Does Memory Have Content?

The MA Method is a new cognitive neuroscience framework. A key foundational concept is that memories are built from experience. Therefore memories have content — that of experience. The information a memory contains is the same as the experience that plays out in one’s “field of experience.” This field includes visual and auditory perception (visual field), somatosensation and emotion (body), as well as goals, intentions and other thoughts (head).

For example, the memory “the round of golf I played yesterday” might feature perception (white round thing, grass beneath, gripping a club…) objects (golf ball, my feet, my hands…) and intentions (backswing, ball strike, ball flight…). A memory of a thought (“what a terrible swing”) or an emotion (“That was really embarrassing”) is also a copy of the original.

As I sit in my office at my computer, I see, read, feel, and think. My conscious experience changes continually. Yet, much remains the same. Emotions, breathing, and other bodily sensations rise and fall. Thoughts occur. Life happens. This ongoing experience is encompassed by the mind. The mind in turn is continually converted to memory.

Mind and brain mirrors experience as it occurs. The brain copies the contents of the mind. Not all of it, but its most salient and attended-to parts. While I read a paper, I might comprehend an interesting idea. That idea will be recorded, and later remembered when needed. A sudden noise from the street – its tone, volume, and meaning — is immediately converted to memory. A dog’s bark is quickly forgotten. The sound of a human voice, such as a request for help, is attended to and sustained in memory for much longer.

The point is the information of experience – visual, auditory, somatosensory, emotional, cognitive, etc. — can be copied to memory. Anyone can do this, and later recall it at will.

Human memory has content. To understand what these contents are, do not look to the brain and its “processing” of experience. Look to experience itself.

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