Saturday, September 25, 2010

Minority Report on possible futures, and pronoia

"Minority Report" is one of my favorite movies, and seeds interesting thoughts about the nature of precognition and alternative futures. Like a whole raft of popular scifi movies (starting with "Bladerunner"), it was inspired by a story by Philip K. Dick, first published in a pulp magazine back in 1954.

The story plot is notably different from that of the film, and the depiction of the precogs - not drifting in a flotation tank here, simply wired up to a mass of machinery that spits out cards rather than balls - is savagely harsh; they are called "babbling idiots" and "monkeys" who suffer from brain deformations that enable them to pump out information about future events they could never begin to understand.

I recommend reading the original version of "The Minority Report" for a provocative introduction to the nature of multiple or probable futures. As Dick writes: "If only one time-path existed, precognitive information would be of no importance, since no possibility would exist, in possessing this information, of altering the future." Exactly. To see something is already to change it, though we should not leap to the conclusion (expressed by a villain in the story) that "as soon as precognitive information is obtained, it cancels itself out."

In the story collection in which "The Minority Report" is included, the editor has included a welcome quote from a 1974 interview with Dick:

I used to believe the universe was basically hostile...I had a lot of fears that the universe would discover just how different I was from it...that it would find out the truth about me, and its reaction would be perfectly normal: it would get me. I didn't feel that it was malevolent, just perceptive...But this year I realized that that's not true. That the universe is perceptive, but it's friendly.

I'm so glad that Philip K. Dick rose to this view of things. If we are going to harbor a conspiracy theory about the universe, let's infuse it with pronoia (the wild belief that the universe is benign and things will work out for the best, regardless of evidence) rather than paranoia.


Carol Davis said...

I'm in the midst of leading a weekend retreat. Just yesterday at lunch a woman initiated a discussion about precognitive dreams. This resulted in joyous sharing of seeing people she hadn't yet met and then later when she met them she felt she was on the right path in her life. A woman described getting "packets" of info that she could use as guidance to help others. Another described dreams that prepared her for the death of loved ones.

Adelita Chirino said...

This is fascinating stuff on a Sunday morning, Robert, thank you. I've been to my library for the book via their website and booked the movie through cyberspace, too. I'm delighted to hop on this thought train. My favorite part is the word, pronoia and your wonderful definition of it.

Hello to Carol, I can picture you doing your wonderful work.

Robert Moss said...

Carol - The experience of your everyday happy precog dreamer reminds me of Synesius' statement that the dreamer who sees and experiences something pleasant before the event has a double blessing - of enjoying that twice. Thanks for the wonderful work you do, in giving people confirmation of the gifts of dreaming, and tools for growing those gifts.

Robert Moss said...

Adelita - I like that notion of jumping on a thought train. We do have a choice (every day) about how we approach and enter the world, and the attitude we choose (consciously or unconsciously)will shape and condition everything we encounter. Nothing to lose by choosing to be pronoiac rather than the other thing :-)

Savannah said...

I really loved the movie which echoed quite closely some dreams of my own with multiple rewinds and restarts each with slightly different outcomes - more like meta-dreams about the nature of precognition and the possibility of becoming conscious to alternate choices along the road than precognitive per se (though parts of them could still play out in future).
The book sounds well worth picking up, thanks so much for the review. I am smiling with the thought we have a choice about our conspiracy theories too... so true. Much better to believe the world is a friendly place.

Robert Moss said...

Savannah - I've been fascinated by your reports of those dreams in which you are able to work a "rewind" function. In the story, where this can lead is even more interesting than in the movie, though I won't spoil the suspense by explaining how until you've read it.