Volume 1, Issue 4
4th Quarter, 2006

Strategies for Personality Transfer

William Sims Bainbridge

page 9 of 15

There are many ways to classify different types of human memories, and it is not clear to me that we are close to having a Bainbridgeconsensual typology, let alone a detailed understanding of how each type operates. However, much empirical research has been carried out for many decades on human memory, and computer scientists have found innovative ways to construct memories for artificial intelligence. For example, both people and computers can recognize faces, although they may use different methods, and a file of the faces a person recognizes can be stored in a computer.

Especially important for personality transfer are autobiographical memories[1,2], which can be conceptualized in relation to working memory, flashbulb memories, episodic memories, semantic memories, and scripts. Working memory is also called short-term memory, and refers to that aspect of momentary consciousness that does not need to be constantly refreshed by sensory input.[3] The classic way to explore short-term memory was by asking research subjects to recall a sequence of letters or numbers as in Sternberg’s experiment and my STM program, give a measured response, then recall another sequence which has the effect of purging the earlier one. The idea of flashbulb memory was proposed by Roger Brown and James Kulik[4] to refer to vivid memories of a past event and setting, such as recalling where one was when learning about the assassination of President Kennedy or the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. I recall vividly standing at an exact spot in a cafeteria line at Harvard University when the person following me in line, Roger Brown himself, told me about flashbulb memories. This, however, may be an ordinary episodic memory, a clear memory of a past event consisting of at least a few situational details. It is not certain that flashbulb memories are really different from episodic memories, although Brown claimed the vividness was greater, perhaps because the event was shocking, like the literal intense electric shock that can produce one-trial learning in laboratory rats.

Episodic memories are generally distinguished from semantic memories, which are facts such as the meanings of words.  Episodic memories may first be stored in a particular part of the brain, the hippocampus, then move elsewhere as they become more like semantic memories.[5,6] That is, they may begin as a recording of sensory perceptions and later be transformed into bundles of concepts. Semantic memories seem to arise from multiple episodes in which a particular conceptual association was activated, and they lack a sense of exactly when and where they were learned. However, in structure an episodic memory seems similar to a script, which is a typical sequence of events or actions that might happen repeatedly in a given kind of setting.[7] For example, my memory contains a script for how to wash clothes in the coin laundry, binding together the concepts of dirty laundry, washer, laundry soap, coins, and the actions needed to make the washer do its job. Similarly, the episodic memory of talking with Roger Brown includes a sense of the cafeteria setting with food displayed in front of us, pushing my tray to the left toward the cashier, him standing to my right, him being tall, him speaking the phrase “flashbulb memory,” and him defining the term.

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1. Anderson, Stephen J., and Martin A. Conway. 1999. “Representations of Autobiographical Memories.” Pp. 217-246 in Cognitive Models of Memory, edited by Martin A. Conway. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. (back to top)

2. Conway, Martin A. 2001. “Sensory-perceptual Episodic Memory and Its Context: Autobiographical Memory,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, 356(1413): 1505-1515. (back to top)

3. Miller, George A. 1956. “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information,” Psychological Review, 63, 81-97. (back to top)

4. Brown, Roger, and James Kulik. 1977. “Flashbulb memories,” Cognition, 5: 73–99 (back to top)

5. Mayes, Andrew R., and Neil Roberts. 2001. “Theories of Episodic Memory,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, 356(1413): 1395-1408. (back to top)

6. Tulving, Endel. 2001. “Episodic Memory and Common Sense: How Far Apart?” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, 356(1413): 1505-1515. (back to top)

7. Brown, Roger, and James Kulik. 1977. “Flashbulb memories,” Cognition, 5: 73–99. (back to top)

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