Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

Memory, Imagination, and Skill

    Amy Kind (Claremont McKenna College)

Date: 12 May 2021

Time: 15:00

Place: Online


Empirical research on memory has long shown that memory performance can be considerably improved via practice.  To give just one example, a research team led by K. Anders Ericsson showed that after extensive memory practice over the course of eighteen months, an average undergraduate referred to as S.F. went from being able only to recall 7 digit sequences from being able to recall 79 digit sequences (Ericsson et al 1980).  More generally, S.F.’s performance on memory tests matched those of memory experts, individuals with a lifetime of training.


In contrast to the wealth of empirical work on the acquisition and improvement of memory-based skills, there is considerably less empirical work on the acquisition and improvement of imagination-based skills.  Yet if, as many philosophers have argued, there is a continuum of sorts between memory and imagination – perhaps with memory even being best understood as a sub-species of imagination – one might expect there to be similar possibilities with respect to the improvement of imagination-based skills.


Drawing on my recent work that provides a framework for understanding imagination as a skill (Kind 2020), in this paper I consider what we can learn about the skill of imagination by reflection on what is already known about the skill of memory.  In thinking about which lessons about the skill of memory can be applied to the skill of imagination and which lessons cannot, I am led to some important differences between memory and imagination.  I conclude by discussing what this shows about philosophical attempts to see memory and imagination on a single continuum.