The claim, Googling tells me, comes from Homo Prospectus (2016), by Martin Seligman et al. Its programmatic claim is that:
Our species is misnamed. Though sapiens defines human beings as “wise” what humans do especially well is to prospect the future. We are homo prospectus.
If the title is to be more accurate, then we would need to concede that (a) humans are not necessarily more ‘wise’ than chimps or dolphins or crows, and more importantly (b) that what is distinctive about human intelligence is the ability to envision a future, a mental model of time.
The attribute that usually gets brought up as unique to human intelligence is self-awareness. Googling tells me that George Herbert Mead, at least, made much of awareness of the future as part of the human mind’s ability to reflect on its self, as a defining attribute of human intelligence. (https://books.google.com.au/book…)
So, maybe? At least one psychologist seems to have thought so. Animals do plan for the future; I gather it’s still controversial to what extent they have a mental model of the future.
And thanks for the vote of confidence in A2A’ing me, Rynnah. That was a lot of googling and guesswork. 🙂