A rapidly growing number of recent studies show that imagining the future depends on much of the same neural machinery that is needed for remembering the past. These findings have led to the concept of the prospective brain; an idea that a crucial function of the brain is to use stored information to imagine, simulate and predict possible future events. We suggest that processes such as memory can be productively re-conceptualized in light of this idea.
The core brain system that is consistently activated while remembering the past, envisioning the future and during related forms of mental simulation is illustrated schematically. Prominent components of this network include medial prefrontal regions, posterior regions in the medial and lateral parietal cortex (extending into the precuneus and the retrosplenial cortex), the lateral temporal cortex and the medial temporal lobe. Moreover, regions within this core brain system are functionally correlated with each other and, prominently, with the hippocampal formation. We suggest that this core brain system functions adaptively to integrate information about relationships and associations from past experiences, in order to construct mental simulations about possible future events.