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Imagining the Future Is Just Another Form of Memory

Past and future for amnesia patients

An evidence that memory and imagining the future might go hand in hand comes from research related to amnesia patients. Studies show that when they lose their pasts, it seems they lose their futures as well.

Functional MRI scans made possible for researchers to discover that many of the same brain structures are involved in both remembering and forecasting.

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Imagining the Future Is Just Another Form of Memory

Imagining the Future Is Just Another Form of Memory

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/10/imagining-the-future-is-just-another-form-of-memory/542832/

theatlantic.com

7

Key Ideas

John Green, Looking for Alaska

John Green, Looking for Alaska

“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia.”

We use our memories to imagine the future

We predict what the future will look like by using our memories. This is how actions we do repeatedly become routine. For example, you have an ideas of what your day will look like at work tomorrow based on what your day was like today, and all the other days you’ve spent working.

But memory also helps people predict what it will be like to do things they haven’t done before.

Past and future for amnesia patients

An evidence that memory and imagining the future might go hand in hand comes from research related to amnesia patients. Studies show that when they lose their pasts, it seems they lose their futures as well.

Functional MRI scans made possible for researchers to discover that many of the same brain structures are involved in both remembering and forecasting.

Construction of mental scenes

You can remember facts and you can make entirely informational forecasts, but most of the time, when you recall something, you are reliving a scene from your memory.

You have a mental map of the space (you are able to hear, smell and taste elements and you are also capable of feeling the emotions you felt in that moment). Similarly, when you imagine something you might experience in the future, you are actually “pre-living” that scene.

Close and distant scenarios

Just as memories are more accurate the more recent they are, imagined future scenes are more accurate the nearer in the future they are.

When we attempt to imagine the more distant future, we are inclined to rely massively o a cultural life script (i.e, in the West, the script would go like this: go to school, move out of your parents’ house, get one or more college degrees, find a job, fall in love, get married, buy a house, have kids, retire, have grandchildren, die.)

Planning for the future: an evolutionary advantage

If you can plan for the future, you’re more likely to survive it. But there’s are limitations as well.

Your accumulated experiences and your cultural life script are the only building blocks you have to construct a vision of the future. This can make it hard to expect the unexpected, and it means people often expect the future to be more like the past, or the present, than it will be.

The optimistic bias toward the future

There’s an extreme positivity bias toward the future: we think that future events are more important to our identity than the past events.

But we have to temper our expectations and keep in mind that no matter the degree in which we can dream up detailed scenes of things yet to come, these imagined futures are just our projections of our pasts. There most likely will be more suprises and even more disappointments than we have the willingness to predict.

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Humility

Working with an open mind, ready to dive into unfamiliar territory and learning new things, makes the entire exercise stress-free and rewarding experience. This state of mind, along with basic humility makes for better performance. One’s arrogance, ego and past can negatively affect the prediction quality.

A humble attitude also makes people listen to others opinions and share their own unique insights, helping collaboration and constructive teamwork.

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Many of us think of our past as a kind of a video library where we can look at records of our lives. If memories were fixed like videotapes, you would find it difficult to imagine a new situation.

It is our past memories that help us imagine a future, and to preview future events. This skill of using the past to predict the future helps us try out different hypothetical scenarios before we commit.

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