Metaphors of Memory: A History of Ideas about the Mind

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What is memory? Without memory we lose our sense of identity, reasoning, even our ability to perform simple physical tasks. Yet it is elusive and difficult to define, and throughout the ages philosophers and psychologists have used metaphors as a way of understanding it. This fascinating book takes the reader on a guided tour of these metaphors of memory from ancient times to the present day, exploring the way metaphors often derived from the techniques and instruments developed to store information such as wax tablets, books, photography, computers and even the hologram.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...a tremendously valuable addition for psychologists and other scientists interested in the history of human thought about memory. In fact, it should be considered required reading for students of human memory." Contemporary Psychology, APA Review of Books

"...fascinating, informative, accessible and highly recommended to students of psychology and the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the nature of memory and its relationship to the human mind." Wisconsin Bookwatch

"...this is an intellectually sophisticated book, rich in insight and detail." The Economist

"...clear, measured prose and a well-paced narrative flow...Draaisma constructs an elegant serie of arguments concerning the wider social and philosophical imperatives driving scientists and thinkers to view the mind in certain lights....Together Douwe Draaisma and Cambridge University Press have produced a book of high quality. Extensively referenced and illustrated, impeccably rendered from Dutch to English and fully indexed, this work transcends what could be the narrow discipline of the history of psychology...I should point out that it is simply a good book to read!" Leonardo Reviews

"A finely illustrated 'history of ideas about the mind' ...What it does superbly well, but not explicitly, is to tell us why this topic is important to the philosophy of mind and consciousness." The Midwest Book Review

"The book provides needed historical context to many of the current debates within the field of cognitive psychology. The volume wil be of particular interest to students and instructors of cognitive psychology and history of psychology looking for readable supplements." Choice

From The Critics
Douwe Draaisma is a lecturer in the history of psychology at the University of Groningen. In Metaphors Of Memory: A History Of Ideas About The Mind he explores what memory is, how it is ephemeral, unreliable, and yet essential to everything a person does. Without memory we lose ability to perform simple physical tasks. Memory is elusive to define and from antiquity attempts to discuss or describe it have relied on metaphor. Draaisma provides the reader with a kind of guided tour of these metaphors throughout the ages and presents a compelling, scholarly history of ideas about the mind by exploring the ways these metaphors have been employed. Metaphors Of Memory: is fascinating, informative, accessible, and highly recommended to students of psychology and the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the nature of memory and its relationship to the human mind.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521650243
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.85 (w) x 9.72 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction; 1. The mystic writing-pad; 2. Memoria: memory as writing; 3. The splendour of the Bologna Stone; 4. A vast labyrinth; 5. A mirror with a memory; 6. Digital memory; 7. Holographic memory; 8. An enchanted loom; 9. The homunculus.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2001

    A History of the Mind, if not of Memory per se.

    A finely illustrated 'history of ideas about the mind' this certainly is, though more a book concerned with the metaphors, than with the essence, of human memory per se. What it does superbly well, but not explicitly, is to tell us why this topic is important to the philosophy of mind and consciousness. Previously available only in the Dutch language (as 'De Metaforenmachine - een geschiedenis van het geheugen', by Historische Uitgeverij, 1995) Draaisma's English version as reviewed here indeed provides us with an historical tale of 'metaphors of memory' running through time from Plato's tablets to the electronic neural networks of recent times. The material covered is itself a brief natural history museum case of ideas concerned principally with our thoughts on human memory (and memory processes) in a way reminiscent of Gregory's (1981) 'Mind In Science', especially with reference to the use of explanations derived from our understanding of the workings of man-made technological developments. This new book, blends Gregory's thesis together with that of the desires of Pribram's (1971) 'Languages of the Brain', timely bringing us into the 21st Century for a view and review of the recurrent metaphorical landscapes with regards our understanding of the phenomenon of human memory. Much of Douwe Draaisma's own thesis is, however, concerned with our misunderstanding the phenomenon of human memory; his critical points (rightly in my view) often aimed at the repeated abstraction mistakes made by those coming to champion the various explanations of memory as have been offered throughout recorded history. Moving sequentially in time, we are introduced to metaphors familiar and unfamiliar, from wax-impressions, through pigeon-holes and libraries of books, and via photography and holograms to computer hard-disks and neural nets. One very valuable insight provided by Draaisma's thesis is that, despite the often quite radical changes in technology giving rise to each of the subsequent metaphorical replacements used to explain memory processes, common to most of them is the notion that although such devices do indeed serve as memory systems of a sort, they do not exist as such without brains/observers to decode them. As such, all of the metaphorical claims as have been made at various times have continued to fail as models of instantiated human physiological memory system(s) - either as process or principle. Furthermore, few, if any, were to lead to any new neurophysiological findings or questions as a result, remaining instead firmly attached to the logic of memory processes, not to its ellucidation with regards physiological mechanisms. In reading this volume, one is repeatedly struck by the finding that neurophysiology was largely being ignored following the introduction of each notion comparing the 'mechanics of the mind' (in this case memory) to the mechanisms of everyday objects in order to understand (by mensuration) how they might operate. With respect to the more philosophical attitudes taken with each development, it is also noteworthy that both technical innovation and theoretical (conceptual) advances were rarely made by the same individual. However, Draaisma's book is well balanced with respect to his inclusion of these topics throughout the nine chapters, telling his story fluently and with consistent rhythm. If I were to fault the choice of historical landmarks/events to be reported, I would comment upon the relative allocation of time and space devoted to definable eras. For example, having dispensed with the Graeco-Roman contributions in the first (relatively short) chapter, we jump almost a thousand years to the time of the printing and the middle-ages' monasticism. One cannot help wondering whether there might be another, yet untold story, belonging to the near, middle or far eastern scholastic traditions which might brought to bear upon this story ? If the advent of the printing press was such a significant factor in

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