The human mind taps into the same parts of the brain while imagining the future as it does when recollecting the past. Neuroscientists at Washington University in St. Louis put 21 volunteers in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine and asked them to recall or imagine events, such as seeing themselves at a party with Bill Clinton. Eight different regions displayed extra activity—that is, increased blood flow—when dealing with imagining the future, including Brodmann's area, the medial posterior parietal cortex and the posterior cerebellum. An additional 15 regions played a role in either remembering the past or imagining the future, including those previously identified as important for remembering locations already visited. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA published the study online January 1.
This article was originally published with the title "Back to the Future" in Scientific American 296, 3, 30 (March 2007)