Bad at Predicting the [Different] Future
Reading this phycology book by Daniel Gilbert, loving it immensely, and just read this thesis which explains my recent Nothing Really Matters article: we are obsessing with the present problems and feelings because we are projecting them into the future. Why? Because that’s how we are predicting the future — based on the present using heuristics learned as the past. Let’s get into the concept.
Filling in trick. We can’t possible remember everything like a 3d-video. That would be impossible due to the storage limitation. So how do we remember? Turns out we our brain extracts the gist and stores the facts using links to already known concepts (e.g. no need to record the details about the pasta if we had plenty of pastas in the past, just remember “good pasta” which links to the appropriate concept in memory). Then later, when we remembering, we are not playing the video, we are reconstructing it from the map of linked concepts. Finally, any missing details are added by availability heuristic — e.g. using the present. For example, participants asked about how they felt about X three years ago would be heavily biased by how they feel about X right now. This is a known availability bias.
Alright, so the past is like a wall with the big holes that brain fills in with the other concepts from memory and adjusts it with the present. In other words, “memory uses the filling in trick, but imagination is the filling in trick”! Think about it: how do we imagine the future? By linking the concepts from the past and filling in the details using the present. In other words we are projecting the present into the future, and can’t really imagine any random changes well.
Which explains why we are obsessing with the problems at hand — we can’t imagine that in a few days from now we won’t care about it at all, that seems unfathomable. Yet a few days passes and we only remember the gist of the problem, if at all.