The Past, the Present, and the Future: Comments on Section 1
Bennet B. Murdock Jr. University of Toronto
In their opening remarks to the conference from which this volume came, the organizers suggested that we both commemorate the past and anticipate the future. In my remarks, I make three main points. The first deals with the past, the second with the present, and the third with the future. For the past, I review very briefly previous work on context as an encoding variable. For the present, I play the role of a gadfly and cast a critical eye on the use of experimental separation as a means of providing evidence for multiple memory systems. For the future, I suggest one direction in which the field might be (and in my view should be) moving.
As is quite clear from the chapters in this section, the work of Tulving and his colleagues has been quite influential in calling attention to the role of context as an important variable in human memory. Is this a new insight, one that earlier investigators of memory failed to appreciate? In a word, the answer is "no." Consider this quotation from McGeoch ( 1932) classic article on forgetting and the law of disuse:
It follows that forgetting, in the sense of functional inability or loss, may result from a lack of the proper eliciting stimulus, even when interpolated events have not been such as to bring the material below the threshold of recall at the time.The absence of the necessary stimulus will occur as a result of change in the stimulating context of the individual. At least until learning has been carried far beyond the threshold, the learner is forming associations, not only intrinsic to the material which is being learned, but also between the parts of this material and the manifold features of the context or environment in which the learning is taking place. (p. 365)