Adaptive Memory: Evolutionary Constraints on Remembering
James S Nairne; 2010
Human memory evolved subject to the constraints of nature’s criterion—differential survival and reproduction. Consequently, our capacity to remember and forget is likely tuned to solving fitness-based problems, particularly those prominent in the ancestral environments in which memory evolved. Do the operating characteristics of memory continue to bear the footprint of nature’s criterion? This is ultimately an empirical question, and I review evidence consistent with this claim. In addition, I briefly consider several explanatory assumptions of modern memory theory from the perspective of nature’s criterion. How well-equipped is the toolkit of modern memory theory to deal with a cognitive system shaped by nature’s criterion? Finally, I discuss the inherent difficulties that surround evolutionary accounts of cognition. Given there are no fossilized memory traces, and only incomplete knowledge about ancestral environments, is it possible to develop an adequate evolutionary account of remembering?