What This Book Is About

We are misnamed. "Wise man" is the intended meaning of Homo sapiens, but in contrast to Homo habilis, "handy man," and Homo erectus, "upright man," our name is not a description, but only an aspiration. And hardly one that we all achieve.

If it is not wisdom, what is it that Homo sapiens actually does so well that no other species even approaches? Language, tools, killing, rationality, tasting bad to predators, cooperation—to name a few—have all been proposed. But closer examination of what other mammals, birds, and social insects can do causes us to doubt our uniqueness with regard to each of these. So with Gilbert (2006), we believe that the unrivaled human ability to be guided by imagining alternatives stretching into the future—"prospection"—uniquely describes Homo sapiens.

Prospection is the actual ability that, at its best, makes the aspiration of wisdom a reality. Hence, we are better named Homo prospectus.

Once you take this name seriously, what follows is much more than semantic. It promotes prospection to the front and center of a new psychological science. The future, particularly cognition about the future, has been very much a back-burner issue in psychology for more than a century. The canonical human being, Homo psy- chologicus, is a prisoner of the past and the present. If you want to know what humans will do in the future, all you need to know are four things:

  • 1. Their history
  • 2. Their genetic makeup
  • 3. The present stimuli
  • 4. The present drives and emotions

Psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and even most of cognitive psychology embody this assumption. But they have left out the pivotal feature, the very fulcrum of human agency, by which we metabolize the past and present into projected futures—prospection.

What happens when the canonical human becomes Homo prospectus, and our ability to think about our futures becomes our defining ability?

  • • What if perception is less about the registration of what is present, than about generating a reliable hallucination of what to expect?
  • • What if memory is not a file drawer of photographs, but a changing collection of possibilities?
  • • What if emotion is not agitation from the now, but guidance for the future?
  • • What if happiness is not the report of a current state, but the prediction of how things are going to go?
  • • What if morality is not evaluation of the present action, but the prediction of character and its thrust into the future?
  • • What if treating clinical disorders is less about trying to resolve past conflicts, than about changing the way an individual faces the future?
  • • What if the mind is not a storehouse of knowledge, but an engine of prediction?
  • • In short, what if we are not driven by the past, but drawn into the future?

These propositions are what this book is about.

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