When: Saturday, June 3rd, 2017, from 10:30 AM to 12:30PM

Where: Curt's Cafe south, 1813 West Dempster Street, Evanston, IL

(Warning: Don't park in the Burger King lot: they tow!)

For June 3rd’s Ethical Humanist Saturday Salon, we’ll discuss implications of the ideas in “We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment”, the New York Times essay by Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association and author of “Learned Optimism”, and the Times’s John Tierney. (http://nyti.ms/2ruvUu2).

The essay begins:

"We are misnamed. We call ourselves Homo sapiens, the 'wise man,' but that’s more of a boast than a description. What makes us wise? What sets us apart from other animals? Various answers have been proposed — language, tools, cooperation, culture, tasting bad to predators — but none is unique to humans.

"What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future. Our singular foresight created civilization and sustains society. It usually lifts our spirits, but it’s also the source of most depression and anxiety, whether we’re evaluating our own lives or worrying about the nation. Other animals have springtime rituals for educating the young, but only we subject them to 'commencement' speeches grandly informing them that today is the first day of the rest of their lives.

"A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects. The power of prospection is what makes us wise. Looking into the future, consciously and unconsciously, is a central function of our large brain, as psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered — rather belatedly, because for the past century most researchers have assumed that we’re prisoners of the past and the present."

The essay is drawn from ideas also found in two more detailed sources: a journal article, “Navigating Into the Future or Driven by the Past”, by Seligman and colleagues Peter Railton, Roy F. Baumeister, and Chandra Sripada (Perspectives on Psychological Science 2013 8: 119, available at http://bit.ly/2s2sgIB), and their and more accessible recent book, “Homo Prospectus”, available on Kindle (Ken will have a copy on a Kindle to share for reference at the discussion).

Seligman and Baumeister are psychologists, Railton is a philosopher, and Sripada has joint appointments in psychology and philosophy. The introduction to their book asserts that reframing our species as Homo Prospectus brings up the following psychological and philosophical questions, which will form the bulk of our discussion:

  • What if perception is less about the registration of what is present, than about generating a reliable hallucination of what to expect?

  • What if emotion is not agitation from the now, but guidance for the future?

  • What if happiness is not a report of a current state, but the prediction of how things are going to go?

  • What if morality is not evaluation of the present action, but the prediction of character and its thrust into the future?

  • What if treating clinical disorders is less about trying to resolve past conflicts, than about changing the way an individual faces the future?

  • What if the mind is not a storehouse of knowledge, but an engine of prediction?

  • In short, what if we are not driven by the past, but drawn in to the future?

We won’t have time to evaluate the authors’ support for their model of humans, part of the expanding area of positive psychological theory and philosophy, but want to talk about its implications for the way we look at psychology and “human nature”.

Please join us for a lively discussion, part of our continuing set of Salons on the first Saturday of every month.