posts in English

Episodic memory and narrative reconstruction

By | Autobiography project, posts in English | No Comments

Throughout the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent evening after evening recollecting memories from my childhood and school years. I have jotted down pages of notes with several hundreds of flashes of recollections of places, objects and atmospheres, and sometimes people and feelings (what I call unit memories) from age 4-5 to age 18.

It strikes me that all these memories are episodic, i.e., they are about singular events and they haven’t at any time come forth in any particular chronological order. In other words, my memory is not organised as a narrative.

I guess I could — later on, in writing — reconstruct all these episodic unit memories in some kind of narrative order. But why should I do so? Reconstructing them narratively would, I think, be to violate my phenomenological experience of my own past. What would I actually gain from turning the actual, apparently unstructured, episodic order into a structured narrative?

Are there any of my knowledgeable philosophical / psychoanalytic / biographical / phenomenological / psychological / literary friends out there who could help me?

(Published on Facebook, 9 September 2015, this short post generated a very large number of very interesting comments:) Read More

Childhood photos

By | Autobiography project, posts in English | No Comments

I’m looking at photos in an album put together by my mother in late 1954 (“Till Thomas julen 1954 från Mamma” [To Thomas from Mum, Christmas 1954]. It contains 69 photos of me and my family taken by my mother and my grandparents between winter 1947 and summer 1954.

On one photo I see a boy in a sun chair who is about to take a sock on. That’s me. I’m sure Same nose, same ears, same chin, same skinny body. I take him in as if he were my own.

Och i nästa ögonblick känns det som en främmande person. Jag minns solstolen, men jag minns inte att han satt där. Varför denna grimas? Poserar han för fotografen?
Som en de få forskarna på relationen självbiografi och fotografi skriver om barndomsfoton:
“It is hard to imagine a more authentic document or one more bound up with the very definition of identity. And yet such photographs are not always acknowledged by their own subjects: Ernaux, Roubaud, and Perec all speak of their feeling of estrangement at the sight of these images and seem to feel the need to relocate this material within a lengthy text in order to regain ownership of it. Photographs ultimately pose the problem of the grasp that individuals have on their own memory, their ability to think of themselves as whole when they are confronted by the otherness that the image presents to them.”
(Véronique Montémont, “Beyond Autobiography”, i N.Edwards, A.L.Hubbell, och A.Miller, red., Textual and Visual Selves, 2011; citat från s. 45)

Books that changed my life – Mario Bunge, Scientific Research vol.1-2

By | Autobiography project, posts in English | No Comments

At the age of 30 I took up philosophy of science again, now in Gothenburg, where we had to read a lot of more or less idiosyncratic texts (which I’ve all but forgotten) by Håkan Törnebohm. The best item on the reading list — and the only philosophy of science book that has been firmly imprinted in my memory ever after — was Mario Bunge’s two-volume Scientific Research (1967). It cost a fortune (on Springer!) but it changed my understanding of scientific terms, concepts and kinds for ever.

What I didn’t know then was that this impressive 900+ page work was written by a man in his forties! I’ve just learned that Mario Bunge celebrated his 96th birthday last week, “in sparkling good health and fine mental form”.

This post was also published on Facebook (27 September 2015), where it generated a number of comments:

Aant Elzinga Bunge advocates a form of constructive realism like Giere, one develops a theory by reference to a simplified representation (a model) of something real, so there is a key distinction between model reference and real reference


Thomas Söderqvist Here is a video of Mario Bunge lecturing: at this occasion he’s 94 years old!

Kenneth L. Caneva I sheepishly confess that although I’ve heard of the author, I’ve never heard of, let alone read, the book.

Thomas Söderqvist It’s marvelous – especially for a systematic mind like mine.


Thomas Söderqvist You’re not the only one, Kenneth. I think the reason Törnebohm selected Bunge’s book as the major item on the reading list was that they were contemporary (both were born in 1919) and both were trained in theoretical physics before turning to epistemology and other branches of the philosophy (of science). There weren’t that many young precocious philosopohers of theoretical physics at that time. Aant Elzinga told me that Törnebohm started each day with half an hour reading of relativity theory to exercise his mind before he went to work.


David Aubin I sort of like him too, despite rarely agreeing with him. You know, Bunge’s autobiography is about to be published. Excerpts I’ve read are enticing.


Thomas Söderqvist Thanks, David, that’s interesting news – wow, that’s something. How and why have you been involved in reading excerpts? Guess you know the publisher then? Is it in Spanish or in English?


David Aubin Michael Matthews just sent a long email about this on the Mersenne mailing list. I’ll forward it to you.


Thomas Söderqvist David, I know about Michael Matthews news item (my quote above is from it), I just didn’t read down to the bottom to see the news that he’d publish his autobiography on Springer in 2016.


Lars Jørgensen Thomas, we once talked about ‘facts without theory’ – can you give me a reference or two about that?


Thomas Söderqvist Lad os begynde med den modsatte position, nemlig at facts er teori-ladede: Det begyndte, i min historieskrivning, med Norman Hansons Patterns of Discovery (1958) som blev fulgt af Thomas Kuhns The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), som satte dagsorden for to-tre generationer af videnskabsfilosoffer och -historikere.


Thomas Söderqvist Og skal man begynde argumentere for den modsatte standpunkt, så mener jeg ikke man kan komme udenom Maila Walters fremragende biografi om Percy Bridgman (Science and Cultural Crisis: An Intellectual Biography of Percy Williams Bridgman (1882–1961). Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990. Det var den som fik mig at begynde at sætte spørgsmålstegn ved ‘theory-ladeness’-dogmaet.


Lars Jørgensen Tak Thomas, men jeg har en del af den litteratur for nu at udtrykke det lidt beskedent. Jeg kan bare ikke mindes at være stødt på et holdbart argument for ikke-teoribaseret fakta. I den form for videnskabsteori og filosofi.


Thomas Söderqvist Se min kommentar for et minut siden …


Lars Jørgensen Interessant!


Lars Jørgensen Jeg tror faktisk også, at jeg kan argumentere for det vha Max Weber og Bourdieu.


Thomas Söderqvist Men det er længe siden (tidlige 1990’ere), dvs. 25 år siden, så du må ikke begynde stille mig alt for detaljerede spørgsmål (jeg er igang med noget andet lige nu og vil nødig lade mig slynges ud af en tangent, hvor interessant den end kan være : -))


Lars Jørgensen Ok tak. Hvis du kommer i tanke om noget hen ad vejen, så er jeg evigt interesseret.


Thomas Söderqvist Fair nok – jeg skal nok have din interesse i baghovedet. Lige nu er min organisme (og mentale alktivitet) indstillet på selvbiografi, hukommelse og aldring. Kedeligt måske, men meget relevant for alle os 60+-ere


Lars Jørgensen God fornøjelse


Merry Maisel Bunge one of the few materialists in philosophy in the 1970s. When I got into it in 1989, I looked for his work. Very widely unknown….


Thomas Söderqvist Rightly so, one of the few materialists.


Thomas Söderqvist Merry – that’s probably why I was attracted to him. Plus what Aant calls his ‘constructive realism’.

Aant Elzinga On p. 10 in the following text I take up Bunge’s important distinction:…/aelzinga-objektivitet_och…


Lennart Svensson Vi hade delar av den på forskarutbildningen i sociologi och vi blev också starkt påverkade av den.

Thomas Söderqvist Lennart, det låter rätt avancerat att använda den till forskarutbildningen i sociologi – särskilt som den verkar mest intuitivt attraktiv för naturvetare.

Images of myself

By | Autobiography project, posts in English | No Comments

I’ve largely stayed away from publishing photos of myself. As long as I restricted myself to sharing texts, I could keep the embarassing feeling of narcissistic self-exposure at bay. A few photos have found their way to Facebook and the blog, but I’ve tried to hold the number down.

But now the heap of old photographs in the

The year of 1979 – a tough week ahead

By | Autobiography project, posts in English | No Comments

Jeg fortsätter att tugga mig igenom arkivmaterialet (brevhögar, antecknings- och dagböcker, kalendrar och foton) i källaren. I drygt två månaders tid har jag hunnit igenom de första 30 åren av mitt liv. Idag är jag framme vid 1979. Jag bläddrar snabbt igenom kalendern — sedan årtionden förträngda minnen av människor, begivenheter och egna känslor virvlar förbi. Det är som att öppna Pandoras ask. Det kommer att bli en häftig vecka.

Finished with 1981 archive – took me a week

By | Autobiography project, posts in English | No Comments

(in Swedish) Färdig med arkivet för 1981. Det tog över en vecka att gå igenom materialet, men så kom jag också helt ner på dag-för-dag/’street-view’-nivå. Loggboken och kalendern visar att det var full rulle på undervisning och forskning; mens dagboken och breven vittnar om djupgående konflikter på hemmafronten. Jag begriper inte att mina närmaste stod ut med mig.


1982 – a rich archive, but no memories – opening the box of the sublime

By | Autobiography project, posts in English | No Comments

(in Swedish) Nu kastar jag mig över arkivet från 1982. Har omedelbart inga som helst minnen – inga händelser, inga personer, inga bilder – associerade specifikt med år 1982. Ett till synes helt tomt år.

Om några timmar kommer jag att få uppleva ett myller av nyväckta minnen. Jag glädjer mig som ett litet barn — dvs med skräckblandad förtjusning — åt att återupptäcka deta tomma året. Det är en smula skrämmande. Sublimt, därför att det är samtidigt både fascinerande och skrämmande.

The seductive atmosphere of some geographical places

By | Autobiography project, posts in English | No Comments

There are geographical places with such a seductive atmosphere — the synaesthetic experience of light and shades, colours, sounds, odours. temperature, tactility, objects — that we will never forget them. They are forever etched in our individual memories. The most important such place in my life is Ripakaisenvuoma, one of the largest mire complex in Swedish Lapland, several square kilometers of swamps, small woodlands, marshes and lakes. My memory of R. involves the bleak midnight sun, hundreds of shades of green, the sound of whooping swans and mosquitos, myriads of odours (but also a significant lack of smell of bog-myrtle), and wading through a jungle of low-growing bushes of willows. Objects: spruces and birds of all kinds and sizes.

(also published on Facebook, 3 September 2015)

An image that encapsulates my life

By | Autobiography project, posts in English | No Comments
I’m thinking about how I could use a single image to summarise my life.

Think of the cover image of a book, an image that’s intended to symbolise its contents. In a similar way, I’m looking for images that encapsulates the content of my life.

At first I thought that a photograph could perhaps do the job. Innumerable biographies and autobiographies have a photo of the protagonist on the cover for exactly that reason. (My biography of Niels Jerne was no exception). But the problem with photographs, I think, is that they are too contextual: it’s difficult to view them without thinking about when and where and under what circumstances they were shot. By putting a photo of myself on the cover of the autobiography I single out a snapshot of myself at a specific place and moment in time. And that’s not what I’m looking for.

I’m looking for something less contextual, something that catches the timeless ‘essence’ — and I’m deliberately using the metaphysical e-word, sorry about that, all contextualists out there — of me in a single image. Something like what Plutarch called a “slight deed” (πρᾶγμα βραχὺ), for example, a word in passing or a small gesture, which often, he said, reveals more of a person’s character and disposition (ἦθος) than his public appearance or deeds (in Plutarch’s famous opening to his Alexander biography).

I don’t rule out the possibility of actually finding a photograph that reveals my character over time. But so far, I haven’t found one, and therefore I’ve also thought about other kinds of images, like caricatures or allegories.

The problem with caricatures is that they are usually drawn by (street) artists, who don’t know anything about the subject’s personality, but make the drawing from the physiognomy only. And I’m not interested in my physiognomy; I’m interested in an image that reveals my character (my disposition, my habitus), and I don’t know of any caricature artist who knows me well enough to catch this aspects of me.

So what about allegory then? I’m not thinking about the autobiography as an allegory (cf. David Herman, “Autobiography, allegory, and the construction of self”, British Journal of Aesthetics, vol. 35 (4) 1995, p.351+), I’m thinking of allegorical images as summaries of lives. For example, in earlier post I’ve characterised myself as a typical intellectual fox, in Isaiah Berlin’s sense. So Archilochus’ proverbial fox might be a good allegorical summary of my life — and a fitting cover for the autobiography.

But there are most probably other, and perhaps better, possibilities. So I’m continuing my search for good allegorical images (as well as habitus-revealing photographs). And those of you, who think you know me well, are very welcome to send me images which you think encapsulate my personality and life.

(image from here)

Adopted from a Facebook post published 4 January, 2018, which gave rise to some comments, including these (in Danish and Swedish): Read More

‘Diminishing returns’ i biografiarbetet

By | Autobiography project, posts in English | No Comments

Ett exempel på ‘diminishing returns’ i memoararbetet – som ändå ger livskvalitet:

I maj 1969 bodde jag hos en äldre brittisk kollega under ett par veckors forskningsuppehåll vid Queen’s University i Belfast. Ron, som han hette, var mycket hjälpsam och vi fortsatte att korrespondera ett par år tills han flyttade till en helt annan del av världen och våra vägar gick i helt olika riktningar.

Häromdagen hittade jag honom via LinkedIn, skrev till honom — och fick ett entusiastiskt svar. Han är nu 91 år gammal och vid gott mod.

Han mindes mitt besök i Belfast som om det var som igår. Han hade också ringt upp sin drygt 60-årige son, Owen, som hade sagt att han “remembers you well and that you were a Beatles fan, as he was. He also remembers that you shared a liking for one of their songs, “Get Back.”

Har just slagit upp “Get Back” på Wikipedia; den kom ut på single i april 1969, dvs. en månad innan Belfast-resan, vilket understödjer sonens excellenta minnesbild. Har också lyssnat på “Get Back” på Youtube; minns ingenting.

En liten oväsentlig detalj i pusselspelet. Memoarmässigt ett mycket litet utbyte. Men den förnyade kontakten med Ron efter nästan 50 år gjorde mig ändå glad. Så min livskvalitet tog ett rejält skutt framåt.