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memory & knowledge

Discussion in 'The Philosopher' started by Cythraul, Mar 11, 2006.

  1. Cythraul

    Cythraul Active Member

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    I've been studying Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding for an empiricism class this semester and I stumbled upon a particularly interesting epistemological problem in reading the section about sensitive knowledge. Locke says that sensitive knowledge is knowledge of the existence of particular things. So I have sensitive knowledge when I perceive anything to exist. This kind of knowledge is limited to immediate sensory experience. Locke also thinks that our memory of the existence of particular things constitutes knowledge beyond all doubt provided that our memory remains intact and unchanged. That seems a bit problematic to me though. I don't even think a person could know whether or not their memory has remained true to fact. So it looks like the knowledge gained at the time of some immediate sensory experience is very strictly limited to immediate sensory experience. It's not like I have any way of verifying whether my memory of some experience is correct or not. Of course, in a large class of cases one's memory of a certain experience can be compared to the other peoples' memory of that same experience. So maybe the testimony of other people is a criterion of objectivity in such cases, and there are other ways testimony comes into the picture even in cases where the question is concerning an experience that only one has had. I haven't thought too much about that one. I'll provide an excerpt from something I wrote to get my point across. My argument uses the case of one person's experience. The experience involves an instance of a bird flying by. Assume that in the world where I am having this experience I have never seen a bird and neither has anyone else.

    Just to clarify something, the point about the description not being some arbitrary name might have been stated differently. What I probably should have said is that even if the description is being used referentially, acknowledging that in no way makes it any clearer that I would be referring to that bird that I saw on that day. It's not as if I am just using the description referentially. I am referring to something which I think exists and which satisfies the description. So the description can't act as a name and it has its truth condition necessarily.

    Anyway, my point is, how do you confirm that your memory of something, particularly some private experience, is true to fact? Any thoughts on this? I'm not too familiar with the subject so I'm not sure if the same problem's been brought up before but I think it's interesting. Maybe, as I suggested earlier, testimony and shared or similar experience is a criterion of objectivity.
     
  2. Norsemaiden

    Norsemaiden barbarian

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    The answer is no. Shared or similar memory of an experience is not proof of objectivity.

    In my psychology course we learned of an experiment into how peer pressure alters memory. Roughly, the experiment involved one person (subject) who did not know what the experiment was about, and several people who knew. One of the people who knew held up a card with a number written on it, for everyone to see. Then he put it down and asked them in turn what number was written on the card. The "subject" was the last person to be asked. All the people who answered beforehand said it was a different number (but they all concured on what the number was) than the one shown on the card. Every time this experiment was tried out, the majority of "subjects" said that the number was what they heard the other people say it was, and not what they had really seen.

    Whole groups of people can have their memory of something altered by a strong suggestion from a source that they trust, especially if the thing they saw was unusual in some way, and the alternative explanation/discription was more believable or reassuring.

    Another way is that if a person with darkish hair and brown eyes is introduced to a group, and then they leave, and the group is told that the person was from Norway, they are more likely to say they remembered him as being somewhat fairer and more likely to say they remember he had blue eyes, than if they were told he was Italian. This shows that people's prejudices affect their memory too.

    If other people say they saw the same thing as you, it doesn't prove that the memory is accurate, but it usually makes it more likely, depending on the situation.

    Memories cannot be fully trusted and neither can immediate perceptions - because you can be deceived about something even while you are looking at it. (The most obvious example being magician's tricks).
     
  3. Cythraul

    Cythraul Active Member

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    Yeah I definitely had doubts about my suggestion. Thanks for the examples. Goddamn skepticism! :mad:

    edit: I guess on the intuitive level we normally take shared experience to be a loose criterion of objectivity. But it looks like that's very problematic when one really gets down to it.
     
  4. speed

    speed Member

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    What about those with photographic memories? They also would not be prone to listen to peer pressure about descriptions and events.

    What was I going to add? Hm...yes--its been a long day, and my head in swimming; is your purpose in this thread, to validate whether one can ever come to a objective truth with ones sensory organs? I know almost all postmodern philosophers say no.

    Anyway, thats the beauty of memory: it is subjective and erroneous. Thankfully so for the human race.
     
  5. Norsemaiden

    Norsemaiden barbarian

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    Very few people have a photographic memory. Is it really even scientifically proven to exist or just something people say they have? When you remember what something looked like everyone has some sort of picture in their head presumably. I don't think a sceptical person would be bowed by peer pressure that easily, but might stick with their opinion even though they are less sure than before.
     
  6. MasterOLightning

    MasterOLightning Optimator

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    Most people who say they have a photographic memory are full of shit.

    I think you're missing the point of those experiments on peer pressure. It really proves that people would rather conform to an overwhelming majority than give a different answer and be embarrassed.
     
  7. Norsemaiden

    Norsemaiden barbarian

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    Yes you are right about that last comment, but it is still the case that people will say they remember that the number was whatever everyone else was saying and therefore they won't make reliable witnesses.
     
  8. MURAI

    MURAI -

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    I have come across a theory by Alfred Adler that introverted, neurotic-inclined people seem to have accurate memories and the extroverted, neurotic-inclined people have poor memories.
     
  9. speed

    speed Member

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    But there are persons with photographic memories, and philosophers would not be prone to such peer pressures--as we know, almost all of them would rather argue with each other and die penniless than give in to a contrary view.

    Thus, I suppose what this has proven as you have stated, is by and large, even for what we consider personal things like memories, the majority of people are entirely social animals.
     

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