If nobody even remembers the tree falling, did it fall?
October 23, 2015 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Is there a philosophical term for this concept: If something has occurred in the past, but nobody remembers it, can you say with certainty that it happened? Or is this just a variant on "if a tree falls in a forest, and nobody hears it..."

I often find that:

* I have a memory of something. For argument's sake, assume there's no tangible evidence -- no records, no photos, etc.
* But friends and family have no memory of it. To them, this thing, this moment, does not exist.
* Alternately, I have a memory of something, but no way to contact other people that could have possibly shared that memory with me. They might remember it. But I can never know, and even if I did, it wouldn't matter. For all intents and purposes in my life, I'm the only one that knows this thing happened in a way that's relevant to me.

In these cases, could you say these things ever happened?

Has a philosopher ever wrestled with this concept?
posted by Cool Papa Bell to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You may be looking for the word, "apocryphal."
posted by rhizome at 12:58 PM on October 23, 2015

Not the right scope, but the idea reminds me of Locke's notion of justice and moral sanction, requiring that you, as an event's actor, remember the event in order for later judgements upon it to be valid (only if you remember doing something the past can you be justly punished for doing it, etc.) Of course, that only speaks to moral ramifications of events, not events themselves.
posted by rokusan at 1:07 PM on October 23, 2015

Some ideas that may lead you down the right rabbit hole:
-The saying "history is written by the victors" (and its variants)
-The concept of gaslighting
-A basic philosophical discussion of memory and history and realism
-Cartesian doubt and philosophical skepticism
posted by melissasaurus at 1:47 PM on October 23, 2015

If I understand this right, you are asking about the differences between philosophical -- perhaps more strictly, epistemological -- realism and idealism as applied to events. You are asking what is an event or perhaps, what is a fact, if it is not something that somebody knows (in the sense of remembers happening.)

I think the people you want to read are Descartes, Kant, and Hume. (Just, y'know, a little light reading going into your weekend.)
posted by gauche at 1:59 PM on October 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula LeGuin addresses this question as a sub theme.
posted by alms at 3:03 PM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, the term—or at least a relevant term—is antirealism, specifically antirealism about the past. Dummett, for instance, denied that some propositions about the past were either true or false (see references to his verificationism here, or you could get his book Truth and the Past).
posted by kenko at 3:59 PM on October 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

On the evening of the tenth anniversary of our marriage, my wife and I dined in Honolulu at a restaurant called "La Mer", which is a tie-required French joint. We were seated by an open window overlooking a hotel courtyard possibly familiar to you from the episode of Mad Men set in Honolulu. Beyond the courtyard, the curve of Waikiki and the unmistakable profile of Diamond Head.

The meal stretched long into the hot summer night. The flanks of the mountain darkened and then brightened as sky grew dark. At the very end of the meal, as we admired the moon's reflection on the bay, my wife turned to look into her bag for some reason or other.

At that moment, a huge meteor flared and drew a bright line in the atmosphere above the ocean and on my retinas, a straight line ending above the horizon but only a couple of degrees outside the mountain's shoulder.

I involuntarily exclaimed at the sight. My wife looked up from her bag and said, "What! What is it?"

The phenomenology is left as an exercise for the reader. This is a completely true recounting of an event that really happened.
posted by mwhybark at 5:35 PM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

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