material is selected for this kind of cognitive attention and what kind of material it is. Suddendorf and Corballis catalogue the different developmental achievements that are required in order to become a “consummate actor” by the age of four, and they look at some clinical problems where this development fails or later damage occurs, but they do not tell us much about how events are selected for attention in mental time travel. They say “The storyline, however, is often reconstructed on the basis of general knowledge (semantic memory) rather than what actually happened” (Suddendorf & Corballis 1997, 3). But what first prompts the choosing of some events rather than others? Of the material that prompts this cognitive response rather than one of instinct or conventional learning they at first speak only of ‘complex changing environments’ (Suddendorf & Corballis 1997, 1). Aristotle does however indicate the protocol for the selection of events in the forms of poetry evolved from our natural propensities. And he tells us precisely what material calls for this productive treatment rather than one more theoretical or scientific.

Aristotle tells us the development of poetry to what he sees as its final forms in his time. Both of these forms, tragedy and comedy, incorporate a particular kind of plot, story or structure of events that Aristotle describes with the Greek word katholou as universalised (Aristotle 1996, 1449b7). In these art forms Aristotle sees the structure of events as the most important material under consideration. It is more important than the verse elements, the language used, the characters portrayed, the visual spectacle and the performance of the actors. It is the subject matter that these elements merely adorn, it is human action, the things that people do and the things done to them. In clarifying this he writes,

Tragedy is not an imitation of persons, but of actions and of life. Well-being and ill-being reside in action and the goal of life is an activity, not a quality; people possess certain qualities in accordance with their character, but they achieve well-being or its opposite on the basis of how they fare (praxeis). So the imitation of character is not the purpose of what the agents do; character is included along with and on account of the actions. So the events, i.e. the plot, are what tragedy is there for, and that is the most important thing of all. (Aristotle 1996, 1450a14-24)

That not just tragedy but also epic and all properly evolved good poetry centres on human action is reiterated through the Poetics. That Aristotle sees the focus of tragedy to be human action and sees in poetry the chance for humans to understand the matter put before them again is interesting because he elsewhere sees human action as very difficult matter for us to grasp. Unlike the still various matter of human longevity, human action is material that does not seem sufficiently uniform to be grasped in induction and explained by the theoretical, or natural scientific, side of our cognition (Aristotle 1995, 68b15-29). What humans do, what is done to them by other humans, with what result and why, is so various and different that where it is grasped for practical purposes in the Politics, and discussion of character in the Ethics, it is grasped with caveats and no more than for the most part (Aristotle 1995, 1094b13-27). In separating humans and animals, in the Ethics and History of Animals, Aristotle observes that only humans deliberate, and the subject of human deliberation is action, what to do (Aristotle 1995, 488b24-26 & 1140b1). Human action is for Aristotle not as strictly governed by necessity as are other aspects of the natural physical world. It exhibits lesser uniformity and is less susceptible to the faculty for pattern recognition or induction that is the basis of our scientific understanding. This lesser uniformity of our action makes us unique among animals.

Aristotle appears to believe that the protocols of poetry, of the developed form of our natural propensity to imitation, provide the possibility for humans to understand human action in an individual and concrete manner. Were he to read today’s accounts of the narrative structure of autobiographical memory it is possible that he would say that this treatment of our past appears as narrative because humans by nature treat and, in a limited way, understand human action according to this protocol. That is not to say that the physical world does not appear in autobiographical memory, but to say that the consideration of human action shapes the selection of events in autobiographical memory.

Suddendorf and Corballis speak of the utility of mental time travel in terms of ‘a more rapid and flexible adaptation to complex and changing environments than is afforded by instincts or conventional learning’ (Suddendorf & Corballis 1997, 1). And this may be true but it seems that what occupies us in mental time travel is not always in need of a quick answer. Often the episodes are matters we will play out and reconsider, at some leisure, if not over the space of a lifetime, without a single and final answer because neither instinct nor conventional learning can provide a categorical answer where the material in question is the individually various and different matter of human action.

Suddendorf and Corballis themselves suggest that the material of the mental time travel they describe is human action, but seemingly without grasping that the reduced narratives of mental time travel enable us to make sense of the unique material of human action. They tell us simply at one point “Episodes (in mental time travel) are often about who did what to whom, and when, and where, and why, and what happened next” (Suddendorf & Corballis 1997, 17). And they give the following prehistory of mental time travel (1997, 14):

[T]he precursors of mental time travel, such as the ability to attribute mental states to others, may have evolved as the result of the pressures of an increasingly complex social structure. This underlies the theory of so-called “Machiavellian intelligence” … at some point in primate evolution, there was a selective pressure for the ability to read the minds of other individuals, since this allowed for better planning, cooperation, imitation, and teaching – and no doubt, deception. Humphrey (1986) argues that the human desire for varied experience emerged because it allowed individuals to understand others …

But these leads are not followed to the realisation that only humans make use of a means of understanding like mental time travel because only humans have action of a lesser uniformity, action that is not predictable by instinct and situation.

That our cognition diverges into different protocols to treat the natural world and human action is not something likely to gain wide acceptance after the insistent scientism of the twentieth century, but two observations could support it. Initially consider that the distortions in autobiographical memory that trouble us and our legal process appear to be distortions about what people did or had done to them. Autobiographical memories of individuals’ feet growing smaller, or seeing the triangular contour of a lunar eclipse, do not seem to manifest themselves alongside the misreporting of equally unlikely action. While it is clear that eye-witnesses often enough do misreport what they saw, it is not clear that they misreport the natural physical world and human action with equal frequency. It does not seem plausible that any significant misreporting of the natural physical world could pass cross-examination. But significant, though earnest, misreporting of what people did or had done to them has resulted in numerous convictions. Secondly, consider that oral traditions of the past and present have a strong tendency to describe both the human and the physical world as shaped by action. That is, the stars, rivers and mountains are often told as having their shape and location as the result of the action of humans or other beings with notably human emotions and responses. That we have a natural form of understanding based around the description of individual, concrete action, should not be too easily dismissed.

If we accept that the matter treated is human action, a criterion for the selection of events in this reduced and re-oriented manner of treatment is still needed. Aristotle is specific about what sequencing of events is required to produce a plot with a universalised hook for its audience, Of this kind of sequence, of the whole to be put before the audience, he writes,

A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle and an end. A beginning is that which itself does not follow necessarily from anything else, but some second thing naturally exists or occurs after it. Conversely, an end is that which does itself naturally follow from something else, either necessarily or in general, but there is nothing else after it. A middle is that which itself comes after something else, and some other thing comes after it. (Aristotle 1996, 1450b25-30)

Aristotle thinks that in individual concrete instances, humans are able to discern the natural or necessary connection of events in human action. Poets perhaps to a greater degree and as the most difficult element of their work, but also all of us to some extent, from childhood, are able to separate short chains of cause and effect in human action. We are able to separate what has happened because of something else from what has merely happened after something else. And by representing this treatment to ourselves we come to understand events that were seen before ordered only according to before and after.

Aristotle thinks that the criterion for the selection of events in poetry is those events between which necessary or probable connection can be observed. Those events not forming part of a causal chain in human action fall out. We travel in time between events that do not merely follow after one another but instead, at varying distances in time, because of one another.

It must be acknowledged though that stories are re-told differently over time and so this connection found and the events omitted are only provisionally so. In autobiographical memory it also seems that we never arrive at a final treatment of the past but instead witness new and again provisional treatments prompted by later events. What then warrants each of these new treatments? What suggests or confirms them in us as somehow explanatory if they appear as plural accounts of past events? Aristotle gives a further prescription in relation to plot detailing its relation to emotion. He writes (1996, 1453b1-6):

The plot should be constructed in such a way that, even without seeing it, anyone who hears the events which occur shudders and feels pity at what happens.

That is, without enactment or spectacle, fine diction or any other element, the mere speaking of the connection of action elicits an unavoidable emotional response. Emotion is attached to and occasioned by the connection of action. Perhaps then the genesis or confirmation of successive and different narratives in us lies in our involuntary emotional response to them. In human cognitive poetics we can ask if it is the case that emotions are elicited by our recognition of the necessity, of the inevitability of a certain connection or sequence of actions. For it is the case that we see in isolation the most frightening images of violence and death each day without great emotion and yet weep in movies made for our entertainment. This suggests that what we respond to emotionally is not any particular frightening image but instead the connection of action that makes a particular frightening image seem part of a necessary and unavoidable sequence with some universal relevance. If I wish to send an ethical message of the first importance, a message say, not to drink and drive, I will not provide accurate statistics of all past accidents or a reasoned argument about the dangers of drinking and driving. If I really want people to understand the wrong of this behaviour I will have to portray a connection of action relying on the fact that emotion attaches to this treatment of events. Against this speculation it could be argued that human emotion has no such universal link to sequences of action. It could be argued that emotional responses to action are learned in cultural contexts and differ across time and space. Against these reasonable contentions stands only the ability of narratives to travel across time and space, animating emotions in individuals and groups widely separated from their original audience.

If the treatment of events in autobiographical memory is selective and discontinuous with regard to time, how is it that we maintain the sense that these events take place against the stable background of a continuous, linear and asymmetric time? This question cannot be set aside because, as John Campbell points out, for it to appear to us in autobiographical memory that one event really does precede and so can cause another, and for the self present in different episodes to be unified across these episodes with the rememberer, it must be the case that ‘the time of the self be thought of as linearly organised’ (Campbell 1997, 112). There must be thought some single unity of time as a background to the operation of autobiographical memory. Campbell asks ‘How can we have come by the conception of time as linear?’ (1997, 112). One answer he considers is that it is built up from the diurnal cycle, from our evolved, general purpose biological clock and our ability to grasp its cycles (Campbell 1997, 113).

I suggest however that autobiographical memory, and any narrative treatment, only achieves a treatment of events in which one thing happens because of one another on the basis of the indifferent retention of a much wider record of events for retrospective consideration. Unless it is the case that all the events in a narrative of autobiographical memory were perceived at the time of their occurrence with the causal relation and significance they have in this remembering we must suppose that they have taken on this significance in relation to other, likely later events. And for this to be the case all these events and more needed to be retained indifferently, like the first cards dealt in a poker hand, until such time as it appeared that some of these events bore a relation and significance. If the work of understanding what is held in human memory is done retrospectively, as seems likely if we construct and reconstruct narratives after the fact, it seems reasonable that the way to maximise possibilities for understanding the past is to retain as much as possible without undue regard to what seems significant at the time. The wider unity of time could thus belong not immediately to our grasp of rhythms and natural cycles but to the much wider pattern of retention that underlies narrative. If this wider pattern of retention retained by the subject as the basis for subsequent evaluation and re-evaluation is not perfectly continuous it at least strongly suggests continuity and linearity.

This, I submit, is why it is so difficult to set aside the model of retention in Aristotle’s On Memory. It is difficult to set aside the idea that when we are neither too old nor too young nor too violently affected, everything received in sense perception is indifferently and automatically stamped onto wax tablets and retained (Aristotle 1995, 450a26-450b11). It is difficult to set this aside, however archaic it sounds, because where the possible significance of a past event appears in the light of a future event as yet undisclosed, past events must be retained indifferently just in case later events allow their incorporation in an explanatory narrative sequence. Perhaps this requires the consideration of wider non-declarative memory as part of a dual memory system in humans, but it does not seem difficult to imagine that humans could record and play-back events according to different protocols. Aristotle suggests it is their natural propensity to do so. In the Poetics he lauds Homer for knowing, by art or nature (dià téknen è dià phúsin) not to include all the events known from the life of Odysseus in the Odyssey, but only those bearing necessary or probable connection (Aristotle 1996, 1451a22-25).

If what has been said gives an idea of what Aristotle would likely say about the omission of events in narratives of the past it remains to say something more about distortion. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Poetics Aristotle deals with irrationalities or impossibilities in poetry, instances where the poet says what could not or did not happen. He writes (1996, 1460a25-1460b25):

Probable impossibilities are preferable to implausible possibilities. … If impossibilities have been included in a poem, that is an error; but it is correct if it attains the end of the art itself … i.e. if it makes this or some other part have greater impact.

That is, even if impossible, the kind of thing that seems like it would happen is preferable to implausible events that did or possibly could happen. While poetry is an activity that Aristotle tells us is more philosophical and more serious than history-writing, an activity by which we understand more about the past than we do from the completeness and accuracy of history-writing, it bears a licence to replace what is possible or actual but seems unlikely with what seems likely but is impossible. The justification given for this, “if it makes this or some other part have greater impact”, brings us hard against the problem of whether pleasure or entertainment taken in a treatment of the past is mere entertainment. For Aristotle, by a better poem, even where it distorts what has happened, we understand more about the past and better come to terms with its emotional consequences. By contrast, Suddendorf and Corballis consider the “constructive element” in the narratives assembled by mental time travel to be “rather maladaptive with respect to reconstruction of the actual past” (Suddendorf & Corballis 1997, 14). Mental time travel is instead thought by them to have its utility mostly in relation to the future.

How Aristotle could believe an inaccurate treatment of the past to be better, and how we come to have very different ideas about treatments of the past is, I submit, a question concerning technology, in this case the technology of writing. Still close to the local dawn of literacy, Aristotle can be seen in the Poetics to be warning the poets against the temptation to use the technology of writing to produce total accounts of their subjects. These accounts, while lately made possible by the unlimited and indelible retentive capacity of writing, are at odds with our natural propensities for understanding human action and dealing with its emotional consequences. Aristotle is trying to make clear that poetry, narrative or story is for humans a way of coming to know that survives the arrival of a technology for more complete storage and retrieval of the detail of the past. He is telling us that on this occasion, for this material, video did not kill the radio star because the cultural form of poetry grows more closely from our cognitive nature than does that history-writing made possible by the technology of writing. When we look at the wider Aristotelian corpus we thus see a differential utility of writing, in its form as history writing: that is, as simply writing down all of what happened or appeared. The same application of technology that assures the cogency of demonstrations in natural, particularly biological science, does not necessarily contribute to our understanding of past events in human action (Aristotle 1995, 43b10-12). It is to set out the lack of utility of the application of writing as history-writing in relation to action that Aristotle makes and re-iterates the distinction of poetry from history-writing in the ninth and twenty-third chapters of the Poetics. There we read that poetry and history-writing are not just different modes of expression, poetry is superior. Aristotle insists that we understand more about the past from a treatment that tells us less, with less accuracy, than that made possible by the technology of writing,

It is important to realise the relative novelty of writing and history-writing in Aristotle’s time. While the form of poetry, with Homer as its exemplar, was possible with each of the specifications Aristotle gives to it before literacy, history-writing only becomes possible with the advent of writing. More than this, the standard by which we judge the value of treatments of the past, and our understanding of what truth is or means, seem to date from the adoption of writing in our culture. Charles Segal reminds us that there is something new happening when Thucydides introduces himself as a writer and his work “as an accurate picture of past events” to the exclusion of story-telling and entertainment (Segal 1995, 194). The claim to accuracy and verification of the details of the past that Thucydides raises as the standard of his work, and a standard for our culture, is not the standard of treatments prior to literacy. Oral tradition, perhaps like autobiographical memory, accommodates various and different re-tellings of the past, but single and definitive treatment of the past begins with writing. Marcel Detienne tells us further that truth itself was something different before the arrival of the cognitive technology of writing. For a poet of the oral tradition,

“truth” was a performative truth, never challenged or demonstrated, and fundamentally different from our own traditional concept of truth. Early Aletheia meant neither agreement between a proposition and its object nor agreement between judgements. It was not the opposite of “lies” or “falsehood”. The only meaningful opposition involved Aletheia and Lethe. (Detienne 1999, 52)

That is, the only meaningful opposition involved in questions of the truth of the past in Greek oral tradition was between not-forgetting and forgetting, between remembering and oblivion. Good poetry was judged to be true remembrance according to the inspiration of the poet and the effect of the poem rather than by its accurate reporting of past detail. If Aristotle is right about our natural propensities to imitation and pleasure in imitation, it could be that we judge and worry over the accuracy of autobiographical memory anachronistically, or at least in a culturally specific way. If these natural propensities really do represent our more basic and original cognitive means of dealing with what we retain of human action and emotion, then judging them according to the standards of later-born technology may not be appropriate. Writing is a comparatively recent development in the human past and has not always been everywhere in use since its invention. These statements may seem excessive but the question asked to those who suggest that new technologies open the way to new cognitive possibilities for humans is “How do these new technologies retire older human ways of coming to know?” Given the stubborn presence in us of so many reminders of our evolutionary past how is it that any novel technology knocks out a long familiar way of coming to know? It may of course add to our cognitive possibilities (as writing made possible Aristotle’s biological science) but how does it replace or remove earlier ways or remembering and knowing?

The standards of the later-born technology, and its kind of truth, dominate our culture but do they dominate our cognition? The natural science made possible by the retentive technology of writing is work begun by Aristotle and his contemporaries that now overwhelmingly shapes our lives. Aristotle would likely caution us though against too simple scientism. The idea that everything properly known is indifferently the material of a single science, he would say, mistakes the kind of animals we are, the difficulties that we have with the material of human action, and the utility of retentive technology in relation to the different matters we have to cognise. The different historicities of art and science; that Newton could stand on the shoulders of giants accumulating knowledge while none can stand on the shoulders of Homer or Shakespeare, seem to offer some support to Aristotle’s convictions here.

Were Aristotle speaking today I think he would say that autobiographical memory shares its narrative form with poetry because they stem as one from natural propensities present in humans but not apparently in other animals. Both of these expressions allow us to treat, and in a limited way understand, human action and its emotional consequences. The manner of this understanding is not abstract, final and definitive but individual, concrete, provisional and heuristic. Aristotle would likely say that autobiographical memory is a process natural to humans long prior to the development of the technology of writing. Its effects, for it occasions emotion, and its standards, of meaningfulness rather than accuracy, predate and clash with those of the culture made possible by writing, the culture still nascent in his lifetime. Autobiographical memory has the shape it has, omits and distorts events as it does, not necessarily because of any retentive protocol or architecture of the brain but within the constraints of any human narrative: that is, as the form of playback most suited to the needs and limitations of human understanding in relation to the material it treats. The use of reading Aristotle in relation to autobiographical memory, culture, technology and the brain is to prompt caution in our extension of inferences about the brain from these other elements. Aristotle perhaps cautions us to make room in any wider cognitive science for a properly considered cognitive poetics.


I wish to thank the anonymous referee for a number of helpful suggestions.


Aristotle. (1995) The Complete Works of Aristotle – The Revised Oxford Translation. Barnes J. ed. Princeton University Press

Aristotle. (1996) Poetics. trans. Heath M.: Penguin

Campbell, J. (1997) “The Structure of Time in Autobiographical Memory”. European Journal of Philosophy 5:2 pp.105-118

Detienne, M. (1999) The Masters of Truth in Archaic Greece. trans. Lloyd J.: Zone Books

Rubin, D. C. (1995) Memory in Oral Traditions. Oxford University Press

Segal, C. (1995) “Spectator and Listener” in Vernant, J.P. ed. The Greeks. University of Chicago Press

Suddendorf, T. & Corballis, M. C. (1997) “Mental time travel and the evolution of the human mind” Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs 123(2) pp.133-167 available online at - online page numbers used here.