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.
6 thoughts on “The Mind’s Task Is to Produce Future”
Fascinating; didn’t Freud, for instance, allow wishful thinking to delay his leaving Germany? That picture is really interesting, too. Where did you find it?
You are right about Freud, Lucinda. He is an excellent example of what I’m trying to say in this post. In spite of the obvious threat, he remained in Vienna until it was almost too late. He refused to take the Nazis seriously until the Gestapo interrogated his daughter, Anna, and friends from England came to persuade him it was time to pull out. By then, the situation had grown so bad he needed help from a sympathetic Nazi official to make good his escape!
NASA commissioned the post’s illustration to show what a rotating space colony might look like. You can download various sizes from their website. My more brightly coloured version came from the artist’s own site. Google ‘Don Davis artist’ to see many more of his terrific works.
Thanks Thomas, I’ll look those out.
I’m going to somewhat cheekily link this to our climate change debate. Is it possible people dislike the idea of making lifestyle changes to prevent climate change and so choose to disregard evidence in support of global warming?
I’ll concede however that likewise, people who have dedicated their lives to trying to stop climate change are also unlikely to believe any evidence that demonstrates the theory to be false!
That’s a fascinating one! I remember when I used to walk my daughter to and from school, a mile in rain or shine, other parents expressed admiration, but didn’t start doing the same lol.
Max, I agree that people’s reluctance to make lifestyle changes may affect their opinion of climate change. Lucinda’s little anecdote is revealing. However, it is important to distinguish between the question of global warming itself and the effects of any climate change. The issue of long term warming is still up for debate, but there is precious little evidence to support all the ridiculous predictions of environmental doom. Most of these dire warnings stem from the output of notoriously unreliable climate modeling software. Never forget computing’s old “garbage in, garbage out” rule. A study of actual historical events reveals that warmer temperatures are usually beneficial. The Middle Ages were warmer than the climate is now, for example, and food production was at a peak.
I have carried on the debate in much greater detail on your blog, Max, and invite interested parties to make a visit. The blog link is in the sidebar blogroll: look for Anti View. The post is ‘The9Billion.com founder John Johnston doesn’t hug trees.’