, Volume 191, Issue 2, pp 155–185 | Cite as

Is memory for remembering? Recollection as a form of episodic hypothetical thinking

  • Felipe De BrigardEmail author


Misremembering is a systematic and ordinary occurrence in our daily lives. Since it is commonly assumed that the function of memory is to remember the past, misremembering is typically thought to happen because our memory system malfunctions. In this paper I argue that not all cases of misremembering are due to failures in our memory system. In particular, I argue that many ordinary cases of misremembering should not be seen as instances of memory’s malfunction, but rather as the normal result of a larger cognitive system that performs a different function, and for which remembering is just one operation. Building upon extant psychological and neuroscientific evidence, I offer a picture of memory as an integral part of a larger system that supports not only thinking of what was the case and what potentially could be the case, but also what could have been the case. More precisely, I claim that remembering is a particular operation of a cognitive system that permits the flexible recombination of different components of encoded traces into representations of possible past events that might or might not have occurred, in the service of constructing mental simulations of possible future events.

So that imagination and memory are but one thing, which for diverse considerations hath diverse names.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan 1.2.


Memory Cognitive function Remembering Hypothetical thinking Core brain network Episodic future thinking Episodic counterfactual thinking 



Many thanks to the audiences at the Society for Philosophy and Psychology at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, the Metro Experimental Research Group at NYU, the audiences at the departments of Philosophy and Psychology at the UNC, Chapel Hill, and at the department of Psychology at Harvard. I am also grateful to Donna Rose Addis, Dorit Bar-On, Carl Craver, Daniel Dennett, Shamindra Fernando, Jaclyn Ford, Kelly Giovanello, Adrianne Harris, Bryce Huebner, Justin Junge, William Lycan, Ram Neta, Jesse Prinz, Karl Szpunar, Daniel Schacter, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, and two reviewers for their valuable comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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