Ancient and Medieval Memories
Studies in the Reconstruction of the Past
By Janet Coleman
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 1992
Online Publication Date:January 2010
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511521331.030
Materialism is the official philosophy of academic biology and is perhaps best summarised in the recent Oxford Companion to the Mind (1987). Steven Rose, the author of the entry, ‘memory–biological basis’, argues that ‘it is axiomatic that in some way there must be brain representations of memory’. From this materialist assumption every twentieth-century neuroscientist has known how memories are encoded in the brain: briefly, there is a changed connectivity in particular neuronal circuits as a result of synaptic remodelling. As Rose has pointed out in another context, however: ‘Everyone knows this; the only trouble lies in proving it’. Indeed. As a modern variant on ancient and medieval philosophical realism, these hypothetical memory traces persist in eluding their pursuers despite the ritual sacrifice of thousands of rats, cats, chicks and monkeys on the dissecting tables of the neuroscientists. Materialism may be wrong, or, as some classical and medieval thinkers believed, it may be only a part of the story, only one partial and inadequate way we can explain to ourselves what happens when we remember. We must include other things in our account of what it means to us to remember.
In scientific circles the brain is now universally accepted as the organ of the mind and certain parts of it are known to specialise in particular mental functions.