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The history of memory research is extensive as people have long been intrigued by the processes involved.

Plato and Socrates on recollection[]

Plato can be said to have believed that humans learn entirely through recollection. He thought that humans already possessed knowledge, and that they only had to be led to discover what they already knew. In the Meno, Plato used the character of Socrates to ask a slave boy questions in an excellent demonstration of the Socratic method until the slave boy came to understand a square root without Socrates providing him with any information.

While this can be said to be what Plato believed, there are many passages in Plato's Meno where it is suggested that this is not Socrates' true belief, but more of an attempt to get Meno to become a more questioning leader. And while what Socrates believes and what Plato believes are not necessarily always the same, if we were to take Socrates' theories as Plato's as well, it would not be entirely safe to say that Plato fully subscribed to the theory of recollection.

After witnessing the example with the slave boy, Meno tells Socrates that he thinks that Socrates is correct in his theory of recollection, to which Socrates replies, “I think I am. I shouldn’t like to take my oath on the whole story, but one thing I am ready to fight for as long as I can, in word and act—that is, that we shall be better, braver, and more active men if we believe it right to look for what we don’t know...” (Meno, 86b).

Socrates prefaces his theory of recollection by saying (perhaps to spoof Meno) that he has “...heard (the answer) from men and women who understand the truths of religion.” This is an ironic statement for Socrates to make, having just earlier encouraged to explain virtue in his own words.

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