Health and Medicine Question #3927

Anthony Hamilton, a 60 year old male from Vancouver asks on August 5, 2007,

Endel Tulving, Is it possible that what we call "remembering the past" and "imagining the future" are, in essence, the same thing? Our cultural bias toward labelling the one "real" and the other "imaginary" doesn't stand up to analysis. My research into what makes sports figures and business people successful indicates that continual focusing on the future, to reach goals, opens a kind of doorway to the future, akin to memory, that allows very accurate information to come through, in what they tend to call "intuition". Is it possible that thinking is in fact time travelling?

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The answer

Endel Tulving answered on August 10, 2007

The past and the future are obviously rather different in some ways, as everyone knows [one has happened already and the other has not] but I very much agree with you when you say that the "process" of past and future are in essence the same in our minds. Indeed, in the last few years I have written and given talks on the very theme, and have coined a new word. "chronesthesia," to refer to the kind of brain/mind capacity, or consciousness, that MAKES IT POSSIBLE for humans to mentally travel in time, into their own past and into their own future.

If you go to Google and use the key words "tulving, chronesthesia" you find out a bit more. Read especially a short report of a talk I gave at the APA (American Psychological Association) meeting in 2003. But the whole idea is rather new in cognitive neuroscience and therefore there has not been much actual empirical research on it, yet.

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