The Inventory of Experience: Memory and Identity
Martin A. Conway
University of Bristol, U.K.
In his definitive essay, "The Problem of Generations" ( 1952), Mannheim commented that "[the] inventory of experience which is absorbed . . . from the environment in early youth often becomes the historically oldest stratum of consciousness, which tends to stabilize itself as the natural view of the world [for each particular generation]" (p. 328). Indeed, Mannheim thought that the process of "absorption" was complete and the basis of experience more or less fixed by about 25 years of age. Current evidence from the study of autobiographical memory (AM; reviewed later) suggests that Mannheim was right. The concept of an "inventory of experience" does not, however, simply refer to individuals' memories for the events of their life. Rather, Mannheim used this concept in a surprisingly contemporary way to encompass all types of knowledge a person might acquire, that is, conceptual knowledge of word meanings, world knowledge, skills, as well as memories.
Memory researchers have often found it useful to make distinctions between different types knowledge in long-term memory. For instance, Tulving ( 1972, 1983, 1985) outlined three general classes of knowledge: episodic, semantic, and procedural. Episodic knowledge, or AM, refers to memories for experienced events; semantic knowledge refers to the meanings of words, numbers, and general factual knowledge (i.e., Paris is the capital of France); and procedural knowledge refers to skills such as driving a car, typing, and even whistling. These three types of knowledge may be represented in different ways in long-term memory (cf. Schacter & Tulving,