Key point: Psychology has focused on how the past causes our present behavior. But the future can cause the present too, via prediction and simulation.
Original author and publication date: Ralph Lewis – January 1, 2022
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: We are just now learning to perceive the future. In fact, we are just now leanring to see the past.
From the article:
The future, particularly cognition about the future, has been very much a back-burner issue in psychology for more than a century. The canonical human being, Homo psychologicus, is a prisoner of the past and the present…What happens when the canonical human becomes Homo prospectus, and our ability to think about our futures becomes our defining ability? – Seligman, Railton, Baumeister and Sripada—Homo Prospectus1
Psychology generally, and the scientific study of cognition more specifically, have tended until quite recently to focus more on past-oriented cognition (memory) and present-oriented cognition (perception) and less on future-oriented/prospective cognition (expectation, anticipation).
This has been changing. Increasingly, there is interest in how the brain is oriented to, and perhaps even organized around, forming predictions. And there is interest in developing an evolutionary understanding of why anticipatory cognition is so crucial.
The brain evolved as an adaptation enabling organisms to better perceive and control the environment and their own internal state. Consciousness further enhances this ability by modeling the environment and the self.
The ability to make predictions, guided by prospective representations—“if-then” possibilities, greatly enhances this modeling ability. A system that can model the environment and itself well can form simulations of the future environment and its adaptations to that environment.
In attempting to resolve the seeming enigma of how the brain produces consciousness, 3 it’s important to first understand “What Actually Is a Thought? And How Is Information Physical?” Thoughts are physical representations or maps. The mind is a kind of map. The brain, and its functional product, the mind, evolved as a map of the body’s relation to its external environment.
More evolved brains, such as human ones, can integrate past sensory experiences to form representations of things that are not presently “out there”—predictive simulations.
Beliefs are a form of predictive modeling.