Remembering without stored contents: a philosophical reflection on memory
Memories have long been compared with archived items that can be faithfully retrieved by minds, as if they were the sorts of thing that exist in a kind of internal mental storehouse. Down the ages memories have often been conceived of as images - proxies of items encountered by the senses - which are received, sometimes suitably augmented, retained and later retrieved by minds. This familiar picture of memories has a long and influential history, finding perhaps its earliest and most eloquent expression in St. Augustine's Confessions.
And so I come to the fields and vast palaces of memory, where are stored the innumerable images of material things brought to it by the senses. Further there is stored in the memory the thoughts we think, by adding or taking from or otherwise modifying the things that sense has made contact with and all other things that have been entrusted to and laid up in memory … when I turn to memory I ask it to bring forth what I want …1