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The many aspects of anticipation

Roberto Poli (Based at the Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Trento, Trento, Italy)


ISSN: 1463-6689

Article publication date: 1 June 2010




After summarizing the theories of anticipation proposed over the past century, the paper aims to distinguish between anticipation as an empirical phenomenon and the conditions that make anticipation possible. The paper's first part seeks to show that many scholars from various research fields worked on the many nuances of anticipation. The paper's second part seeks to discuss the difference between the capacity of anticipation and the nature of systems able to exhibit anticipatory behavior. The former endeavor adopts a descriptive attitude, whilst the latter seeks to understand what it is that makes anticipation possible.


The paper presents a theoretical and experimental analysis of anticipation and anticipatory systems.


Anticipation is a widely studied phenomenon within a number of different disciplines, including biology and brain studies, cognitive and social sciences, engineering and artificial intelligence. There is a need for relying on at least two different levels of analysis, namely anticipation as an empirical phenomenon and the idea of an anticipatory system or the study of the internal structure that a system should possess so that it can behave in an anticipatory fashion.

Research limitations/implications

The literature summarized by the paper is only part of a substantially larger body of documents. More extensive analyses are needed to firmly establish the conclusions suggested.

Practical implications

The paper allows better understanding of the complexity of anticipation and the differences between types of anticipation (e.g. between explicit versus implicit anticipation).


For the first time, the distinction implicitly present in the surveyed literature between anticipation as an empirical phenomenon and the idea of anticipatory system as the study of the conditions that make anticipation possible is raised explicitly.



Poli, R. (2010), "The many aspects of anticipation", Foresight, Vol. 12 No. 3, pp. 7-17.



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