Humans have been trying to predict the future since our earliest myths, prophecies, and drunken campfire story nights. Why are we usually wrong? And why does so much of our modern sci-fi and speculative drama tend toward the apocalyptic? Well it turns out there are lots of reasons that we aren’t very good at imagining the the future accurately or positively. Take our quiz to find out what your own future predicting tendencies are, and read below for some interesting trivia we’ve compiled from articles about futurism, and why it’s a very challenging science.
How do you tend to imagine our future? Are you a fatalist? A romantic? A revolutionary? Take our quiz to find out what kind of futurist you are!
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Why imagining the future is hard and we rarely do it:
- When you imagine your future self, your brain acts like you’re thinking about someone else. The further out in time, the more you think of yourself as a stranger you don’t care about (neurologically). The medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) activates for yourself, deactivates for others.
- When we imagine the future we use the same parts of the brain we use to remember things, particularly the parts that replay things, like a scene. Imagining is neurologically like pre-living a scene. As memory fails, so does our ability to imagine the future (i.e. with dementia).
- If we use memory to imagine the future, it’s hard to imagine what has never happened before.
- When creative people think about the future (known as “distal imaging”), they activate the dorsal medial system, which is the same system used for empathy. Non-creative people don’t activate this system. (Perhaps because they are less practiced at using it for problem-solving.)
- People tend to underestimate how much their own feelings will change over time. As though they are static and everything else changes.
- People tend to believe that future events will be more important to their identity and life than past events, creating more emotional ambiguity about future events.
- We don’t like ambiguity. We have “anchoring bias” so we imagine linear/incremental/slow change; or, because it’s simpler (less complex), we imagine binary/sudden/massive change.
- Fear, doubt, apathy, too busy, it doesn’t feel urgent.
- Too many variables to do it accurately, so why try.
What helps us imagine the future:
- Creativity, imagination
- Courage and confidence
- Intersections of multiple data points or ideas
- Episodic thinking (this leads to this leads to this leads to this)
- Possibility thinking vs. reality discovering
- The hippocampus and dorsal medial system working well (we don’t do it well when we are in trauma, stress, or dementia)
- Prosocial thinking (imagining things we care about actually helps a lot)