On Anticipation: Going Beyond Forecasts and Scenarios

On Anticipation: Going Beyond Forecasts and Scenarios


From Anticipation.Info of Mihai Nadin

A Second Cartesian Revolution

For about 400 years, humankind, or at least the western world, has let itself be guided by the foundation set by Descartes and Newton. The cause-and-effect, deterministic model of the machine became so powerful that every thing and every being came to be considered a machine. As a description of the material world and as an expression of the laws governing its functioning, deterministic-based physics and Cartesian reductionism (of the whole to its parts) proved to be extremely powerful instruments in the overall progress of humankind. But neither Descartes nor Newton, nor most of their followers, could have envisioned the spectacular development of science in its current depth and breadth.

The physicist Erwin Schrödinger concluded that organisms are subject to “a new physics,” which he did not produce, but rather viewed as necessary. This new physics might well be the domain of anticipation. Indeed, from within physics itself—that is, quantum mechanics—a possible understanding of some aspects of anticipation can be derived.

The realization that the world is the unity of reaction and anticipation is not new. What is new is the awareness of the limits of our understanding a dynamics of change that transcends the deterministic view. The urgent need for such an understanding is probably best expressed in the spectacular development of the life sciences.

The perspective of the world that anticipation opens justifies the descriptor “a second Cartesian Revolution.” Instead of explaining complexity away, we will have to integrate it into our existence as the informational substratum of rich forms through which anticipatory processes take place.


From Anticipation.Info of Mihai Nadin

Anticipation: Why is it a subject of research?

Anticipation occurs in all spheres of life. It complements the physics of reaction with the pro-active quality of the living. Nature evolves in a continuous anticipatory fashion targeted at survival. The dynamics of stem cells demonstrate this mechanism. Through entailment from a basic stem cell an infinite variety of biological expression becomes possible.

Sometimes we humans are aware of anticipation, as when we plan. Often, we are not aware of it, as when processesembedded in our body and mind take place before we realize their finality. In tennis, for example, the return of a professional serve can be successful only through anticipatory mechanisms. A conscious reaction takes too long to process. Anticipation is the engine driving the stock market. Creativity in art and design are fired by anticipation.

“The end is where we start from,” T. S. Eliot once wrote. Before the archer draws his bow, his mind has already hit the target. Motivation mechanisms in learning, the arts, and all types of research are dominated by the underlying principle that a future state—the result—controls present action, aimed at success. The entire subject of prevention entails anticipatory mechanisms.


From Anticipation.Info of Mihai Nadin

Research into anticipation revealed various aspects that suggested a number of definitions.

Robert Rosen, Mihai Nadin, Daniel Dennett and others who approached particular aspects of anticipation contributed to some of these definitions. Mihai Nadin (cf. Anticipation – A Spooky Computation) attempted an overview of the various angles from which anticipation can be approached if the focus is on computation. This overview is continued and expanded in the integrated publication (book+dvd+website) to which this website belongs. The following 12 definitions, or descriptions, of anticipation should be understood as working hypotheses. It is hoped and expected that the knowledge community of those interested in anticipation will eventually refine these definitions and suggest new ones in order to facilitate a better understanding of what anticipation is and its importance for the survival of living systems.

  • An anticipatory system is a system whose current state is determined by a future state. “The cause lies in the future,”. (cf. Robert Rosen, Heinz von Foerster)
  • Anticipation is the generation of a multitude of dynamic models of human actions and the resolution of their conflict. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • An anticipatory system is a system containing a predictive model of itself and/or of its environment that allows it to change state at an instant in accord with the model’s predictions pertaining to a later instant. (cf. Robert Rosen)
  • Anticipation is a process of co-relation among factors pertaining to the present, past and future of a system. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • Anticipation is an expression of the connectedness of the world, in particular of quantum non-locality. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • Anticipation is the expression of natural entailment. (cf. Robert Rosen)
  • Anticipation is a mechanism of synchronization and integration. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • Anticipation is an attractor within dynamic systems. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • Anticipation is a recursive process described through the functioning of a mechanism whose past, present, and future states allow it to evolve from an initial to a final state that is implicitly embedded in the mechanism. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • Anticipation is a realization within the domain of possibilities. (cf. Mihai Nadin)
  • Anticipatory mechanisms can be reinforced through feedback. Feedforward and inverse kinetics are part of the integrated mechanism of anticipation. (cf. Daniel Dennett, Daniel Wolpert, Nadin)
  • Anticipation is a power law-based long-range interaction. (cf. Mihai Nadin)


From An Introduction to the Ontology of Anticipation

Recent years have witnessed the growth of significant interest in theories and methodologies which seek to foresee the future development of relevant situations. Studies of the future fall under many different denominations, and they employ a huge variety of techniques, ranging from forecasting to simulation, from planning to trend extrapolation, from future studies and scenarios to anticipatory systems. Widely different conceptualisations and formalisations have been proposed as well.1 This remarkable variety may be partly simplified by making explicit the main underlying assumptions of at least some of them. Two of these assumptions are that (1) the future is at least partly governed by the past, and (2) the future can be better confronted by opening our minds and learning to consider different viewpoints. According to (1) the future is part of a structured story whose past and present are at least partially known. The claim is defended that the forces that have shaped past and present situations will still be valid while the situation under consideration unfolds. The core thesis is that the future is embedded in the past; it is the projection of the past through the present. Time series analysis, trend extrapolation, and forecasting pertain to this family. Any of the mentioned methodologies may be further supplemented by computer-based simulations. On the other hand, instead of directly addressing the problem of searching for the seeds of the future in the past, (2) considers the different problem of preparing for the unforeseeable novelties awaiting us in the future. Learning about widely different outcomes is now the issue: one must be ready to consider and address possibly unfamiliar or alien scenarios. The main outcome of this exercise is an increased capacity to distinguish among possible, probable, and preferred future scenarios. These activities come under the heading of future studies, while scenario construction is the best known methodology adopted by practitioners. For now on I shall refer to (1) and (2) as respectively the forecasting and the scenario viewpoints. Forecasts and scenarios are not contradictory one to the other. They may and usually do coexist, since they address the future from two different standpoints. Furthermore, experience shows that both are useful. This paper introduces a third, different viewpoint, here termed the viewpoint of anticipatory systems, which can be profitably synthesized with forecasts and scenarios; i.e. it is not contradictory with the claims of either the forecasting or scenario viewpoint. Recent years have witnessed the growth of significant interest in anticipation.2 Anticipatory theories have been proposed in fields as different as physics, biology, physiology, neurobiology, psychology, sociology, economy, political science, computer science and philosophy. Unfortunately, no systematic comparison among the different viewpoints has so far been developed. It is therefore fair to claim that currently no general theory of anticipation is available. Generally speaking, anticipation concerns the capacity exhibited by some systems to tune their behaviour according to a model of the future evolution of the environment in which they are embedded. Generally speaking, the thesis is defended that “An anticipatory system is a system containing a predictive model of itself and/or its enviroment, which allows it to change state at an instant in accord with the model‟s predictions pertaining to a later instant” (Rosen [19: 341]). The main difference between forecasting and scenarios on the one hand, and anticipation on the 1 See, among many others, Adam [1], Bell [4], Cornish [5], Godet [7], Lindgren and Bandhold [8], Retzbach [16], Slaughter [22], Woodgate and Pethrick [23]. 2 Starting from the seminal Rosen [19]. See also [20], [21]. 2 other, is that the latter is a property of the system, intrinsic to its functioning, while the former are cognitive strategies that a system A develops in order to understand the future of some other system B (of which A may or may not be a component element).



Key Terms

  • Hyper Sets
  • Hyper Incursion
  • Hyper Recursion
  • Recursion
  • Incursion
  • Anticipatory Systems
  • Weak Anticipation
  • Strong Anticipation


Key People

  • Roberto Poli
  • Mihai Nadin
  • Riel Miller
  • Robert Rosen
  • John J Kineman
  • Daniel M Dubois
  • John Collier
  • Loet Leydesdorff



Key Sources of Research:


Systems and models with anticipation in physics and its applications

A Makarenko




Anticipatory Viable Systems

Maurice Yolles

Daniel Dubois






Anticipatory Kaldor-Kalecki Model of Business Cycle

Daniel M. Dubois





An Introduction to the Ontology of Anticipation

Roberto Poli





Towards an anticipatory view of design

Theodore Zamenopoulos and Katerina Alexiou





The role of anticipation in cognition

Alexander Riegler





SDA: System Dynamics Simulation of Inter Regional Risk Management

Using a Multi-Layered Model with Delays and Anticipation

Daniel M Dubois1, Stig C Holmberg






Anticipatory Modeling and Simulation for Inter Regional Security

Daniel M. Dubois, Viveca Asproth, Stig C. Holmberg

Ulrica Löfstedt, and Lena-Maria Öberg





Attentional and Semantic Anticipations in Recurrent Neural Networks

Frédéric Lavigne1 and Sylvain Denis





Not Everything We Know We Learned

Mihai Nadin





Anticipation in the Constructivist Theory of Cognition

Ernst von Glasersfeld





The Communication of Meaning in Anticipatory Systems: A Simulation Study of the Dynamics of Intentionality in Social Interactions

Loet Leydesdorff




Information Systems and the Theory of Categories: Is Every Model an Anticipatory System?

M. A. Heather, B. N. Rossiter





Anticipation.Info of Mihai Nadin





Institute for Research in Anticipatory Systems




Robert Rosen’s anticipatory systems

A.H. Louie





Computing Anticipatory Systems with Incursion and Hyperincursion

Daniel M. DUBOIS




Anticipatory Systems: Philosphical Methematical and Methodological Foundations.

Rosen R.

Springer; 2014.




Judith Rosen





The Many Aspects of Anticipation

Roberto Poli

University of Trento




Being Without Existing: The Futures Community at a Turning Point? A Comment on Jay Ogilvy’s “Facing the Fold”

By Riel Miller





Roberto Poli

Balkan Journal of Philosophy. 2009;1(1):19-29.



The Discipline of Anticipation: Exploring Key Issues

Riel Miller, Roberto Poli and Pierre Rossel



Art of Long View: Future, Uncertainty and Scenario Planning

Art of Long View: Future, Uncertainty and Scenario Planning


Key Concepts:

  • Fundamental Uncertainty
  • Knightian Uncertainty
  • Long term Thinking
  • Possibility Space
  • Probabilistic Space
  • Plausibility
  • Anticipation
  • Strategic Conversations
  • Strategic Narratives
  • Strategic Scenarios
  • Normative Scenarios
  • Causal Layered Analysis
  • Strategic Learning
  • Integral Futures
  • Multiple Futures
  • Multiple Horizons


Key People:

  • Peter Schwartz
  • Stewart Brand
  • Jay Ogilvy
  • Kees Van Der Heijden
  • Michel Godet
  • Pierre Wack
  • Herman Kahn
  • P J H Schoemaker
  • Arie De Gues
  • Napier Collyns
  • Eric Best
  • Art Kleiner
  • Thomas J Chermack
  • Gill Ringland
  • Angela Wilkinson
  • Adam Kahane
  • Ged Davis
  • Russell Ackoff
  • Jay Forrester
  • Peter Senge
  • Andy Hines
  • Peter Bishop
  • R Slaughter
  • Sohail Inayatullah
  • Rafael Ramirez
  • Roberto Poli
  • Riel Miller
  • George Wright
  • Eamonn Kelly
  • Katherine Fulton


From How plausibility-based scenario practices are grappling with complexity to appreciate and address 21st century challenges

The tighter interconnections of natural, social and economic systems lead to increased uncertainty and greater complexity. The growing list of today’s significant concerns, whether focused on fixing the financial crisis or progressing socio-ecological sustainability highlights the urgency to look forward and manage large scale, system transformations [1] and challenges the conventional western economic wisdom of continuous, linear or exponential growth. Failure to engage with irreducible uncertainty is more widely appreciated and attempts to tame uncertainty can make matters worse [2].

Scenarios were introduced over 50 years ago as a means to overcome the limits of linear, reductionist and deterministic thinking that underpinned the then dominant practices of forecast-based planning. Scenario builders reject the notion of wholly predictable futures and instead seek to construct alternative futures which explore not only the paths to each, but do so in a way that emphasizes the need to attend to disruptive change as normal. Scenarios work is conducted in different sectors – public, private, civil and academia – and for a wide range of purposes, such as learning [7], strategy [8], or conflict avoidance [9].

Scenario practices have evolved from a “hypothetical sequencing of events constructed with the purpose of focusing attention on causal structures and decision points” [10] to attendance to the dynamic interactions that create disruptive and turbulent change as organizations co-evolve with their wider contexts [11]. At the same time, continuous innovation and diversity of scenario practices result in methodological confusions and misunderstandings [12]. To avoid contributing to further confusion we first define and then justify our interest in one particular tradition of practice.

Bradfield et al. [13] highlight three different scenario ‘schools’. In this paper we focus on what those authors refer to as Intuitive Logics, with its emphasis on plausible alternative futures, in contrast with the normative French School and the probabilistic USA School. Our choice to focus on the intuitive logics school is justified by evidence of its growing dominance in non-probabilistic scenario work [14].

Schoemaker [15] describes how plausibility-based scenarios are useful approaches in situations characterized by increasing uncertainty and complexity. He notes the effectiveness of scenarios as a psychological basis for addressing biases due to cognitive limits and overcoming ‘group think’ resulting from consensus building processes in social organizations.

In the intuitive logics tradition, the future is a fiction. Scenarios are ‘open stories’ [16] and stories and storytelling are deployed as a means to engage intuition, expose deeply held assumptions and forge new and shared interpretative frames. The assumption is that the emerging future cannot be forecasted but can be imagined and “lived in” and offers a different perspective to learning about the present than history alone provides. In effect, plausibility-based scenarios offer reframing devices rather than forecasting tools [17,18]. Scenarios are not populated with facts but with perceptions, assumptions and expectations.

Quality of a good scenario is not determined by its predictive accuracy but by its impact which can be evaluated in different ways — cognitive shift, enhancing judgment, leading to more and better strategic options and/or motivating change [19].

Despite the extensive and continued use of intuitive logics scenarios in the public and private sectors, the diversity of methods can lead to a wholesale dismissal of these practices by empiricist traditions of inquiry and evidence-based decision making cultures [20,21]. At the same time organizations, such as Shell, which have sustained the practice of plausibility-based, intuitive logics scenarios for over 50 years, appreciate the added value in terms of enabling decision makers to engage with uncertainty, enabling systemic insights and contributing to the adaptive capacity of the firm [21].

In contrast with the objectivist and positivist ontologies of probabilistic scenario practices, constructivism, nominalism and post-normal science are the mainstays of the plausibility-based, intuitive logics tradition [10,12,48,49]. As Burrell and Morgan [50] noted, a realist sees the nature of reality as ‘out there’, hard and concrete, while the nominalist sees the social world as the result of individual cognition and made up of names, labels and concepts. Wilkinson and Eidinow [12] note the objectivist– constructivist dichotomy between probable and plausible scenario traditions. Scenarios are pragmatic rather than positivistic: events and behaviors are explained from the perspective of the individuals involved and thus reflect equally valid understandings from multiple points in a system. A central challenge is thus to navigate plurality [51] (Table 1).

For many complexity practitioners, the science of multi- level interconnected systems is extending the boundary of uncertainty where quantitative analysis is applicable. Agent- based modeling is one of the new techniques being used to undertake quantitative assessment of the probability of the collapse of system resilience [52], enabling a statistical forecast of the transition between various regimes of the system. Such approach proved relevant in addressing in- stabilities in financial markets and the role of contagion of norms as proposed by Axelrod [53], or Gintis [54] in the reframing obesity as an epidemic [55] rather than induced by the marketing of dubious foods.

Paul Cilliers [56] reflects on the ontology of complexity as follows: “The argument from complexity thus wants to move beyond the objective/subjective dichotomy”. He goes on to say that complexity science is in some ways an extension of the traditional scientific approach, but the ontological issues are shifted to the problem of boundaries. Since complex systems are open systems that interact with other systems, the choice of boundary is arbitrary. He quotes the notion of ‘operational closure’ as a useful approach, rooted in pragmatism. The uncertainty on the state of the system in the future is therefore objectively bound by formal mathematical modeling, but at the same time subjectively framed through the (explicit or implicit) choices concerning critical systems heuristics e.g. definition of the system boundaries.



Key Sources of Research:


Scenario Planning and Strategic Forecasting

Jay Ogilvy



Living in the futures

Angela Wilkinson



Scenarios: Uncharted Waters Ahead

Pierre Wack



Scenarios: Shooting the Rapids

Pierre Wack



Planning As Learning



The Living Company



The Use and Misuse of Scenarios



Scenario Planning



WHAT IF? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits




Shell Scenarios



A Review of Scenario Planning Literature



The origins and evolution of scenario techniques in long range business planning

Ron Bradfielda, George Wrightb, George Burt, George Cairns, Kees Van Der Heijden



Directions in Scenario Planning Literature – A Review of the Past Decades

Celeste Amorim Varuma, Carla Melo




A review of scenario planning


Muhammad Amer, Tugrul U. Daim *, Antonie Jetter





The current state of scenario development: an overview of techniques

Peter Bishop, Andy Hines and Terry Collins




Integrating organizational networks, weak signals, strategic radars and scenario planning

Paul J.H. Schoemaker ⁎, George S. Day, Scott A. Snyder



Advantages and disadvantages of scenario approaches for strategic foresight

Dana Mietzner and Guido Reger






Rafael Ramirez  & Cynthia Selin




Scenario building: Uses and abuses

Philippe Durance, Michel Godet



The Role of System Theory in Scenario Planning


Thomas Chermack




The Art of Scenarios and Strategic Planning: Tools and Pitfalls




A Scenario-based Approach to Strategic Planning – Integrating Planning and Process Perspective of Strategy

Torsten Wulf, Philip Meißner, Stephan Stubner




An Introduction to the Ontology of Anticipation

Roberto Poli




Being Without Existing: The Futures Community at a Turning Point? A Comment on Jay Ogilvy’s “Facing the Fold”

By Riel Miller



Riel Miller, Roberto Poli and Pierre Rossel

The Discipline of Anticipation: Exploring Key Issues



Towards an ontology of the present moment


Anthony Hodgson


Augmenting the intuitive logics scenario planning method for a more comprehensive analysis of causation

James Derbyshire , George Wright



Plotting Your Scenarios

Jay Ogilvy and Peter Schwartz



When and How to Use Scenario Planning: A Heuristic Approach with Illustration

Paul J.H. Schoemaker



Futures literacy: A hybrid strategic scenario method

Riel Miller



From Forecasting and Scenarios to Social Construction: Changing Methodological Paradigms in Futures Studies

Richard A. Slaughter




Developing and Applying Strategic Foresight

Richard A. Slaughter




What difference does ‘integral’ make?

Richard A. Slaughter



Framework foresight: Exploring futures the Houston way

Andy Hines , Peter C. Bishop




Anthony Hodgson and Gerald Midgley



Seeing in Multiple Horizons: Connecting Futures to Strategy

Andrew Curry

Anthony Hodgson




Introduction to Strategic Foresight : A Resource Bibliography

Dr. Peter Bishop




40 Years of Shell Scenarios

Shell International



Scenarios as a Tool for the 21st Century

Ged Davis

Shell International




The Evolution of Integral Futures: A Status Update

Terry Collins & Andy Hines




integral futures

by Richard A. Slaughter



Six pillars: futures thinking for transforming

Sohail Inayatullah




How plausibility-based scenario practices are grappling with complexity to appreciate and address 21st century challenges

Angela Wilkinson, Roland Kupers , Diana Mangalagiu



Scenario Method: Current developments in theory and practice

Technological Forecasting and Social Change

Volume 80, Issue 4, Pages 561-838 (May 2013)

Edited by George Wright, George Cairns and Ron Bradfield