Re: Funes the Memorious and memory capacity

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Sun Nov 26 1995 - 22:37:13 GMT

> From: "E.J.Fletcher" <>
> Date: Sat, 25 Nov 1995 22:00:01 +0000 (GMT)
> The incredible mental ability of Funes, that is his ability to
> remember, and perhaps more importantly not to forget, has been annoying
> me all week. The problem being how much information is it possible for
> a person to store? If Funes had lived for an infinitely long period of
> time, surely he would eventually have been forced to omit information
> about the environment in which he lived; and perhaps his mental
> processing would also become impeded. Any ideas or comments to help me
> out of this conundrum.

First of all, a reminder that Funes is a fiction, just the carrying to a
poetic extreme of some ideas and insights Borges had.

Now, as to the limits of memory: There are limits on normal memory. And
even Luria's S did not have infinite capacity, just huge capacity
compared to us.

Moreover, never mind memory, our original sensory experience can't
register "everything": First of all, our senses are not that sharp or
that extensive. But I presume your question is about whether as much as
the senses DO register could be storable and retrievable for ever, and
the answer is, in principle, why not? It's just like a library of
videotapes: If you had the tape to record the scene in the first place,
there's no reason you can't store it all forever.

The real reason we don't have infinite rote memories, though, is not
because we don't have that much storage capacity (we might or might not
have enough), but because being able to selectively ignore and forget is
as important as being able to remember. Without it, as Borges points
out, we cannot abstract or generalise, in fact, we can't talk or act in
any coherent way on the KINDS of things we see and hear: They would just
be unclassified video footage...

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