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In Jeff Hawkins’s view of the world, as published in On Intelligence, the whole function of the human brain, and brains in general, is to predict the future. In his video TED talk on brain science, he, without warning, illustrates this prediction idea with a little joke; where he says, “You know what I am going to say at the end of this … “. He doesn’t say the word sentence, but quite a few people in the audience began laughing, because they observed their own brain fill in that word where it belonged. The brain is designed to predict the future, at least in the short term, and does this by forming patterns out of various similar brain stimuli that aid in the prediction process.

Science is also a method for predicting the future, the future that will be precipitated out of the multitude of interactions that form natural reality, and these predictions are founded on the observed interactions of the past. All of this mental processing always comes down to the moving instant of now, and what should I do now? What we do is always a complex calculation that our brain is performing in the moment, and it’s not a linear calculation like a computer, but a super-massive one of parallel interacting layers of tiny memory cells. Every brain cell is alive, and waiting to participate, and potentially to affect the decision of this living moment and every other moment, and thus to direct movement of its host body. It does its job when the other memory cells charge it for a decision, and when enough pressure is put on the cell it says YES, do it, but without enough pressure, nothing. And if it doesn’t respond very soon to the question given to it the charge fades away, and the cell does nothing but wait for another moment to give its input. A key point in this triggering of the cell’s YES-do-it is for it to participate in the stimulus to perform a habit. In effect the question is, do you believe our organism should act this way now? This type of decision is what a brain cell does whether it is living in an amoeba or a human being.

Now to apply this general method to our external reality, the one which we are more fully conscious of, when we ask our conscious self, should we do this action? Our animal risk analysis would go back to life-and-death basics and ask, “Will this act get me killed or even injured?” The obvious response to YES is to avoid that action. If it passes that question, and generally that type of question is answered in well under a second, the next question becomes will I benefit or lose if I perform the action, and if the answer is yes a quick calculation is made of the danger and likelihood of cost versus gain. If all is well we go ahead and do the previously only potentially valid act. Sometimes, probably almost all the time, our analysis will be, I can’t influence all of the multitude of factors so I will just proceed as Epictetus suggests and do my actions purposefully and with equanimity. Usually, everything works as expected.

As a human being I am capable of some further input to this decision process, in that I may look into the abstract future situation and project the likelihood of various problems occurring. In the picture below notice how the horses are quite calm and attending to their lunch while the volcano is erupting nearby.

Iceland volcanic eruption with horses

Icelandic volcanic eruption with horses grazing without noticing their peril.

This is a situation where humans would be quite concerned about their survival, and putting another mile or two between themselves and the erupting volcano could mean life instead of death. We can look at the big picture and make seemingly little decisions, like start walking away immediately, because walking for an hour will put three miles more between us and those problems. Another thought about the future might be, when buying a farm, or choosing where to live, make a point of analyzing the long-term risks. The farm ten more miles further away from the volcano might not cost any more, and it would greatly reduce this rare but obvious danger.

Another important future thought is to have enough slack in your life situation to be able to react immediately. Sometimes that’s money, other times it’s free time, others it’s stored food and water, and others it’s a safe place from fallout.

Have the reserves ready so you can act quickly and appropriately to rare problems.