January 16, 2005

Forgot to Forget To Remember

I think the meaning of the following sentence is pretty clear--it happens to be true:

(1) After I've stopped at a gas station, I frequently worry that I didn't remember to put the gas cap on, because I don't remember putting the gas cap on.

And I think the meaning of the following sentence is pretty clear, and it's clearly not self-contradictory--in fact, it's also true:

(2) I was worried because I didn't remember putting the gas cap on, but of course I had remembered to put the gas cap on.

What this shows is that "S remembered PHIing" and "S remembered to PHI" have very different semantics. (Although in (2) the past tense in the first clause refers to a different moment than the pluperfect in the second clause; so (2) wouldn't be self-contradictory anyway.) In this case, it seems as though "I remembered to put the gas cap on" is true iff I put the gas cap on. But "I remembered putting the gas cap on" requires not only that I put the gas cap on, but also that I have some experiential memory of doing so.

The exact semantics of "remember to" will take a bit more work (which someone may have done). If I considered putting the gas cap on but did not do so, it seems misleading to say "I didn't remember to put the gas cap on," but it also seems misleading to say "I remembered to put the gas cap on." I'd guess that "I didn't remember to put the gas cap on" is the true-but-misleading one, but I don't have an argument here. But my guess is that "remembering to" really is factive.

If that's so that might have some significance for the debate concerning practical and theoretical knowledge, as exemplified by the debate over whether knowledge-how is merely a species of knowledge-that. C.L. Hamblin, in Imperatives, argues (if I remember correctly) that the practical analogue of knowledge-that is not knowledge-how but knowledge-to, as in "He knows to shut off the lights when he leaves." Knowledge-how is analogous to knowledge-wh, containing embedded questions, whereas knowledge-to and knowledge-that do not contain embedded questions.

Perhaps knowledge-to can be shown to be a species of knowledge-that (I don't remember whether Stanley and Williamson address knowledge-to in their work on knowledge-how). It seems to me, however, as though remembering-to is likely of the same species as knowledge-to; at least, if "I remembered to put the gas cap on" expresses a kind of practical memory, then that demonstrates that there is such a thing as practical knowledge, whether or not it's expressed by knowledge-to or -how constructions.

(1) and (2) don't directly address the claim that remembering-to is a practical kind of memory; they show that it's different from experiential memory, but they don't show that it's different from remembering-that. But if remembering-to is to be a species of remembering-that, it can't be that "X remembered to PHI" is analyzed in terms of "X remembered that X PHIed"; rather, it must be analyzed in terms of something like "X remembered that X should PHI." And the latter doesn't, it seems, imply "X PHIed"; if "X remembered to PHI" does imply this, then there's a problem.

Just some inchoate thoughts on a construction that might perhaps merit further study (if it hasn't already been studied further).

The stuff on experiential memory here is inspired partly by James Higginbotham's paper "Remembering, Imagining, and the First Person," which I discussed a little here. The link to that paper in my previous entry has been taken down; it's now available in Alex Barber's Epistemoloogy of Language.

Posted by Matt Weiner at January 16, 2005 01:43 PM

Well, the current psychological theory has two elements: task performance and associative memory. Remembering-to is mostly task performance, generally of something that has either been well-learned, and therefore doesn't require much in the way of pulling up memories, or can be a little more arduous and cognitive. Either way, while you're doing this, you're forming an episodic memory of what you're doing. Unless you're spaced out. That memory goes into the big association bin of knowledge. It can be called up for use by another task, including a bit of retrospective task-checking. And, of course, that's sort of an episode itself. It's the great effing circle of memory.

Oh, yeah, each of these functions is in a clearly defined area of the brain, task-orientation in the frontal lobe, episodic memories in the temporal lobe.

Posted by: Social Scientist at January 16, 2005 10:27 PM