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Sep 13, 2023

Traversing the Fourth Dimension with Adam Bulley (podcast)

Are foresight, episodic memories, and imagination unique to humans?

By Templeton Staff

Are foresight, episodic memories, and imagination unique to humans? How did the ability to think ahead emerge in our species' evolution? Behavioral scientist, multidisciplinary researcher, and author Dr. Adam Bulley is fascinated by the brain's capacity "to create a powerful index of all the different contents of our mental landscape and enable us to 'move' directly there." His research, featured in this episode of Many Minds podcast, explores the science of human foresight: how this ability works, where it comes from, and how we might be able to better nurture it to promote human flourishing.

Many Minds podcast host, cognitive scientist, and writer Kensy Cooperrider introduces the episode:

"Not sure about you, but it seems like I spend most of my time in the future. We’re told to live in the present, of course — and I try. But at any opportunity my mind just races ahead, like an eager puppy. I’m planning my next meal, dwelling on that looming deadline, imagining the possibilities that lie ahead. In one sense, all this time spent puttering around tomorrow-land is kind of regrettable. But in another sense it’s really quite extraordinary. When we think ahead, when we cast our thoughts into the future, we’re exercising an ability that some consider uniquely human. 

Adam Bulley is a psychologist and Postdoctoral Fellow affiliated with the University of Sydney and Harvard. Along with his co-authors Thomas Suddendorf & Jonathan Redshaw, Adam recently published a book titled, The Invention of Tomorrow: A Natural History of Foresight.

In this conversation, Adam and I talk about two constructs central to the book — "mental time travel" and foresight. We discuss how these constructs relate to memory and to imagination. We dig into the question of whether our abilities to think ahead are really uniquely human. We review the archeological evidence for the emergence of foresight in our species’ evolution. And we also touch on — among other topics and tidbits — hoarding behavior in squirrels, tool use in chimpanzees, the Bischof-Köhler hypothesis, the control of fire, Incan quipus, hand axes, and longtermism.

Foresight is one of those especially tentacle-y topics. It connects to so many different other abilities and to so many questions about minds, culture, evolution. Both in the book and here in this conversation, Adam proves to be quite a skilled guide to all these connections."

Play the episode with the above player.

Learn more about Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences priority.


Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences is a multiyear, global effort to understand a world alive with brilliance in many forms. Its mission is to promote open-minded, forward-looking inquiry in animal, human, and machine intelligences. We collaborate with leading experts and emerging scholars from around the globe, developing high-caliber projects that advance our comprehension of the constellation of intelligences.

Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI), made possible through a grant from TWCF to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The Many Minds podcast is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from Assistant Producer Urte Laukaityte. Creative support is provided by DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Artwork featured as the podcast badge is by Ben Oldroyd.