There are a series of philosophical questions about the nature of experience that must be resolved before one can truly address the nature of memory.
Somehow it was assumed that the world existed a priori, independently of the perceiving organism. It existed before he came to perceive it and it will continue to exist after him. Of course this view is true in many ways, and it would be naive to assume a solipsistic view that the existence of the world is contingent upon awareness or perception of that world. However, I think that we take this view to the extremes and attribute to the world a certain “absoluteness” as though all truth resides external to the organism and our feeble minds must just attempt to grasp its ideals as best as we can.
The psychological view separates sensation from perception, as though we experience the world twice in every instance of an occurrence within it. First our bodies respond to stimuli in a raw and automatic way and then the stimuli becomes “transduced” (to use the nomenclature in cognitive neuroscience) and processed by our organism. We do not really know what goes into this “processing”…previous experience and/or exposure to the given stimulus or a simulacrum of it might be part of the overall dynamic, but the difference seems a bit empty. We do not “sketch” the world after seeing it as an artist sketches a glass upon the table.
I got thinking about the phenomenon of the after-image and I came to this conclusion: There is something happening in the environment that persists within the organism. Think about it: I look at a bright light it persists on my retina, rendering an after-image. I feel that this in some way is an elementary form of memory, memory on the body/sensory level.
So is it possible that everything we experience or sense has an impression on the organism? If so…why is this the case? When we ask the question of why we have memory, we so often turn to its effects (like how it aids in learning and adaptive learning). But why is it that part of the way that the organism interacts with the environment is that he retains it?