The Atlantic

Imagining the Future Is Just Another Form of Memory

Humans’ ability to predict the future is all thanks to our ability to remember the past.
Source: VCG Wilson / Corbis / Getty

“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia.” This is a line from John Green’s young-adult book Looking for Alaska. It’s pretty, and melancholy, and very popular on Tumblr. It’s also scientifically accurate.

Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia, because humans predict what the future will be like by using their memories. This is how things you do over and over again become routine. For example, you know generally what your day will be like at the office tomorrow based on what your day at the office was like today, and all the other days you’ve spent there. But memory also helps people predict what it will be like to do things they haven’t done before.

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