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How do we "remember" events which did not take place, or future events? I'm using remember as a way of describing the experience of recalling a future scenario. For instance, when you were little say your mom promised you a soda at the grocery store, but then didn't give you one. You might have created, imagined, a scenario where this did happen, memorized it as such, and then later when you didn't get the soda you remembered the other, expected, imagined. It's not the expectation I'm focusing on, but the act of creating, and remembering something that never happened, and is expected in the future.

I've read a few articles, mostly philosophical, about this sort of thing, and what I've gotten from that is we know about the future because we have a memory of the past. So in a way this is a question about memory itself.

I don't understand why we are able to remember events which did not happen, like events in the future. What causes the brain to be able to do this? Do we know yet, or is there research on-going?

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sorry, i'm not quite sure what you're asking or what you mean by "remember the future". could you try to elaborate, and instead of saying "I've read a few articles", maybe cite the articles that are relevant? –  Jeff Dec 4 '12 at 2:36
    
I can't remember the exact authors, but the person below directed me to an interesting concept that I think should help clear this up. I heard about this idea before and I was confused about it and thought I should ask. –  ApisGirl Dec 4 '12 at 5:55
    
I'm using remember has a way of describing the experience of recalling a future scenario. For instance, when you were little and say your mom promised you a soda at the grocery, but then didn't give you one. You created, imagined, a scenario where this did happen, memorized it as such, and then later when you didn't get the soda you remembered the other, expected, scenario. It's not the expectation I'm focusing on, but the act of creating, and remembering something that never happened, and is expected in the future. It's still wonky though. So I understand. –  ApisGirl Dec 5 '12 at 2:50
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Ah ha, that makes more sense. You're talking about false memories or Source monitoring errors maybe... –  Josh Gitlin Dec 7 '12 at 21:13
    
I've edited the question to incorporate your comment, I hope this makes it more clear. (CC @JeffZemla) –  Josh Gitlin Dec 21 '12 at 23:51

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

There is some misinformation out there put forth by Brooks Agnew about "remembering the future". This is the same guy who advocates a "hollow earth" theory. It's not grounded in science, I'm afraid.

We predict and imagine the future. Often our predictions aren't even conscious (reflexes, for instance, can be programmed in the lower brain; we're often not conscious of our reflexes until right after they've done their job). But reflexes are a product of the past, either genetically, or through experience (depending on the reflex).

In fact, we generally consider it one of the arrows of time that humans remember the past and not the future; with Newtonian physics, deterministic physics implied events were completely invertible (reversible in time) while remaining valid. This is one of the interesting features of classical physics. There are now, many physically observable arrows of time, though: entropy, expansion of universe, quantum arrow (wave function collapse).

just a wiki article to get you started, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrow_of_time

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Thank you so much, I know I worded the question all wonky, I suppose "remembering" the future is wrong intuitively. I've heard of Brooks Agnew before, but haven't actually read him. I sadly can't remember the exact place I heard about this, but it's been in my head for a while because of it. –  ApisGirl Dec 4 '12 at 5:52

I believe what you're talking about is an internal-external reality source-monitoring error. Quoting from A Specific Brain Structural Basis for Individual Differences in Reality Monitoring:

Remembering a previous experience often involves distinguishing information that was generated by internal cognitive functions (e.g., thought and imagination) from information that was derived from the outside world, an ability termed “reality monitoring” (Johnson and Raye, 1981). [...] Although we may feel that our reality monitoring abilities are reliable, there is evidence of substantial variability in accuracy across individuals. This is most apparent in the reality monitoring impairments often observed in patients with clinical disorders such as schizophrenia (Keefe et al., 2002), but variability in performance is also seen in apparently healthy volunteers (Hyman and Billings, 1998)

To describe basically what is happening in the scenario you described with a childhood memory, the individual isn't "remembering the future, they are confusing their imaged scenario for reality**. It's a memory error: Rather than remembering what actually happened, the individual remembers the imaged scenario but gets the source of that memory (their imagination) wrong, believing the scenario to be real.

I suspect that Reality monitoring By Johnson, Marcia K.; Raye, Carol L. Psychological Review, Vol 88(1), Jan 1981, 67-85. would be of great interest to you on this.

References

Marie Buda, Alex Fornito, Zara M. Bergström, and Jon S. Simons (2011) A Specific Brain Structural Basis for Individual Differences in Reality Monitoring

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