Imagining possible futures is an innate human capacity, one that is constructed through the intersection of brain functions, time preference and the degree of openness to experience. We all have the capacity to imagine new futures in the present.
Yet, at almost every workshop I ran since 1999, at least one person has commented that it is too hard to imagine the future, that they can’t do it, that it doesn’t make sense because we don’t know what the future is like (all real comments). I wondered why some people could immediately engage with this unknown, uncertain and complex entity that is ‘the future’ while others felt compelled to resist and become frustrated - because you want people to leave workshops feeling energised, with new ideas and new perspectives about the present.
My PhD research led me down a wormhole at one point, when I was pointed in the direction of time perspectives and the neuroscience of foresight. A whole new world opened up for me, which I have published as a paper (open access) in the Journal of Futures Studies. Ultimately, it is the intersection of tacit mental processes with a visible foresight process that enables an image of a possible future to be considered worthy of consideration in the present – or rejected as invalid. And this intersection occurs in foresight processes when the tacit, interior processes are made ‘real’.
Now, I lay no claim to any deep knowledge of neuroscience, but it was something of a delight for me to begin to understand one basis for how a dichotomy of responses to the task of thinking about futures can be present in a group of people. And, fundamentally, the ability to design foresight processes that activate the factors that need to be made explicit when thinking about futures is critical if people are to be able to successfully use the future in the present. This makes the design of foresight processes particularly important, and that design needs to integrate both visible and invisible factors at work.