How to open up personal future horizon?
Sep 15, 2010 12:07 PM by Jarno M. Koponen - Comments: 15
How do we make sense of our futures? How do we experience the presence of multiple possible futures? Does the variety of potential alternative futures overwhelm us, or is it so that we can’t even begin to comprehend their existence?
Potential of everyday maybes
Haruki Murakami writes in his novel Pinball, 1972: “The past and the present, we might say, ‘go like this.’ The future is a ‘maybe’.”
Human beings are making predictions all the time. We are constantly surrounded by “maybes” but we can handle them quite fluently, even casually. As neuroscientist Chris Frith puts it: “…my brain can predict what signals my eyes and ears should be receiving… My brain is continuously and automatically predicting the best movements for the actions I might need to perform.”
One could say that our perception of reality is itself a prediction. We see what we expect to see. Our experienced reality is a personal and subjective model of reality that we create – both consciously and “unconsciously”. The same applies to more complex behavior such as social interaction. We seek to understand each other’s thoughts by creating predictive models based on the learned effects of our interactions. All the while, we are constantly testing our predictions by action and simulation. In many ways our predictions, expectations and intentions are guided by our prior hypotheses, models that make “our actions happen to us”.
It is fascinating to think of the enormous (infinite?) amount of everyday “maybes”, that go completely unrecognized and unnoticed, and thus never become anything at all. Most of the time, we are not much bothered about the future of our day-to-day existence. Regular routines and abiding models help consolidate our sense of control. Because of them, we feel comfort that we can more easily predict (and deal with) what happens next and what the future will be like.
Nano-, micro- and macro-futures
We operate constantly in nano-, micro- and macro-future spaces. Nano-future predictions are made by our brain even though we are not consciously aware of them. Micro-futures, along with macro-futures comprise our personal observable and recognizable future horizon.
Our brain is embedded with models of our everyday routines and actions. The brain predicts possible nano-future states of our environment and ourselves in everything we do (e.g. when picking up a pencil, keeping the balance when riding a bike, mastering the choreography of eating while talking to a colleague during lunch). Nano-future predictions happen automatically. They don’t necessarily require conscious thinking, yet they are fundamental building blocks of our effortless existence.
Micro-futures are consciously comprehended possible future states. They require a level of recognition and assessment on our behalf. They can include activities and events that we anticipate to happen at certain time interval (i.e. second, minute, hour, day). Micro-future predictions usually require conscious thinking and reflection even though we might be acting according to a strong and familiar behavioral pattern.
Social interaction consists of both nano- and micro-future predictions. In social interactions we anticipate things even when we are not conscious of it. Nano-future predictions affect everything from our body language, to our facial expressions and vocal intonations. On the other hand, we also construct more complex predictive mental models of others to convey our message or when we try to understand another person. We then use these models to, for example, empathize and communicate more effectively.
Personal macro-futures span longer periods that consist of multiple wider scale events and developments. Macro futures can include longer term plans for attaining some goal or executing a plan (e.g. learning a desired special skill). Personal macro-futures can be seen as superstructures of our future-thinking that orient our longer-term expectations.
By enhancing our awareness of possible futures, we can open up the future horizon for creative and reflective thinking
Nano-futures belong to the realm of unconscious. They are something, that we can’t consciously affect without extra effort. Micro- and macro-futures can be affected by our conscious activities. By enhancing our awareness of possible alternative micro- and macro-futures, we can open up the future horizon for creative and reflective thinking. To do this, we need to enhance our methods to make micro- and macro-futures more observable.
Opening the future
Even though our brains are the most powerful of all prediction engines, we still adapt behaviors that help limit our need to contemplate all possible alternative micro- and macro-futures. While this is an effective coping mechanism, it inherently leads to a bias of seeing only the futures that are already familiar to us. However, if we were able to better exercise and fine-tune our ‘futures understanding’, it would empower us to become more aware of the things that really affect our futures in the present. We could discover new things about ourselves and the world around us, and could more proactively shape our future through the present. Simply put, we could make better and more sustainable decisions.
So how can we enhance our ability to recognize alternative futures, to see beyond day-to-day routines and familiar models? How could we use the information flows around us to explore our possible micro- and macro-futures? How to expand personal future horizon? We need to be actively bombarded with alternatives that challenge our models of subjective reality. Alternative futures can be exposed when we confront surprising things or recognize previously unnoticed factors of our everyday life.
Today’s digital technologies and virtual realities can offer us new ways to explore personal futures. Using interactive analysis process (e.g. data mining, natural language processing), predictive computing, adaptive interfaces and personal digital information it has become possible to provide new insights about our micro- and macro-futures (current technologies don’t allow us to enter the realm of nano-futures without obtrusive devices).
Today’s digital technologies and virtual realities can offer us new ways to explore personal futures
In the same way as our brain simulates actions and creates models to predict the future, we could use digital technologies to simulate personal futures. These predictive digital simulations would thus expand our own simulation capacity. Future-oriented digital applications – using our personal and social information – could provide tangible and comprehensible cues about the future. They could enable discovering new relevant and interesting things, people, places and events, both in the internet and in the real world.
By extending the simulation capacity of our brain we can open up the future horizon in new inspiring and playful ways. Future-oriented and human-centered virtual spaces could let us safely explore and reflect our alternative futures in our own time and rhythm. We would be in control even though we would go beyond the familiar. And thus we would become more aware of the alternatives, the everyday maybes that have so far remained unnoticed and unexplored. By realizing the potential of everyday maybes, the exploration of personal futures could hopefully be turned into a rich resource that helps us to build and develop a more sustainable, ethical and open-minded world.
How do you open up your future horizon? Or how would you use predictive technologies and interfaces to enhance your perception of possible futures?
(Jarno M. in Twitter ilparone)