Mental Time Travel in the Philosophy and the Cognitive Science of Memory


  • Marina Trakas Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas, CONICET



memory, episodic memory, mental time travel, scientific metaphor, (re)construction, simulation, memory trace


The memory metaphor “mental time travel” has had a great influence on the cognitive science of memory as well as on the contemporary philosophy of memory. Despite its relevance, there has been no real theoretical discussion of either the meaning of the metaphor itself or its adequacy in accounting for memories of past experiences. This article tries to fill this gap and examines in more detail the metaphor of “mental time travel”, focusing more specifically on the problems that this notion presents. If the metaphor of “mental time travel” is intended to refer not only to a faculty or brain system but also to a particular subjective experience, as it has been suggested in the literature, it is not evident that it is compatible with the notions of (re)construction and simulation with which it is frequently associated, nor that it reliably describes the phenomenology of all memories of the personal past. If, on the contrary, it only refers to a faculty or brain system and does not intend to account for the phenomenology of memory, the use of this term seems to lose all meaning to name that faculty. In fact, despite its importance, the metaphor of “mental time travel” has not become a sole paradigm: other different metaphors continue to currently guide more or less fruitful research programs on memory. This article concludes that, although the metaphor of “mental time travel” was beneficial at the time for the science and the philosophy of memory, a careful examination of it suggests that it is not a really good metaphor for the memory of past experiences, so it should be abandoned.


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2022-12-01 — Updated on 2022-12-02

How to Cite

Trakas, M. (2022). Mental Time Travel in the Philosophy and the Cognitive Science of Memory. Revista De Humanidades De Valparaíso, (20), 141–163.



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