If you've already read the material on Frequency, you're aware that information traveling from the future to the past can be as damaging or even more damaging in time travel terms than people doing so. Viewed this way, Minority Report is an unmitigated disaster, a collection of hundreds of anomalies none of which can be resolved.
The core concept of the film is that psychics are able to predict the future. Three in particular, victims of drug use by parents which affected their unborn minds, have visions of emotionally charged events in the short-term future, especially murders. Using very sophisticated mind/machine interface technology, an experimental police organization is able to view these visions, identify people and situations from them, and arrive at the scene of the crime before it happens. They then arrest the perpetrator prior to the murder. Often this happens at the last moment, as the fragmentary visions are pieced together just in time to stop the attack. Yet these authorities are not unwilling to arrest someone a week before his crime, if they have the information in time.
It is evident that as a time travel situation this creates paradox upon paradox. Agatha and the twins, our three psychics lying in the tank and seeing the horrors of the future to come, receive images of an event, a murder, and pass these images to their keepers. The keepers act on those images and prevent the murder from being committed. Yet if the murder is not committed, the images cannot exist in any real sense. Thus if the murder is prevented, the images don't exist, and the psychics cannot see them; but if the psychics cannot see them, the police cannot be warned, and the murder cannot be prevented. Each time a murder is prevented, an infinity loop is created, and time is trapped in the anomaly.
There is another striking problem in all this related to the main story. Tom Cruise' character, Captain John Anderton, is seen in one of the visions killing a complete stranger. He does not understand why he would kill a complete stranger; but it is obvious that he is going to be arrested for it immediately, although the event is a week or so away and appears to be a planned murder, not a crime of passion (as most are now that everyone knows you will be arrested before the murder if you plan it). He runs; he puts a lot of time and effort into trying to discover who this victim is and why he would kill him. He kidnaps Agatha, the best of the three psychics, to help him in this. Ultimately he finds the man. It appears that the man is the kidnapper who took Anderton's son some years before. Anderton decides not to kill him, but to arrest him. Then things really start falling apart, as it now appears that this man is not the kidnapper, but was set up to look like it so that Anderton would kill him; and that the man is intent on dying, because he has made a deal with some unnamed person who will care for his family if and only if Anderton kills him. The result is that the man kills himself with Anderton's gun, and of course the police are already on their way, completely unaware of the truth of the situation.
The problem in this is that the cause is dependent on the result. That is, why does Anderton kill the man? He would not do so were he not there. He would not be there had he not attempted to find out who the man was. He would not have sought the identity of the man had he not seen the vision of himself killing the man. In the end, Anderton kills the man because he kills the man. We're fooled by the sophistry of the causal loop, sold the bill of goods (popular in fixed time stories) that because everything in this story has a cause in the story, it's all plausible. It is not plausible, because there is no cause outside the loop that will start the loop. Further, this is not and cannot be a fixed time story if the psychics are seeing actual future events, because in that case the best that could be done would be to have the police arrest the criminals immediately after murders which, in fixed time theory, they would have been inexplicably helpless to prevent (another problem in fixed time theory).
It helps in these situations to do a reverse negation of the causal chain. If Anderton does not see himself kill the man, he will not investigate. If he does not investigate, he will not discover the man's identity or location. If he does not discover the man's identity or location, he will not be in the room. If he is not in the room, he will not kill the man. If he does not kill the man, the psychics will not have the vision. If they do not have the vision, he will not see himself kill the man. There is no cause outside this chain that can trigger it.
Such chains can be created, under the theory of this site, by an original causal chain which is erased by altered circumstances. Perhaps someone calls Anderton with an anonymous tip regarding the man who kidnapped his son. Anderton responds, kills the kidnapper, and so creates the image for the vision. This image appears while he is in the office (creating the CD timeline) and so he has a new information source leading him ultimately to that man at the right time and place. In this case the victim is shot anyway, as the police arrive too late; thus the vision is preserved (possibly in altered form--now Agatha is in the room with him, although see more on this below) and this is a brief sawtooth snap terminating in an N-jump.
Apart from this one death, all the other arrests create infinity loops, if viewed as information traveling from the future to the past. However, there is reason not to view it this way, and this reason saves the movie.
As the plot unfolds, we discover the meaning of the title. It appears that sometimes the three psychics will not agree. Two of them, the twins, will see a death one way which the third, Agatha, sees otherwise. Anderton becomes obsessed with finding a minority report that shows he did not shoot the man in the vision. It does not exist. However, it is clear that there are minority reports, events predicted one way by two psychics and otherwise by the third.
This is important to our understanding not of time travel but of what it is that the psychics are actually seeing and doing. If information is traveling from the future to the present, it must be images of events that actually happen in the future. If the psychics can see different events happening in the same future, they cannot be seeing actual events. An event cannot happen both one way and another. If the twins saw Anderton shoot the man, but Agatha saw Anderton shoot the killer at the same moment that the killer shot the man, only one of those is the reality.
This example suggests that it might merely be that the three psychics had incomplete information which when combined provides a coherent picture. That is, if the twins saw Anderton shoot and the man die, they would be led to believe that Anderton shot the man. If Agatha saw that Anderton actually shot the killer while the killer shot the man, that would lead to a different conclusion. However, what we are told about minority reports is that they contain contradicting information. They are erased from the system (but retained in the memory of the psychic) because their existence would be exculpatory evidence for the suspect, and it is necessary that the system be perfect in its prediction or it fails. After all, you cannot lock someone away because you believe they might commit a serious crime; you can only do it if you have incontrovertible proof that they have done so, or, in this case, would without question do so. Those minority reports see a different future. There can only be, from any point in time, one actual future. The obvious conclusion is that the psychics are not seeing the future.
That seems absurd on its face; if they are not seeing the future, what are they seeing?
First, let me set aside the possibilities that they are seeing an actual future in any sense we might suggest. It has already been shown that two theories of time travel cannot support the events in the film
Yet there is still the Parallel Dimensions school of thought, and it has two primary denominations: those who believe that there are coexisting universes paralleling our own in which events are the same until acted upon and so altered, and those who believe that our actions alter future events by creating a divergent reality from the point of change. The problems with these, despite their differences, is that they create an essential problem in jurisprudence. Let's take it out of context completely, and illustrate it by analogy.
We will suppose that some Nazi war criminal escaped not merely unpunished but entirely unsuspected. He fled to the United States, where he married a woman who had no knowledge of his involvement in these crimes, and raised a son who, ironically, became a Lutheran minister, a man of good works respected by the community. The father dies, and is buried. Then, after all this time, his involvement in heinous war crimes comes to light. Unable to arrest, try, and punish the guilty father, we instead arrest the son, try him for his father's crimes, and have him executed.
Perhaps there are theories of justice that would support this. They would be involved in concepts of propitiation and equitable balance and transmission of guilt none of which are particularly strong in our theories. For us, this would be a travesty, the punishment of an innocent man.
The problem with the parallel dimensions theory being used in this situation is that we are almost certainly punishing the innocent man because the guilty is beyond our reach. We inherently admit that there is in some universe a version of Anderton who shot a version of Crow; but we also must inherently admit that this is not that Anderton. He never will commit the crime for which he is being arrested and punished. We are unable to arrest the man who will commit that crime. It doesn't matter much which of the two major forms of this theory you take. In the one case, the guilty Anderton has always existed beyond our reach; in the other, we have allowed the guilty Anderton to escape, perhaps forever, in that the arrest of the innocent Anderton (before the crime) creates the divergent universe, putting the guilty Anderton forever beyond our reach--in effect, making us guilty for freeing the perpetrator and punishing the innocent. You can argue that this is the source of the alternate views; but if you do, you must sacrifice any claim that you have predicted the future, and accept that you have only predicted a future, one which you have determined would not be the future of the world in which the prediction has been made. Having made that determination, you have eliminated any sense in which the conviction of the innocent perpetrator can be called justice, particularly given that having conceded that this is not the universe in which those events happen you cannot know whether they would or would not have happened in this universe without this intervention.
It will be admitted that this is one circumstance in which the primary objections to the parallel dimensions theory do not apply. Since no one in the future is making the decision to send information to the past, they cannot be disappointed by failure. That is, if in order for the psychics to foresee the events someone in the future would have to send the images to them intending that they would see them and prevent these events, those in the future would swiftly conclude that this is not working and so stop sending events. Since the predictions in the past are dependent solely on events in some future, and not on intended communication of those events, this problem does not exist.
However, this raises another problem. There must be universes in which the psychics have failed to foresee and prevent each of these murders. That is, we begin with universe A, in which the murder occurs, and then the image reaches our psychics creating universe B, in which the murder is prevented; however, universe A continues to exist, in which the psychics have failed to foresee and prevent this murder. If the psychics continue to function in universe A, they may never foresee a murder, and so never be useful. However, for each murder, there will be another universe created in which they do foresee it and prevent it. So, too, for universe B, in that with the next murder it becomes universe BA, in which the second murder is not foreseen, but the murder therein gives rise to universe BB, in which it is. But this, too, will become universe BBA, in which the murder does occur, and from which is diverted universe BBB. With each murder, there will necessarily be one universe in which the psychics failed to foresee it; there may be another in which they did foresee it. If we assume the psychics will be retained regardless of success rate (a rather foolish assumption), the experience will be typically that they prevent half of all murders. Some cost/benefit analysis would have to be done, as there would be one universe AAAAAAAA in which no murder was ever foreseen or prevented, and it is quite appropriate to expect that the project would be discontinued long before it reached universe AAAAAAAAB. There would be a binary exponential increase in the number of universes for each murder predicted and prevented, minus this bottom end in which the rate of return was too low. That is, assuming that in this time the psychics are not disbanded in any universe, the first murder divides into A and B, the second into four universes AA, AB, BA, and BB, the third into eight, then sixteen, then thirty-two, each representing the murders prevented against the murders not foreseen. Of these, the universe we see in the film is universe BBBBBBBB....B, the only universe in which no murder ever failed to be foreseen. This universe does exist, but in the parallel dimensions theory it must exist as one out of quantity two raised to the power of the total number of murders. There will be a vast number of universes in which a great deal of consideration is being given to why they missed the murders they did not foresee or why they see so few murders. This does not itself impugn the story, which is clearly a story set in that one universe which is always B. However, it appears that several thousand murderers had been arrested before the fact as the story opens. At one thousand murders, the number of divergent universes is in the neighborhood of a googol times a googol times a googol (1.07 x 10^301), and each additional murder above that doubles the total number of diverging universes. If the pre-crime unit is built on a diverging or parallel universes model, the odds are considerably against being in that universe in which every murder was successfully predicted, and we are watching a world that statistically would not be our own.
Further, for there to be a minority report, the divergent universe would already have to exist. Thus if Agatha sees something different from what the twins see, either one of them is looking into another coexisting universe or the universe has already been changed through a vision and is now being changed again. We have little data on the minority reports, but the data we have suggests that this is not a viable solution. We can have a world in which the murder is not foreseen, and another world in which it is foreseen and prevented. If there is yet another world in which the murder did not take place which was independently foreseen, we must ask how such a world could have come into existence.
Let us assume that the minority report is a view into a parallel existing universe. This is to hold to the view that time travel carries one from the universe you are in to another that was identical in every way up until the moment you entered it. However, clearly this parallel universe is not identical in every way--it is different in connection with this death. Further, we now have no way of knowing whether it is Agatha or the twins who are seeing the other universe. The minority report might be the events of this universe and the majority those of another, and in that case the perpetrator is not guilty in this universe and justice has been tragically subverted. If we accept that one of the views contains images which are not the future of this world, we must abandon the project, because it no longer reliably predicts our future.
The alternative answer would seem to be that there are factors that can change the future other than the psychic prediction of the future. This means that any murder the psychics predict might not happen even apart from the intervention of pre-crime or the knowledge provided by the psychics. We never see such an event in the film. Anderton's murder of Crow is never clearly seen as such (the images are consistent with the events; Crow is actually murdered by Burgess through a complicated plot that is designed specifically to frame Anderton, and in which who pulls the trigger is not relevant). Burgess clearly is prevented from murdering Anderton by his knowledge that the murder is already foreseen, and so that murder is prevented in the same way as every other prevented murder, through action based on the foreknowledge of the events. But it seems that Agatha is seeing something else, a different future based on something other than the prediction of the murder. If this is so, then it is possible for divergent futures to be created without knowledge of the future. That is, it might have been possible that Anderton would not merely not kill Crow but falsify the prediction itself by taking Crow into custody alive. It might be possible that the husband seen at the beginning of the film would have stared at the lovers, had his moment of fury pass, then drop the weapon and walk out of the building, solely because at the moment of choice he had a choice, and by that choice two universes were distinguished.
Thus, if we are using the parallel or diverging dimensions theory, we must recognize that the suspect might not be guilty, that he might have walked away from the crime at any moment, and we cannot convict of murder nor even perhaps of attempted murder based on the evidence. Seeing the actual future is fraught with trouble, because no matter on what theory you base that vision of the future the facts that you are changing it and that the vision of the future is inconsistent undermines any confidence that this might be the actual future. We need an alternative theory to explain these events.
Let me suggest that our three psychics are seeing what we could call the probable future. No information is traveling through time at all. Their minds are gathering vast amounts of present information about the world and extrapolating from that information the most likely future, with particular emphasis on those moments in which violent crimes will occur.
We are given an example at the beginning of the film, in which a man clearly and correctly suspects his wife is having an affair. He drops a lot of hints that he is suspicious, then leaves the house, watches the lover enter, and returns to discover the two together. He loses control, and is about to kill them when the police interrupt and take him into custody. As this is the most complete example we have in the film, we'll use it to illustrate the probable future concept.
Right now, in the present, there is a woman having an affair. The psychics gather this information. They also discover that the husband is suspicious. They explore his psyche, and perceive that he is going to attempt to catch his wife in the act. They find the mind of the lover, and see that he is going to walk into the trap, and that the wife is oblivious to her husband's suspicions. They perceive that as much as the man suspects, he does not believe; he has not really considered what he will do if his suspicions are correct. This is a man who will not be able to handle the discovery which is now inevitable, given the decisions all the parties have already made. He will lose control, and kill one, the other, or both. If we gather enough information about him and about the victims, we will even be able to predict which will die, or which will die first.
None of that required that Agatha and the twins actually receive information from the future. It only required that they recognize the conjunction of certain facts and decisions in the present which are on a collision course, and then calculate the events leading from the present to that collision to achieve the outcome. It is in one sense not different from the computer models economists use every day to predict trends in the economy: if we feed it sufficient data and there are no surprises that interfere, we will get an accurate prediction of what will happen in the financial world tomorrow. The psychics have the advantage that they know the thoughts of men. They know what decisions have been made and what characteristics are likely to be activated as these play out. Thus they can predict individual actions with great accuracy. Apart from the complexity of the interacting variables, it is not different from predicting whether the collision of two moving pool balls will cause one to drop into the pocket.
Note that this explains the existence of the minority reports. It is now entirely possible for the twins to reach one conclusion and Agatha to reach another. If Agatha finds one fragment of information that the twins do not have, she could see an entirely different outcome from what they predict. If in doing the analysis she weights one decision or characteristic as more important than the other two believed, she would again reach a different vision of the future. None of them are seeing what actually happens in the future. They are creating a model of what would happen if everything continues on its present course. Those models thus differ if "everything" is not the same list with the same weight attached to each item.
Note also that this prevents infinity loops. There is no time travel, no information coming from the future. There is no reason why the visions cannot be true and falsified. Going back to our example, at the moment the trio has the vision, all the facts in the world are such that this man is going to discover his wife and her lover, and kill them. That's the prediction. As soon as the prediction is made, it becomes a new fact, and it changes the most probable future. At that moment, it becomes probable that the police will intervene in time to prevent the murder. In theory, our psychics should not see that murder any more, because it is no longer probable. Yet a moment before, when this vision had not been seen and revealed, the facts pointed to a high probability that the murder would occur.
However, this does not resolve the problem surrounding Anderton's shooting of Crow. It complicates it. It is certainly the case that once Burgess has set up the plot, planning to put Crow in the hotel and place the phone call (which we a moment ago theorized as the erased cause of the chain) providing the tip to Anderton, the shooting becomes the probable future. However, at that moment it cannot be the case that Agatha's presence in the room is part of that probable future. This is a very difficult point, and one that will require careful attention.
In every case, the vision that appears reveals what would happen based on all the facts in the world before the vision is revealed. Once the vision is revealed, it becomes part of the facts, and we are forced to conclude that the probable future has shifted drastically, such that the killing is unlikely to occur. The impact of the revelation of the vision cannot be one of the facts included in the production of the vision, because its impact in every case the film reports but three has been to prevent the predicted death. However, in the Anderton case, Agatha's presence at the scene of the shooting is a direct effect of the revelation of the vision. Had Anderton not seen the vision, he would not have kidnapped her. Our alternate cause does not fix this problem; if he were going to find the man because of a telephone tip he would not take Agatha with him. The only explanation we have for Agatha being in that room is that Anderton saw the vision and kidnapped her to try to figure out what was happening. It can't work both ways. If she is in the vision, then the revelation of the vision is one of the facts accounted for in the prediction. If the revelation of the vision is one of the facts accounted for in the prediction, then none of the murders which are thwarted can ever be predicted. This one vision does not work under this theory; but this theory is the only one that can explain every other case.
There is a possible solution to this; probably there is only one such solution. It must be that in the original plan, Burgess was going to phone Anderton, not anonymously but as a concerned friend, and inform him that while he was home the psychics foresaw him killing the person who abducted his son, and providing some clue that would put Anderton on the path toward that hotel room. Now the psychics are involved from the beginning; and now that the plan has been made, in effect we can see that there is a pre-planned murder in place: Burgess has planned to use Anderton to kill Crow. At this moment, all the facts are in place for Anderton to kidnap Agatha in his effort to find out what he can about Crow; Agatha now can be in that room. This means that the trio can foresee the events as containing Agatha. At this moment, the vision which Burgess had intended to invent becomes a reality, and Anderton fortuitously is present to intercept it. The need for the telephone tip is obviated, and the future has been changed by the vision--the same thing that the vision always does, but this time in an entirely different way, erasing part of the evidence that would have pointed to Burgess.
Thus given this very narrow set of facts, it is possible for the psychics to have seen the vision of the future in which Agatha is present with Anderton at the scene of Crow's shooting. It is indeed a murder, with Anderton's gun; but Burgess is the murderer.
|I want to acknowledge the contribution of and thank Tony "Ozcraft" Hinde for putting my attention toward this possible resolution of the situation in discussions we had by e-mail about the first draft of this analysis. Although the detail is mine, he pointed me to the consideration of parallel dimension theory and to the question of whether there was a potential first cause that might have involved Agatha before the revelation of the vision.|
There is one other fact in this which presses us to believe that our psychics are not seeing the future. Although it is present in every case in which the police are able to prevent the murder which has been predicted, it is brought into stark relief in two critical moments in the film.
The first of those moments is when Anderton is in the room with the man who is intended to be his victim. It is not what happens here that ultimately matters. Nothing happens here that is different from the vision, as the various fragments show Anderton with the gun, faces of various people, and the shot knocking the victim out the window. The fact that Anderton did not shoot him is not visible in the prediction anyway; it is assumed. However, in the midst of this, Agatha is present, and she is talking. She is telling Anderton that he is not fated to do this, that he does not have to kill the man, because he is in control of his own life. Anderton recognizes that this is true, that he does not have to kill the man. He does not invalidate the prediction, but he sets us up to understand that the predictions can be invalidated.
To look at it another way, we have already recognized that at the moment the vision occurs the most probable future is one set of facts, and the moment after it is revealed it is more probable that the killing will be thwarted. The vision changes the probable future. What, though, if knowledge of the vision were conveyed to the perpetrator? That is, if you got a call from the police saying, "We know that on Tuesday morning you're going to find your wife in the arms of another man and are going to kill them both; we'll be there to arrest you," don't you think that would affect your conduct? Probably you would avoid sneaking back into the house on Tuesday morning. Certainly you would steel yourself against any possibility that you might be surprised or upset by this. Maybe you would tell your wife on Monday night that there was this problem. As surely as the police are able to change the future once they have knowledge of it, so are you. Granted, telling people what crime they are predicted to commit has its drawbacks. After all, if I've planned the perfect bank robbery and the perfect jewel robbery for the same time Tuesday morning, and the police call to tell me that they know I'm going to shoot a teller while robbing the bank, I might just get away clean on the jewel robbery by abandoning the bank plan. But setting that aside, it is clear that the prediction of the future changes the future, and that people who know what is predicted can invalidate those predictions.
It comes to fruition in the climax, when Anderton is facing the real villain behind it all, Burgess. Burgess could kill Anderton; if he does, he will be arrested in minutes, because already police helicopters are closing on his position. If he does not, he (one of the creators of the psychic system) demonstrates that the system is fallible, that its predictions are not the future but are mutable, that the perpetrators have the power not to commit the crimes and thus cannot be convicted based on the prediction. He kills himself. We know that this is not what the psychics foresaw, as it has already been established that suicides do not create these visions. They must have foreseen him killing Anderton. The future is changed by the perpetrator. We thus recognize that it is not the future that is seen, but only the most likely outcome of the chain of events currently in motion.
The ultimate release of all those incarcerated through the program confirms what we have concluded. Minority Report does not involve any information traveling from the future to the past. It is not a time travel story in any sense.