By Tami Klein
Posted in perspectives on life
In his book Forcognito, Prof. David Passig reviews various studies in the field of neurophysiology and cognition that illuminate his claim that the brain is ready for its next evolutionary stage, a stage in which, with assistance of human-made technologies, future- thinking will take on a new dimension. He calls this new ability, “forcognito.”
Prof. David Passig
While watching one of Prof. David Passig’s lectures on the Internet, I was mesmerized by the information flowing before my eyes, and searched for more. David Passig agreed to collaborate for the purpose of this article.
The following text appears in the introduction to the book. When I read it, I found myself in a human circle of laypeople like me, facing a door opening onto a not-so-simple, relatively new and intriguing subject.
“There is a well-known joke among futurists about the chairperson of an important committee of futurists that was analyzing a crucial issue. The chairperson was a respected professor with a good reputation. During one grueling discussion, members raised their voices, and the meeting room filled with shouting. When he saw that tempers were rising, the chairperson raised the glass in front of him, and ran his finger around the edge, hoping that the sound would silence the room. Suddenly, bright-eyed genie with a resounding voice popped out his glass. To the astonishment of everyone present, he informed the professor: ‘I will allow you to choose, in exchange for my release, one of three wishes, which I assure you will come true immediately. The first, that you be granted great wealth; the second, that you will be granted special beauty; and third, that you will be granted exceptional wisdom. Please choose, I am at your service.’
“The honorable professor did not hesitate for a moment and replied confidently: ‘I seek exceptional wisdom.’
“Pop! And the genie disappeared as if he had never been. Everyone present looked at the chairperson and wait to see if the wish would be granted. The silence in the room could have been cut with a knife .
“Nu… his colleagues encouraged, after nothing happened for some time.
The chairperson, spoke, ‘Too bad I didn’t ask for great wealth’”
Although this book has only been published in Hebrew, we think it is important to share its contents with the English-speaking world.
Although the subject of the book seems complex, we still want to make it accessible to readers who are not experts in the field. Why? 1) We realize that the book is readable and can be understood even by laypeople. 2) Because all of our mental and executive activities are caused by the activity of our brain, acquiring this knowledge – to the extent possible for an ordinary individual – is important and worth making a considerable effort. 3) The knowledge gained by reading the book helps the reader resonate with herself, her words, thoughts and actions. Resonating with ourselves is indeed, in our opinion, a genuine gift we can give ourselves.
The book does not remain limited to theories and research, but also comes down to earth: “In the fifth section of the book, I demonstrate for the reader how a person’s ability to future-think can propel a long-term solution for an issue we are facing in the early 21st century, that of retirement. If we do not develop model that is fundamentally different from the current one, a severe crisis could overwhelm entire populations by the mid-21st century. In this section, I propose an alternative model to illustrate the severity of the matter and the form of thought that is oriented to distant future.”
The substance of future-thinking is analysis, for the purpose of learning lessons about how memory of the past and analysis of present, in particular, can be used to draw conclusions, without which our future may run into difficulties. The emphasis is on future-thinking as an ability that is constantly evolving, based on data about the functioning of our brains and other tools that have become available to help us.
“We are all constantly future-thinking, whether consciously or unconsciously, and it is time to bring this skill into our conscious, accept the fact that it is a higher order skill and start engaging in ways to improve and apply it to as many areas of thought as possible” .
“I call the skill used to think about the future ‘forcognito.’ In order clarify the unique nature of the human mind to future-think, I based in on a recognized term from the scientific literature ‘incognito,’ meaning the usual situation in which most thoughts about the past and present happen behind the scenes, deep in the intricacies of the brain’s neural circuits, without the individual being aware of them at all, and add a tier to this hidden activity, in which the brain produces forward-looking images (simulations) of likely and possible future situations, is designed to better plan the following. The ability of a person to survive in complex environments that are constantly changing and where utter uncertainty prevails. The term ‘forcognito’ is constructed from of two words, forward + [the Latin] cognito, thereby pointing to the brain’s unique ability to process information from its past, quietly behind the scenes and without self-awareness, and especially to plan its future with maximum efficiency” (pp. 12-13).
Even animals engage in future-thinking, as we see in one of the instructive examples in the book:
“In another experiment, researchers offered the squirrel monkeys the option of choosing between one date and four dates. When they chose four dates, they had to wait three hours until they were given water to quench their thirst. When they chose one date, they received water just 30 minutes later. Most of the monkeys learned from this experience, thought about the future and later choose one date whenever they are also given the option to choose four dates.
The squirrel monkey is able to plan for the future of the reward he will receive.
Note this finding presented in the book: “The Comparative Cognition Lab led by Professor Nicola Clayton at the University of Cambridge formulated three main characteristics of episodic memory for sequences of events and future planning, which are found in animals: 1) Content of the memory includes information about what-where-and-when. 2) The information about what-where-and-when is consolidated so that remembering one component automatically elicits the other components. 3) The memory that has been recalled can be interpreted flexibly, according to a wide range of situations, including prediction of future events” .
Forcognito emphasizes that future-thinking is actually a “telescope that expands our long-term vision.”
“Telescopic futurism” develops in three stages of thinking: incognito, cognito, and forcognito .
Incognito is our unconscious thought, which affects us more than conscious thinking. Cognito is conscious thought, which is similar to the visible tip of an iceberg, the small part of which we are aware. Unconscious, incognito thinking stores long-term memory (similar to a computer’s “hard disk”). The conscious cognito thinking is self-aware. Long-term memory combined with self-awareness enables forcognito or thinking of the future, because the more an organism is aware of itself, the larger its memory of the past, and the greater its forward vision.
Note the importance of cognito: “What is incognito? Our self-awareness of ourselves seems to have evolved, like everything else, to give us some advantage over our environment, and there is probably a good reason why it inhabits only a tiny fraction of all the autonomic activity that frequently occurs in our brains. Research shows that most of our thoughts and decisions are made under the radar of consciousness; they are too numerous to mention even a small portion of them here. The evidence that the brain runs on autopilot is all around us in everyday life. For example, when our foot moves to the brake pedal even before we notice a car coming out of a side road; when we suddenly hear our name mentioned in a far corner of a noisy room; when we are attracted to someone without knowing why; or when our nervous system transmits a “gut feeling” about which option to choose from the many before us. According to researchers, our subconscious does communicate with us occasionally, but most of the time it doesn’t let us know what is happening inside; it does not need our consciousness to steer the complex ship of our body in such a turbulent environment. Worse, if we had to consider everything consciously before acting, we would be stuck in one place.
“The most important thing that happens in the human brain is future-thinking, and most other mental processes are derivatives thereof” (p. 18). Add, “New Science: Wisdom of the Crowd, Cloud Computing, and Big Data in the Service of Futurism.”
Apart from memory and self-awareness, the third factor in future-thinking is the theory of mind, the personal ability to understand that others have different beliefs, desires, intentions and horizons. Its existence is central to daily functioning in our interpersonal interactions. The combination of these three factors with 21st century networking technologies creates expansive horizons for the future: “What will happen when the human race is a enormous collective, numbering about 10 billion people by the mid-21st century and can extract inexhaustible amounts of information from distributed and accessible cloud computing systems? The wisdom of the masses, which the human race has only begun to realize its scope and qualities, will surprise it with what it can produce”.
David Passig points out that our decisions to act are made about half a second before we are aware of them. This is indicative of complex networks in the brain that process sensory, emotional and physical information behind the scenes. Only later does the decision appear on the stage of consciousness: “Emotions play a critical role in our ability to make rational decisions quickly in complex situations of uncertainty.
Passig continues: “These neurons are connected to each other in such a complex way that humanity does not have language to describe it, and novel computational mathematics are required to model it.
After presenting tools and methodologies for researching, measuring, diagnosing and planning personal and organizational futures, Passig concludes the book by presenting a new model for retirement in the 21st century. He clearly presents the failures of the current pension-savings model, and then demonstrates how the forcognito he has developed can help eliminate the failures, and offer a futuristic solution for the pension problem.
The following quotation, which emphasizes the enigma of the brain’s operation, despite so many discoveries and endless studies, ignites our imagination and curiosity:
“The way the brain generates self-awareness of its existence is still a great mystery about which books are written every month. When we fully understand the mechanism that creates it, it will revolutionize our understanding of the human race. This understanding will undoubtedly be revolution greater than the discovery of DNA”.
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