The 2007 film Next was, to put it lightly, a flop. I think I was one of a hundred or so people who bothered to see it while in theaters, and even I, with my incredibly high tolerance for terrible sci-fi movies, felt let down. Doubly so when I realized that the script was based loosely (and I mean incredibly loosely) on Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Golden Man”. To ruin PKD in that manner should be punishable by law.
Fortunately, nothing based on Mr. Dick’s work can be all bad. In this case, I was somewhat fascinated by protagonist Cris Johnson’s ability to see into the future – or, more to the point, his ability to see all possible future outcomes from a single action. This was the one concept left over from the original text it was based on, and made the film at least marginally thought provoking. His ability postulates that there is no “set future”. The future is fluid, with many different possible outcomes.
This concept plays a role in another of Philip K. Dick’s works (which I just can’t help mentioning, despite claiming that I wouldn’t under the letter “M”) – "The Minority Report". In this seminal piece, three “Precogs” working under the PreCrime division all share the ability to see the future; however, they don’t always see the same one. It's this potential for different versions that accentuates the Precogs’ value, for their ability to see multiple outcomes allows PreCrime to avert any possible negative futures and put us on the path for a more favorable one.
And yet, I cannot help but wonder if this ability is all that it’s cracked up to be. And not just because PreCrime is such a dangerous threat to free will and the human ability to change. But it’s also concerning because, as Cris Johnson explains in Next, “Every time you look at [the future], it changes because you looked at it. And that changes everything else.”
It’s human nature to try to avoid harmful or difficult situations. We vaccinate ourselves to prevent disease. We leave our houses early to avoid rush-hour traffic. We use birth control to avert unwanted pregnancy. But it’s possible that by looking into the future and attempting to change what we see, we might unintentionally cause irreparable harm. Like the film Paycheck (based on yet another of Philip K. Dick’s short stories). Michael Jennings, a reverse engineer, designs a machine that can see the future. However, once the project is complete, he realizes that the device is a danger to humanity. He states, “The machine predicts a war, and we go to war to avert it. It predicts a plague, we herd all the sick together and create a plague. Whatever future this predicts, we make happen . . . Seeing the future will destroy us.”
Again Philip K. Dick make me wonder. Is there really more than one potential future? If so, can we really see every possibility? And if we can predict what’s to come, should we try to change it? Or is doing so the cause of the very thing we're trying to prevent? Will knowing the future destroy us?
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.