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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2009

8 - Future and past


Organisms that live entirely in the present, uninfluenced by the past and unprepared for the future, are low on the evolutionary scale.

(Miller, 1962, p. 299)

Being able to envision possible events in our personal future may be as important for our survival as the ability to remember our personal past. At the same time, memories of past experiences may greatly constrain what we are able to imagine for the future. As pointed out by Miller (1962), in the infancy of cognitive psychology: “It is essential to leave one's ideas open to the great variety of possible motivations, to the endless subtle ways that people can project their past into a vision of the future” (p. 303). Later Tulving (1985) reformulated his notion of episodic memory to include the ability to mentally project oneself into possible future events. He described the case of an amnesic patient who in addition to being unable to recollect past events was unable to imagine events in the future. More recent findings from both brain imaging and behavioral studies support the view that recalling the past and imagining the future are highly interrelated mental processes (e.g., d'Argembeau and van der Linden, 2004; Okuda et al., 2001).

Do images of possible future events also come to mind involuntarily? Do we have an unbidden future in addition to our unbidden past? So it seems.