The narrative self, distributed memory, and evocative objects

Richard Heersmink*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, I outline various ways in which artifacts are interwoven with autobiographical memory systems and conceptualize what this implies for the self. I first sketch the narrative approach to the self, arguing that who we are as persons is essentially our (unfolding) life story, which, in turn, determines our present beliefs and desires, but also directs our future goals and actions. I then argue that our autobiographical memory is partly anchored in our embodied interactions with an ecology of artifacts in our environment. Lifelogs, photos, videos, journals, diaries, souvenirs, jewelry, books, works of art, and many other meaningful objects trigger and sometimes constitute emotionally laden autobiographical memories. Autobiographical memory is thus distributed across embodied agents and various environmental structures. To defend this claim, I draw on and integrate distributed cognition theory and empirical research in human-technology interaction. Based on this, I conclude that the self is neither defined by psychological states realized by the brain nor by biological states realized by the organism, but should be seen as a distributed and relational construct.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1829-1849
Number of pages21
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number8
Early online date24 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • Autobiographical memory
  • Distributed cognition
  • Evocative objects
  • Extended emotion
  • Extended mind
  • Narrative
  • Self
  • Transactive memory


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