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Are confabulations representational?

ERI 149
Wednesday 24 October 2018 (13:00-14:00)

Philosophy Work in Progress Seminar Series 2018/19

  • Speaker: Dr Krystyna Bielecka (University of Warsaw)
  • Title: Are confabulations representational?

The Philosophy department's work in progress seminar is an opportunity for the members of staff at Birmingham to present the material they are working on to each other and to the department's postgraduate students.
The seminar meets roughly on fortnightly Wednesdays from 13:00 to 14.00 in the ERI. All welcome!


According to contemporary models of memory, the function of autobiographical memory is rather construction of the self than retrieving own experiences or life events (Dennett, 1991; Schacter, 2012). There are reasons to seriously consider the hypothesis that healthy people tend to confabulate about themselves in their daily lives (Dennett, 1991; Schacter, 2001; Hirstein, 2005). Clinical memory confabulations, however, appear when this memory does not work properly. This is the case of some amnestic patients with Korsakoff’s Syndrome (APA, 2013).

In my talk, I will pose a question of whether confabulating in Korsakoff Syndrome can be understood representationally. In the case of severe amnesia caused by Korsakoff’s syndrome, a patient may almost immediately forget an utterance spoken a couple of minutes earlier (for a striking classical case, see the description of Mr. Thompson in Sacks 1985). In such cases, the content of the patient’s mental representation seems to be so vaporous that its role in the patient’s cognitive life is questionable. The patient feels free to produce words that she or he doesn't remember, and it is natural to explain the syndrome with external (therefore, non-mental) representations. So, in Korsakoff's Syndrome, anti-representationalism is plausible.  The anti-representational explanations in this case could be narrative (Hutto 2017). In my talk, I will show some reasons to explain clinical confabulating in such patients representationally and pose a hypothesis that clinical confabulating in such patients can be understood as a case of self-representing. It will be further substantiated by applying a teleosemantical coherence-based model of representational system (Bielecka, 2016; Bielecka & Marcinów, 2017). 

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