What makes a mental state feel like a memory: feelings of pastness and presence





memory, perception, imagination, phenomenology


The intuitive view that memories are characterized by a feeling of pastness, perceptions by a feeling of presence, while imagination lacks either faces challenges from two sides. Some researchers complain that the “feeling of pastness” is either unclear, irrelevant or isn’t a real feature. Others point out that there are cases of memory without the feeling of pastness, perception without presence, and other cross-cutting cases. Here we argue that the feeling of pastness is indeed a real, useful feature, and although this feeling does not define memory ontologically, it is a characteristic marker which helps us easily categorise a mental state first-personally. We outline several cognitive features that underlie this experience, including the feeling of past accessibility, ergonomic significance, immersion, objectivity and mental strength. Our account is distinctly phenomenal, rather than doxastic, although our web of beliefs may contribute to this experience.

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Author Biographies

Melanie Rosen, Trent University

Is an assistant professor at Trent University, formerly a Carlsberg distinguished postdoctoral research fellow at Aarhus University. Her research takes an interdisciplinary, philosophy focused approach to altered states of consciousness, perception and memory.

Michael Barkasi , York University

Is a philosopher of perception who works at the intersection of consciousness, dreams, hallucinations, memory, and neural encoding. He is a former postdoctoral research fellow at the Network for Sensory Research (University of Toronto). Most recently, he was an instructor of philosophy and cognitive science at York University in Toronto.


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How to Cite

Rosen, M., & Barkasi , M. (2021). What makes a mental state feel like a memory: feelings of pastness and presence. Estudios De Filosofía, (64), 95–122. https://doi.org/10.17533/udea.ef.n64a05



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