Various works, p.1
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           Aristotle
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Various Works


  350 BC

  ON MEMORY AND REMINISCENCE

  by Aristotle

  translated by J. I. Beare

  1

  WE have, in the next place, to treat of Memory and Remembering,

  considering its nature, its cause, and the part of the soul to which

  this experience, as well as that of Recollecting, belongs. For the

  persons who possess a retentive memory are not identical with those

  who excel in power of recollection; indeed, as a rule, slow people

  have a good memory, whereas those who are quick-witted and clever

  are better at recollecting.

  We must first form a true conception of these objects of memory, a

  point on which mistakes are often made. Now to remember the future

  is not possible, but this is an object of opinion or expectation

  (and indeed there might be actually a science of expectation, like

  that of divination, in which some believe); nor is there memory of the

  present, but only sense-perception. For by the latter we know not

  the future, nor the past, but the present only. But memory relates

  to the past. No one would say that he remembers the present, when it

  is present, e.g. a given white object at the moment when he sees it;

  nor would one say that he remembers an object of scientific

  contemplation at the moment when he is actually contemplating it,

  and has it full before his mind;-of the former he would say only

  that he perceives it, of the latter only that he knows it. But when

  one has scientific knowledge, or perception, apart from the

  actualizations of the faculty concerned, he thus 'remembers' (that the

  angles of a triangle are together equal to two right angles); as to

  the former, that he learned it, or thought it out for himself, as to

  the latter, that he heard, or saw, it, or had some such sensible

  experience of it. For whenever one exercises the faculty of

  remembering, he must say within himself, 'I formerly heard (or

  otherwise perceived) this,' or 'I formerly had this thought'.

  Memory is, therefore, neither Perception nor Conception, but a state

  or affection of one of these, conditioned by lapse of time. As already

  observed, there is no such thing as memory of the present while

  present, for the present is object only of perception, and the future,

  of expectation, but the object of memory is the past. All memory,

  therefore, implies a time elapsed; consequently only those animals

  which perceive time remember, and the organ whereby they perceive time

  is also that whereby they remember.

  The subject of 'presentation' has been already considered in our

  work On the Soul. Without a presentation intellectual activity is

  impossible. For there is in such activity an incidental affection

  identical with one also incidental in geometrical demonstrations.

  For in the latter case, though we do not for the purpose of the

  proof make any use of the fact that the quantity in the triangle

  (for example, which we have drawn) is determinate, we nevertheless

  draw it determinate in quantity. So likewise when one exerts the

  intellect (e.g. on the subject of first principles), although the

  object may not be quantitative, one envisages it as quantitative,

  though he thinks it in abstraction from quantity; while, on the

  other hand, if the object of the intellect is essentially of the class

  of things that are quantitative, but indeterminate, one envisages it

  as if it had determinate quantity, though subsequently, in thinking

  it, he abstracts from its determinateness. Why we cannot exercise

  the intellect on any object absolutely apart from the continuous, or

  apply it even to non-temporal things unless in connexion with time, is

  another question. Now, one must cognize magnitude and motion by

  means of the same faculty by which one cognizes time (i.e. by that

  which is also the faculty of memory), and the presentation (involved

  in such cognition) is an affection of the sensus communis; whence this

  follows, viz. that the cognition of these objects (magnitude, motion

  time) is effected by the (said sensus communis, i.e. the) primary

  faculty of perception. Accordingly, memory (not merely of sensible,

  but) even of intellectual objects involves a presentation: hence we

  may conclude that it belongs to the faculty of intelligence only

  incidentally, while directly and essentially it belongs to the primary

  faculty of sense-perception.

  Hence not only human beings and the beings which possess opinion

  or intelligence, but also certain other animals, possess memory. If

  memory were a function of (pure) intellect, it would not have been

  as it is an attribute of many of the lower animals, but probably, in

  that case, no mortal beings would have had memory; since, even as

  the case stands, it is not an attribute of them all, just because

  all have not the faculty of perceiving time. Whenever one actually

  remembers having seen or heard, or learned, something, he includes

  in this act (as we have already observed) the consciousness of

  'formerly'; and the distinction of 'former' and 'latter' is a

  distinction in time.

  Accordingly if asked, of which among the parts of the soul memory is

  a function, we reply: manifestly of that part to which

  'presentation' appertains; and all objects capable of being

  presented (viz. aistheta) are immediately and properly objects of

  memory, while those (viz. noeta) which necessarily involve (but only

  involve) presentation are objects of memory incidentally.

  One might ask how it is possible that though the affection (the

  presentation) alone is present, and the (related) fact absent, the

  latter-that which is not present-is remembered. (The question arises),

  because it is clear that we must conceive that which is generated

  through sense-perception in the sentient soul, and in the part of

  the body which is its seat-viz. that affection the state whereof we

  call memory-to be some such thing as a picture. The process of

  movement (sensory stimulation) involved the act of perception stamps

  in, as it were, a sort of impression of the percept, just as persons

  do who make an impression with a seal. This explains why, in those who

  are strongly moved owing to passion, or time of life, no mnemonic

  impression is formed; just as no impression would be formed if the

  movement of the seal were to impinge on running water; while there are

  others in whom, owing to the receiving surface being frayed, as

  happens to (the stucco on) old (chamber) walls, or owing to the

  hardness of the receiving surface, the requisite impression is not

  implanted at all. Hence both very young and very old persons are

  defective in memory; they are in a state of flux, the former because

  of their growth, the latter, owing to their decay. In like manner,

  also, both those who are too quick and those who are too slow have bad

  memories. The former are too soft, the latter too hard (in the texture
r />   of their receiving organs), so that in the case of the former the

  presented image (though imprinted) does not remain in the soul,

  while on the latter it is not imprinted at all.

  But then, if this truly describes what happens in the genesis of

  memory, (the question stated above arises:) when one remembers, is

  it this impressed affection that he remembers, or is it the

  objective thing from which this was derived? If the former, it would

  follow that we remember nothing which is absent; if the latter, how is

  it possible that, though perceiving directly only the impression, we

  remember that absent thing which we do not perceive? Granted that

  there is in us something like an impression or picture, why should the

  perception of the mere impression be memory of something else, instead

  of being related to this impression alone? For when one actually

  remembers, this impression is what he contemplates, and this is what

  he perceives. How then does he remember what is not present? One might

  as well suppose it possible also to see or hear that which is not

  present. In reply, we suggest that this very thing is quite

  conceivable, nay, actually occurs in experience. A picture painted

  on a panel is at once a picture and a likeness: that is, while one and

  the same, it is both of these, although the 'being' of both is not the

  same, and one may contemplate it either as a picture, or as a

  likeness. Just in the same way we have to conceive that the mnemonic

  presentation within us is something which by itself is merely an

  object of contemplation, while, in-relation to something else, it is

  also a presentation of that other thing. In so far as it is regarded

  in itself, it is only an object of contemplation, or a presentation;

  but when considered as relative to something else, e.g. as its

  likeness, it is also a mnemonic token. Hence, whenever the residual

  sensory process implied by it is actualized in consciousness, if the

  soul perceives this in so far as it is something absolute, it

  appears to occur as a mere thought or presentation; but if the soul

  perceives it qua related to something else, then,-just as when one

  contemplates the painting in the picture as being a likeness, and

  without having (at the moment) seen the actual Koriskos,

  contemplates it as a likeness of Koriskos, and in that case the

  experience involved in this contemplation of it (as relative) is

  different from what one has when he contemplates it simply as a

  painted figure-(so in the case of memory we have the analogous

  difference for), of the objects in the soul, the one (the unrelated

  object) presents itself simply as a thought, but the other (the

  related object) just because, as in the painting, it is a likeness,

  presents itself as a mnemonic token.

  We can now understand why it is that sometimes, when we have such

  processes, based on some former act of perception, occurring in the

  soul, we do not know whether this really implies our having had

  perceptions corresponding to them, and we doubt whether the case is or

  is not one of memory. But occasionally it happens that (while thus

  doubting) we get a sudden idea and recollect that we heard or saw

  something formerly. This (occurrence of the 'sudden idea') happens

  whenever, from contemplating a mental object as absolute, one

  changes his point of view, and regards it as relative to something

  else.

  The opposite (sc. to the case of those who at first do not recognize

  their phantasms as mnemonic) also occurs, as happened in the cases

  of Antipheron of Oreus and others suffering from mental derangement;

  for they were accustomed to speak of their mere phantasms as facts

  of their past experience, and as if remembering them. This takes place

  whenever one contemplates what is not a likeness as if it were a

  likeness.

  Mnemonic exercises aim at preserving one's memory of something by

  repeatedly reminding him of it; which implies nothing else (on the

  learner's part) than the frequent contemplation of something (viz. the

  'mnemonic', whatever it may be) as a likeness, and not as out of

  relation.

  As regards the question, therefore, what memory or remembering is,

  it has now been shown that it is the state of a presentation,

  related as a likeness to that of which it is a presentation; and as to

  the question of which of the faculties within us memory is a function,

  (it has been shown) that it is a function of the primary faculty of

  sense-perception, i.e. of that faculty whereby we perceive time.

  2

  Next comes the subject of Recollection, in dealing with which we

  must assume as fundamental the truths elicited above in our

  introductory discussions. For recollection is not the 'recovery' or

  'acquisition' of memory; since at the instant when one at first learns

  (a fact of science) or experiences (a particular fact of sense), he

  does not thereby 'recover' a memory, inasmuch as none has preceded,

  nor does he acquire one ab initio. It is only at the instant when

  the aforesaid state or affection (of the aisthesis or upolepsis) is

  implanted in the soul that memory exists, and therefore memory is

  not itself implanted concurrently with the continuous implantation

  of the (original) sensory experience.

  Further: at the very individual and concluding instant when first

  (the sensory experience or scientific knowledge) has been completely

  implanted, there is then already established in the person affected

  the (sensory) affection, or the scientific knowledge (if one ought

  to apply the term 'scientific knowledge' to the (mnemonic) state or

  affection; and indeed one may well remember, in the 'incidental'

  sense, some of the things (i.e. ta katholou) which are properly

  objects of scientific knowledge); but to remember, strictly and

  properly speaking, is an activity which will not be immanent until the

  original experience has undergone lapse of time. For one remembers now

  what one saw or otherwise experienced formerly; the moment of the

  original experience and the moment of the memory of it are never

  identical.

  Again, (even when time has elapsed, and one can be said really to

  have acquired memory, this is not necessarily recollection, for

  firstly) it is obviously possible, without any present act of

  recollection, to remember as a continued consequence of the original

  perception or other experience; whereas when (after an interval of

  obliviscence) one recovers some scientific knowledge which he had

  before, or some perception, or some other experience, the state of

  which we above declared to be memory, it is then, and then only,

  that this recovery may amount to a recollection of any of the things

  aforesaid. But, (though as observed above, remembering does not

  necessarily imply recollecting), recollecting always implies

  remembering, and actualized memory follows (upon the successful act of

  recollecting).

  But secondly, even the assertion that recollection is the

  reinstatement in consciousness of something which was there before but


  had disappeared requires qualification. This assertion may be true,

  but it may also be false; for the same person may twice learn (from

  some teacher), or twice discover (i.e. excogitate), the same fact.

  Accordingly, the act of recollecting ought (in its definition) to be

  distinguished from these acts; i.e. recollecting must imply in those

  who recollect the presence of some spring over and above that from

  which they originally learn.

  Acts of recollection, as they occur in experience, are due to the

  fact that one movement has by nature another that succeeds it in

  regular order.

  If this order be necessary, whenever a subject experiences the

  former of two movements thus connected, it will (invariably)

  experience the latter; if, however, the order be not necessary, but

  customary, only in the majority of cases will the subject experience

  the latter of the two movements. But it is a fact that there are

  some movements, by a single experience of which persons take the

  impress of custom more deeply than they do by experiencing others many

  times; hence upon seeing some things but once we remember them

  better than others which we may have been frequently.

  Whenever therefore, we are recollecting, we are experiencing certain

  of the antecedent movements until finally we experience the one

  after which customarily comes that which we seek. This explains why we

  hunt up the series (of kineseis) having started in thought either from

  a present intuition or some other, and from something either

  similar, or contrary, to what we seek, or else from that which is

  contiguous with it. Such is the empirical ground of the process of

  recollection; for the mnemonic movements involved in these

  starting-points are in some cases identical, in others, again,

  simultaneous, with those of the idea we seek, while in others they

  comprise a portion of them, so that the remnant which one

  experienced after that portion (and which still requires to be excited

  in memory) is comparatively small.

  Thus, then, it is that persons seek to recollect, and thus, too,

 

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