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Interior of a Futuristic Rotating Space Colony

The human race depends on its ability to predict the future with reasonable accuracy. At the personal level, mind is the primary tool for “producing” future. (Photo: NASA)

French poet, essayist, and philosopher Paul Valéry said that the task of the mind is to produce future. That is to say, mind is essentially an anticipator, a generator of expectations. We all do this. Sports fans bet on hockey, baseball, football, or basketball scores, or simply on who will win the game. Bloggers guess the number of hits taking into account the day of the week and how good they think their post is. Investors anticipate stock market shifts. Business types estimate demand for their product or service. Workers gauge their energy reserves against what needs doing and pace themselves. Hunters calculate where the prey will run.

The process of producing future begins with searching the present for vital clues, important indicators, and significant trends. The mind makes an assessment; it sizes things up. Next, relevant memories from the past help focus the current situation. The mind notes similarities, flags critical differences, considers past outcomes. It weighs the assembled data in the balance. What emerges is the amalgamation of raw information and stored memories into insightful anticipations of the future. We feel that we know, or have a sense of, what will happen next. The sophisticated, half-unconscious interplay of present and past is an example of everyday synergistic thinking. Rational data gathering interleaves with associative memory recovery to produce results that are greater than the sum of their parts.

What is most interesting is how often we are willing to act on the resulting prognostications. We put our money where our mouths are. Experience has taught us that, while not perfect, the mind is actually quite good at this synergistic “game.” Gifted individuals can be amazingly prescient. If all goes well, we make rational decisions based on those useful synergistically generated predictions. In such cases, the outcome can be excellent.

Unfortunately, there are times when the system breaks down. The trouble is, for reasons that may be subtle and complex, we do not always listen to the inner voice. Our innate subjectivity gets in the way. We may dislike the expectations we have formed and decide to ignore them hoping things will work out in some other, more preferable, way. After all, they sometimes do. When things have gone badly wrong, how many times have you ruefully exclaimed, “I should have listened to myself!” These are the situations where you have deliberately refused to accept your own expectations. Most often powerful irrational feelings have overridden the mind’s tendency to trust its ability to predict. A smarter strategy is to accept the accuracy of the prognostication you dislike, believe that it will indeed happen, and then act to lessen the impact.

Human existence depends on our ability to anticipate the future. It is vitally important that, as a species, we do not allow our feelings to override the inner voice that “knows” what is going to happen. The current emphasis on feeling is leading many people into a life of wishful, rather than insightful, thinking.