“What Memory Is” by Klein

Currently, it is possible to determine several, rather innovative views on the nature of memory processes. Thus, many researchers tend to examine the concept of memory and associated processes in detail in order to explain their specifics (Gage & Baars, 2018). The article by Klein (2015), which is titled “What Memory Is,” provides two important theses regarding the nature of memory that can also be discussed in the light of new approaches to analyzing this complex process in the brain. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the article, to identify its key themes, to pose the question for further research, and to formulate questions associated with the clinical importance of the author’s conclusions.

Article Summary

In his article, the author defines memory from a rather new perspective while avoiding determining memory as a specific stable state or as a process. Still, Klein (2015) claims that memory should be viewed as any state related to encoding, storing, and retrieving information. Furthermore, memory is viewed by the researcher not only as the observed content but also as a unique manner, in which an individual experiences that situation or information. In order to explain these positions, Klein (2015) refers to the clarification of his theses from conceptual, phenomenological, and historical perspectives. Thus, the author asserts that the act of memory should be considered as a non-inferential reference to a person’s past.

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These findings and thoughts are supported by the author’s discussion of memory as a present mental state and the feeling of “pastness,” psychological views, the semantic knowledge, and episodic recollection. Thus, the article is divided into several sections, in which Klein (2015) explains his position regarding the nature of memory and its difference from other mental states. The author presents a range of arguments and references to other studies to accentuate that memory should not discussed in a new way.

Thematic Connection

The main thematic connection between the article by Klein (2015) and the work by Gage and Baars (2018) is the focus on discussing the declarative system with reference to the role of semantic and episodic memory. According to Gage and Baars (2018), the declarative system consists of episodic and semantic memory as the combination of autobiographical memories (episodic) and the knowledge of something (semantic). The researchers note that episodic memory is related to recollecting events and situations, and semantic memory is related to remembering facts (Gage & Baars, 2018). Still, in spite of a clear difference between these two types, researchers traditionally define them as “memories.”

In the discussed article, the author uses the same terminology in order to explain how memories can be related to the past, present, and future. Thus, the declarative system is analyzed by Klein (2015) in detail, and much attention is paid to regarding semantic memory as knowledge rather than a memory-related process. According to Klein (2015), semantic memory is not a memory in its nature because an act of memorizing and recollecting needs to be based on the re-experience of an event in the past.

Thus, the semantic knowledge is about the present and future, and it should be regarded as the process of knowing rather than the process of remembering. From this perspective, in spite of the fact that Gage and Baars (2018) and Klein (2015) apply the same terminology to explain memory-related processes, their visions regarding these factors are quite different.

The Question for Further Research

While referring to the discussion presented in the article, it is possible to focus on the necessity of defining the acts of memory, imagination, experience, and others more clearly. The reason is that, according to Klein (2015), it is necessary to distinguish between these acts and experiences to formulate exactly what memory can be. Therefore, the question that needs to be posed to identify a worthy problem for following examination and discussion should be related to the issue of distinguishing between different processes in the mind. Klein (2015) states that, even if an experienced mental state originates from past learning, it is not necessarily related to memory.

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Thus, the researcher explains that it is important to understand a difference between a memory, a dream, a skill, and a belief. In addition, decisions, products of imagination, judgments and even fears can also be perceived as memories sometimes, but they do not have all the necessary components.

In this context, the question that should be posed to extend the current research on the problem can be formulated the following way: what specific criteria or factors do memories have to help distinguish them from dreams, knowledge, beliefs, plans, decisions and other act of the mind processes? When focusing on answering this research question, it will be possible to define more clearly what memory is with reference not only to Klein’s (2015) ideas on its connection to the past, present, and future experience. The currently used criteria to determine that a mental state is related to memory are viewed by Klein (2015) as “overly liberal” (p. 1).

From this perspective, more research is required in order to formulate rather strong criteria and approaches to classifying memories in contrast to other distinct mental states. In this case, it will be possible to expand the existing knowledge on the problem of defining memory and its characteristics.

Questions Related to the Article

Having reviewed and analyzed the material presented in the article under discussion, it is possible to pose two questions that logically result from the presented content. The first important question to ask is the following one: when a person suffers from a certain type of amnesia, does he experience memories or some other mental processes? The second question to pay attention to is whether an episodic recollection should always be associated with or explained with reference to the retrieval of the events experienced in the past. The reason for asking this question is that not all recollections associated with episodic recollection can be based on the re-experience of a certain event, and not all recollected events can be exactly events, but not a person’s judgments. These two questions are significant to be asked by neuroscientists, psychologies, and other researchers and experts in the field as a result of reading this article and analyzing its findings and conclusions.

It should also be noted here that the question about the nature and the type of amnesia is significant for clinical practice. The reason is that the approaches to diagnosing and treating amnesia depend on understanding its specifics and character. For instance, Gage and Baars (2018) state that, in most cases, people suffering from amnesia as the loss of memory usually have implicit and remote memories.

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On the contrary, Klein (2015) questions the discussion of implicit memories as acts directly related to the nature of memory processes depending on his definition of this mental act. In this case, the problem is not in the fact of observing or not implicit memories but in using semantics for defining specific processes. From this perspective, when answering the question about the nature and types of amnesia with reference to specific symptoms it can have, it is possible to contribute to clinical practice. In this case, the research by Klein (2015) can be discussed as relevant and significant for practitioners to explain the nature of memory processes, including the loss of memory.


The summary and analysis of the article about the definition of memory have been presented in this paper. Thus, in his article, the author provides arguments for discussing memory-related processes as based not on the content and recollected objects but on the manner to re-experience this content. Therefore, much attention is paid to the discussion of the difference between semantic and episodic types of memory in order to accentuate that episodic memory is related to re-experiencing, but semantic memory is closely connected with the knowledge.

As a result, it cannot be defined as a memory, and it can be mixed in its characteristics with judgments, beliefs, decisions, and other mental acts and processes. Furthermore, the paper has also presented the analysis of the thematic connection between the reviewed study and statements provided by other researchers. Finally, the questions rising from the research are also added along with the analysis of the contribution of the study conclusions to clinical practice.


Gage, N. M., & Baars, B. J. (2018). Fundamentals of cognitive neuroscience: A beginner’s guide (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.

Klein, S. B. (2015). What memory is. WIREs Cognitive Science, 6, 1-38.

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