Ways of Knowing: MEMORY
We make sense of the world through eight ways of knowing: language, reason, sense perception, memory, faith, intuition, imagination and emotion. On this page, you will find articles, clips, PowerPoints and links to TED talks on memory as a WOK.
Possible essay questions:
- To what extent are areas of knowledge shaped by their past? Consider with reference to two areas of knowledge. (Specimen 2015)
- “There are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation or through active experiment.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? (May 2015)
- With reference to two areas of knowledge discuss the way in which shared knowledge can shape personal knowledge. (May 2015)
- “No knowledge can be produced by a single way of knowing.” Discuss. (November 2015)
- “Ways of knowing operate differently in personal and shared knowledge.” Assess this claim. (November 2016)
Your memory plays perhaps a more important role in the acquisition of knowledge than you may realise. Our memory shapes our personal and shared identity. A large amount of second hand knowledge has been passed on through language to become part of the shared knowledge of knowledge communities. This knowledge is at its turn stored and passed on through collective memory. Much of what you know is through memory, whether it is through the collective memory or your own individual memory of past events and experiences. Your identity, for example, is highly dependent on your memories. Your memory will also influence how you gather new knowledge and may influence or 'colour' your other Ways of Knowing, such as sense perception. It is important to consider as well how difficult is it to remember something accurately. We are selective in our use of senses in the first place. This selective process of knowing can further be influenced by our memory. Does our belief shape our even contaminate our memory? Psychologists make a difference between two types of memory: procedural memory (the knowledge of skills, which is encoded on the subconscious and intuitive level) and declarative memory (the memory of facts and events- either semantic memory, which is based on information or episodic memory, which is based on experiences). Both types of memory are highly important when we consider memory as a Way of Knowing. Each type of memory will raise different Knowledge Questions.
Even though memories can be biased and blurry, they do play an important role in the construction of knowledge. Consider how you would know anything without memory. Psychological and medical conditions which involve memory loss, such as Alzheimer's, highlight the importance of memory as a Way of Knowing. After I watched the thriller Memento, about a man who suffers from anterograde amnesia, I became fully aware of this fact. The main protagonist of the film is unable to store new explicit memories. In a time before I pads and I phones, he had to store his memories in a creative manner: through tattoos and Polaroid pictures. This memory impairment creates the perfect starting point for a thriller, yet it also highlights how we need memory as a Way of Knowing.
Memories are obviously not merely unbiased data collections like the ones of video cameras or memory sticks. But how does memory work?
False memory, identity and reality
\The power of memory has been studied by natural and human scientists alike. Some (controversial) experiments in this field have explored the extent to which we can alter and even erase people's memories. As research shows, it is remarkably easy to manipulate memories. The manipulation of memory entails power because once we alter someone’s memory we can steer this person's behaviour. An interesting real life case study is the Tabula Rasa therapy used by experimental psychiatrist Dr Cameron. Cameron attempted to erase people’s memories (tabula rasa=blank slate) so patients would be transformed into new human beings, freed from their troubled past. At the time of the cold war, the CIA was particularly interested in such therapies, as they were potentially powerful political tools. We can find many examples of the abuse of memory in the world, ranging from the creation of mythical histories (eg the Aryan myth) to the re-writing of nation's pasts through education (history lessons on colonial past) and the arts (Pre-Raphaelite or Romantic art).
To some extent, the memory of your past can alter the interpretations of your present and drive your future actions. Even though Cameron's therapies may seem far-fetched at first sight, it is worth exploring how you may create false memories of your own past on a more subtle level. Think back to your most distant childhood memory. How confident are you that you remember the actual event rather than an altered version? Do you really remember what happened or what people told you happened? Have you added details based on photographs or similar events which happened later in life?
Your individual memory may match or clash with the collective memory of knowledge communities. What are the implications of having a memory or history that clashes with the collective memory of others? Memory plays a big part in the creation of one's identity, both on a personal and collective level.
Memory and the arts: a look at an extract of 1984
The politics of memory
Collective as well as individual memories have been of key interest to politicians for centuries. A nostalgia for a past which may never have happened will incite the masses to accomplish the vision of a dictator more easily than emotionally void commands which we can't relate to. Adam Curtis explores the politics of memory in a three part documentary called 'The Living Dead'. The episodes do not focus on zombies in a literal sense, but they seek to explore the importance of memory in a historical, political and psychological context. I am convinced that the documentaries raise some interesting real life situations which could form the basis of TOK presentations and essays. To understand their importance within a TOK context, have a look at the memory PowerPoint as well.