23 June 2010

Literature, memory and psychology: Funes, the Memorious

Literature often shows us illuminating examples of how memory works or is believed to work under particular circumstances. In Funes, the Memorious, the Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges told us the story of Ireneo Funes, a young Uruguayan who suffered a head injury after being thrown by a horse. The damage caused to his brain resulted in his perception of his surroundings being greatly enhanced. Funes could remember everything from his past. Funes reminisced about every detail which he noticed and remembered each word, sound, smell, sight and touch. His inability to forget led him to remember every time he had perceived or imagined anything. Every time he recalled an activity he had done, it took him the same amount of time as the activity itself, e.g. it took him one day to remember what he had done the day before. Thus, according to Borges, Funes’ aim was “to reduce all his past experience to some seventy thousand recollections which he could number later” (Borges, 1985 [1954]: 103) in order to organize his thousands of irrelevant and infinite memories.

Funes may depict one way of thinking about memory. Funes perhaps takes to the extreme the architectural approach to the mind, which chacterizes memory by employing the age-old storage metaphor in which a central processor matches information from different perceptual systems (vision and language comprehension) stored in memory. Funes would be the hero of brainbounded cognitive psychologists who treat memory as an independent and autonomous human capacity.

Link to Funes, the Memorious

Borges, Jorge L. (1985 [1954]). Fictions. (A. Kerrigan, Trans.). London: John Calder.

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