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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

Project description

Mapping the role of Memory in Galen’s oeuvre

Unlike Aristotle, Galen did not write a systematic treatise on memory, but we do find in his oeuvre several passages where he wrote about memory in considerable detail. In these passages, Galen’s approach appears to be strictly medical, and mainly concerned with therapeutics of memory failure and memory loss. Even though Galen does not spend much time investigating the nature of memory, he recognises it as a fundamental faculty for a flourishing human life. For instance, if one wants to be a good doctor one needs to have a good memory, love to work hard and possess a shrewd mind. He also thinks memory plays a central role in reasoning and knowing, as well as in the process of concept formation. Moreover, when memory fails, we may find ourselves in trouble: we might not be able, for instance, to follow a process of reasoning and draw the correct conclusions. We may not recognise our relatives, or even ourselves. Furthermore, Galen also discusses the importance of memory for developing and maintaining practical skills, as we can lose the ability to perform activities in which we were experts. He also recognises its importance for ethical improvement, namely through the memorization and repetition of dogmata as a way of shaping and enhancing our character. Thus, having memory’s pathologies as a point of departure, I am interested in examining how Galen envisages the faculty of memory, its genesis, functioning and location within the human body. What is its role in the mind’s architecture, how is it related to other psychic faculties, such as reasoning and ‘imagination’, and how does it impact on human behaviour and identity? Moreover, I am exploring the process of formation and storing of “images” that eventually will turn out to be the direct objects of memory. In order to map how these “images” are formed and stored in memory, I have been looking at Galen’s understanding of the mechanism of perception. This study led me to a quite fascinating though nonetheless neglected aspect of Galen’s approach to memory: the role attention plays in the formation of long-lasting memories. Finally, in studying the topic of memory, I am expecting to shed some light on Galen’s conception of mind/body interaction and the ontological status of the mental and its faculties.