Memory and Levels of Explanation

Memory is an essential component to understanding our behavior; however, a neurological explanation is not given in Mental Construction. Why not?

It seems all investigations into how humans act eventually have to deal with the question of what level of explanation is being offered, is sufficient, or is available. Aristotle started us with his levels of causation (or explanation) – material (substance), formal (form of material), efficient (agent responsible for change), and final (purpose of change).

Mental Construction

In Mental Construction, the levels of explanation are more tied to scientific reduction. Human actions are caused or explained as

  • Psychological. A person has needs, wants, desires, and goals. They explain why a person makes a specific behavior choice.
  • Genetic. A person’s psychological drives arise from genetic heritage, both common across humanity and specific to that individual.
  • Environmental. A person’s psychological drives arise from that person’s experiences.
  • Cultural. A person’s choice of behaviors is molded by the mores of the society he or she is raised in.
  • Linguistic. A person’s behavioral repertoire is guided by the categories the language recognizes. E.g. voluntary muscles starts with the assumption that certain actions allow choices.
  • Brain neurons. A person’s behaviors can be understood by observing the characteristics of brain neurons.

I am adding a few explanations which link the brain neurological function to the other levels. Specifically, the Almost Gate explains how we continue to think psychologically despite limited information and the time pressure to make a decision. The Concept Elevator is a useful metaphor for the rising level of concept abstraction which accompanies the transfer of categories away from sensory receipt up to prefrontal decision-making. Each floor up the concept elevator cause a loss of fidelity due to the Neural Cascade which introduces an indeterminacy into our internal worldview.


But what about memory? As Alan Baddeley put it (p 10-11) in discussing the physical basis of memory,

… the final aim of giving a physiological account of psychological facts.

… However, many of the claims for an understanding of the molecular basis of memory  … have been shown to be premature. … There is no doubt progress is being made in this important area, and that one day there may be a very fruitful collaboration between the experimental psychologist and the neurochemist. Today, however, there is little area of overlap

Thus, in Mental Construction memory is a given, a psychological fact. It’s essential for a grasp of learning and decision-making. Only psychological aspects of memory are used.

Memory Types. Sensory, Short-term, Long-term. More description in memory link

Memory Types

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