the past and the present and underrated the future. This focus on the past and present was for a good enough reason. It made sense methodologically: The past and the present can, in principal, be measured, but the future is unknown and so it cannot be measured. The past has causal effects on the present, but the future cannot. At rock bottom, we experience only a single past and a single present, but lying ahead of us is an ever-widening branching of possibilities.

With this methodological justification, psychology and neuroscience strode bravely forward for more than a century, measuring memory, which is the psychological representation of the past, and measuring perception, sensation, and emotion, which are the psychological representations of the present. If perfectly measured, it seemed, the past and the present should determine the future, so accurate prediction of behavior would follow from an adequate science of memory, perception, and emotion.

This brave program failed on several grounds.

  • • First, all science that we know of is statistical, and the most basic and comprehensive science of all, physics, seems to tell us that probabilism is a deep fact about the world.
  • • Second, it turned out that memory, perception, and emotion themselves, as amply documented in this book, are not just about the past and the present. They turn out to intrinsically involve extrapolation to the future. Memory is oriented toward future usefulness. Perception and sensation are generative as much as receptive, and selectively attentive to information that is predictive. And emotion is oriented toward future realities, not tied down to reacting to what has come before. So in the absence of a science of prospection, memory, perception, and emotion will be seen only in part, not as wholes.
  • • Third, a conceptual error seems to have animated the lack of interest in the future. Something genuinely suspect—a metaphysical teleology of causation backward in time, of the present by the future—was conflated with something not at all mysterious, namely, the idea that, in a world with minds, behavior can be guided by maps of possible futures as well as the traces of actual pasts. In this way, "mere future possibilities" can explain concrete behaviors in the here and now.

Human beings metabolize the past to simulate and evaluate possible futures, producing, as metabolism does, something that wasn't there before. This is an ineluctable and universal human process. It pervades unconscious processes, such as sensation, perception, and intuition, and it pervades conscious processes, such as mind-wandering and deliberation. This new framework puts these extrapolations to the future front and center in psychology and neuroscience.

Where will such understanding and measurement come from?

Our principal aim in writing this book was to help galvanize such a science, and so the four authors not only spent 3 years and several retreats writing this book, but we also considered at length how best to go about this galvanizing.

Re-enter the Eagle Scouts of philanthropy, the John Templeton Foundation. We suggested to Barnaby Marsh and Chris Stawski, lead project officers at Templeton, that a research competition in prospec- tion be launched, and they heartily agreed. With Martin Seligman, Templeton had previously launched parallel research competitions in positive psychology and in positive neuroscience. So with their generous support, we allocated $2.3 million in award funding for new research projects to expand the scientific understanding of the mental representation and utilization of possible futures. We called for proposals that would help understand (a) how to measure prospection; (b) the mechanisms of prospection; (c) applications of prospection; and (d) how prospection can be improved.

The steering committee consisted of Thalia Wheatley (Chair), Dartmouth College; Roy F. Baumeister; Randy Buckner, Harvard University; Laurie Santos, Yale University; Jonathan Schooler, University of California at Santa Barbara; Barry Schwartz, Swarthmore College; Martin Seligman; and Chandra Sripada.

We received more than 250 proposals and in August 2014, we selected the 18 that we felt represented the highest standards of scientific excellence and also identified possible future leaders in the new field of prospective psychology.

  • 2014 Templeton Science of Prospection Awards
  • • $145,000 to Jessica Andrews-Hanna and Joanna Arch from the University of Colorado Boulder to study how prospective thinking functions in daily life and to assess the neurocognitive mechanisms that define and distinguish adaptive prospective thinking from its less adaptive forms, using a mobile smartphone application.
  • • $95,000 to Fiery Cushman from Harvard University to test whether there are distinct neural populations supporting social predictions, systems that track information about multiple possible future events.
  • • $145,000 to Evelina Fedorenko from Massachusetts General Hospital and Elinor Amit from Harvard University to evaluate whether prospection about the near or likely future relies on visual imagery, whereas prospection about the distal or unlikely future relies on inner speech.
  • • $95,000 to Karin Foerde from New York University and Daphna Shohamy from Columbia University to establish the specific role of dopamine in prospection and to determine the cognitive and neural mechanisms through which dopamine influences prospection.
  • • $135,000 to Simona Ghetti from the University of California, Davis to examine the development of episodic prospection in 9-year-olds, 12-year-olds, and young adults.
  • • $145,000 to Igor Grossmann from the University of Waterloo and Kathleen Vohs from the University of Minnesota to examine whether mentally distancing oneself from present experiences makes forecasting more accurate.
  • • $145,000 to Benjamin Hayden from the University of Rochester to study future-oriented decisions in rhesus monkeys and to challenge the notion that nonhuman animals are "stuck in time."
  • • $150,000 to Abigail Marsh from Georgetown University to study prospective altruism in unrelated, altruistic stem cell donors in order to identify ways to reduce future failures of prospective altruism among stem cell donors.
  • • $100,000 to Anthony Wagner from Stanford University to examine how people engage in prospective planning and the effect of acute psychological stress restricting the complexity and temporal scope of prospection during planning.
  • • $100,000 to David Rand from Yale University to identify interventions that promote willingness to delay gratification when it is beneficial to do so.
  • • $150,000 to Jonathan Smallwood from the University of York to explore whether a primary benefit of prospection is the capacity to generate creative and original thought to navigate the complex social environments and to explore the underlying neural mechanisms that support this core aspect of cognition.
  • • $150,000 to Bethany Teachman from the University of Virginia to use cognitive bias modification to train prospection for the generation of healthy, positive (relative to extremely negative) representations of possible future states.
  • • $145,000 to Leaf Van Boven from the University of Colorado Boulder and Eugene Caruso from the University of Chicago to examine, using virtual reality, whether mere attention to future events and the fluency experienced when considering future events reduces the psychological distance of those events.
  • • $145,000 to Matthijs van der Meer from Dartmouth College to study prospection in an animal model: rats solving spatial navigation problems, as they not only replay previous trajectories, but also mentally construct novel paths toward desired goals.
  • • $150,000 to Felix Warneken from Harvard University to investigate how prospection expands human potential for prosocial behavior from a developmental perspective in order to witness the birth of prospection and assess its trajectory across childhood.
  • • $145,000 to Phillip Wolff and Eugene Agichtein from Emory University, and Bridget Copley from CNRS/Universite Paris 8 to analyze—from Twitter feeds—why future-oriented thinking is associated with a range of positive psychological and health outcomes.
  • • $145,000 to Liane Young, Brendan Gaesser, and Elizabeth Kensinger from Boston College to use the cognitive and neural mechanisms of prospection to foster prosociality in adults.
  • • $14,000 to George Vaillant of Harvard University and Peggy Kern of Melbourne University to predict longer lives from the future-mindedness in the writing in the Harvard Reunion books.

We have created a website,, so that you can follow their progress. We commend the future of prospective science into the hands of these fine scientists.

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