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Observer perspective and acentred memory: some puzzles about point of view in personal memory

Abstract

Sometimes I remember my past experiences from an ‘observer’ perspective, seeing myself in the remembered scene. This paper analyses the distinction in personal memory between such external observer visuospatial perspectives and ‘field’ perspectives, in which I experience the remembered actions and events as from my original point of view. It argues that Richard Wollheim’s related distinction between centred and acentred memory fails to capture the key phenomena, and criticizes Wollheim’s reasons for doubting that observer ‘memories’ are genuine personal memories. Since field perspectives in personal memory are also likely to be the product of constructive processes, we should reject the common assumption that such constructive processes inevitably bring distortion and error. Yet field perspectives tend to be treated as privileged also in the domains of memory for skilled movement, and memory for trauma. In each case, it is argued that visuospatial perspective in personal memory should be distinguished from other kinds of perspective such as kinesthetic perspective and emotional perspective.

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Acknowledgements

Earlier versions of some of these ideas were presented in talks to the Melbourne Brain & Mind Club at the Howard Florey Institute, at the Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, at a Memory Day seminar at Macquarie University, and in the Pacific APA symposium on memory in Vancouver with Alex Byrne and Mohan Matthen. My thanks to audiences on those occasions for their queries, and for specific help or discussion to Catharine Abell, Amanda Barnier, John Buckmaster, Rebecca Copenhaver, Dorothea Debus, Russell Downham, Jordi Fernandez, Catriona Mackenzie, Doris McIlwain, Michelle Moulds, Seong-Seng Tan, and Carl Windhorst.

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Sutton, J. Observer perspective and acentred memory: some puzzles about point of view in personal memory. Philos Stud 148, 27–37 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-010-9498-z

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Keywords

  • Memory
  • Perspective
  • Wollheim
  • Observer memory
  • Personal memory