Category Archives: Humans: Study of

Notes: From “Homo Prospectus” (Seligman et al.)

Cover for Homo Prospectus These are quotes from a New York Times article summarizing the book Homo Prospectus, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Peter Railton, Roy F. Baumeister, and Chandra Sripada, Oxford University Press, 2016. (Also see the critical review of Seligman’s work in Psychology Today.)

[People think] about the future three times more often than the past, and even those few thoughts about a past event typically [involve] consideration of its future implications.

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Most prospection occurs at the unconscious level as the brain sifts information to generate predictions.

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Perception is manageable because the brain generates its own scene, so that the world remains stable even though your eyes move three times a second. This frees the perceptual system to heed features it didn’t predict, which is why you’re not aware of a ticking clock unless it stops. It’s also why you don’t laugh when you tickle yourself: You already know what’s coming next.

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Even when you’re relaxing, your brain is continually recombining information to imagine the future, a process that researchers were surprised to discover when they scanned the brains of people doing specific tasks like mental arithmetic. Whenever there was a break in the task, there were sudden shifts to activity in the brain’s “default” circuit, which is used to imagine the future or retouch the past.

This discovery explains what happens when your mind wanders during a task: It’s simulating future possibilities. That’s how you can respond so quickly to unexpected developments. What may feel like a primitive intuition, a gut feeling, is made possible by those previous simulations.

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Google can instantly provide a million answers because it doesn’t start from scratch. It’s continually predicting what you might ask.

— Martin E. P. Seligman and John Tierney, in “We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment,” New York Times, 19 May 2017

Quote: To transform the world (Krishnamurti)

To transform the world, we must begin with ourselves; and what is important in beginning with ourselves is the intention. The intention must be to understand ourselves and not to leave it to others to transform themselves. This is our responsibility, yours and mine, because however small may be the world we live in, if we can bring about a radically different point of view in our daily existence, then perhaps we shall affect the world at large.

— J. Krishnamurti

(Cited in the Balaton Bulletin, Winter 1999)

Quote: It is unfortunate that dreams and visions (Pronk)

It is unfortunate that dreams and visions often only can be worked out at the end of one’s life.

– J. P. Pronk, former Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning, and Environment, the Netherlands

Written in a private letter to Nanda Gilden (now Gilden-de Bie), reflecting on Wouter Biesiot’s book, Fragments of a Dream

Reprinted in the Balaton Bulletin, Winter 1999

Quote: If the world were merely seductive (E. B. White)

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

— E. B. White, as quoted by Israel Shenker in the New York Times, 11 July 1969