The Echoes of the Mind (93-1) The Future

The Future

The human mind is predisposed toward prediction. We are constantly driven to look forward, envisage the future, and infer what will happen. These cognitive mechanisms serve important functions in enabling survival and reproductive advantage, and also act to reduce psychological uncertainty about the future. ~ Australian psychologist Katharine Greenaway et al

For fear of what may be, living in the present is not enough for most people: hence the abiding desire to glimpse what may be around the corner in time.

The issue is ultimately of control. Fate being a fickle mistress, we heartily wish instead to be her master.

This is no minor matter. Hope and hopelessness define outlook, and thereby control contentment.

Reason for being vanishes in the quicksand of despair. A feeling of hopelessness is the psychological trigger of suicide.

The central concept of Hell is complete loss of control: to be Satan’s eternal serf. Conversely, Heaven is a place where we may blissfully do as we please. Whatever sin gluttony may be while incarnate, its proscription expires once past the pearly gates. Hence, there is no more sanguine prospect than having a hand on the rudder of the ethereal ship that carries us forward in life.

From this perspective, this perspective religion religion is a hedge toward good fortune: at the least, if not in this life, in the next. Unsurprisingly, the more religious a person is, the more likely to harbor superstitions. Gulled by grander fantasies, Catholics are more superstitious than Protestants.

People are particularly drawn to the ploy of precognition when they feel a loss of control. Consultation in fortune telling, astrology, Ouija boards and the like, are belief-based efforts to wrest the future away from fate.

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A keen observer, Bronisław Malinowski was one of the most influential anthropologists in the 20th century. When World War 1 broke out, Malinowski became stranded in the South Pacific: unable to travel through British territory, as he was a Polish subject of the Austria-Hungary empire.

Malinowski spent time in the remote Trobriand Islands, located off the east coast of New Guinea. He noticed peculiar habits in the local fishermen.

When fishing close to shore – in calm waters where the catch was consistent – superstitious behavior was nearly nonexistent. But when these men sailed for open seas, where they felt more vulnerable and prospects were far less certain, they often engaged in elaborate rituals beforehand to ensure success. The perceived difference between the 2 locales was relative sense of control.

Professional baseball players exhibit similar behaviors. Defensive play – catching and throwing the ball – is a low-risk task well within a player’s control. Mistakes are rare.

But batting is an altogether different story. Here, failure is the norm. So many players practice idiosyncratic rituals to give themselves an edge before they step up to the plate.


Faith consists in believing what reason cannot. ~ Voltaire

Faith only takes you so far before you trip over painful facts to the contrary. Beliefs have a built-in cost, the tab for which is often presented abruptly. In forming the mental constructs that give rise to beliefs, underlying axioms eventuate in earthquakes of consternation when events fail to correspond with expectation. The tectonic mental faults upon which belief systems are built invariably prove unsettling when the lava of doubt starts to flow.

When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer. ~ American musician Stevie Wonder in the song “Superstition” (1973)