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Steven Spielberg's Movie Minority Report :The Precogs Concept

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Causality, Determinism, and Freedom

The film Minority Report presents the idea of an America without murder, supplemented by the use of “precogs,” who are able to see into the future and predict murders before they happen. In the first act of the film, we see how “PreCrime” is hailed as a perfect system; Washington D.C. has not seen a murder in six years. However, when John Anderton is pulled into the sticky web of “fate,” we begin to see the entire system unraveled and have its flaws exposed. The first flaw is the existence of the “minority report.” In what world is there a justification to arrest someone for a murder they haven’t committed, if even the system used to predict the murder can’t agree among itself? These “minority reports” are written off as insignificant and no record of them is kept, and the “perpetrators” are still detained as any other PreCrime suspect.

The foretold murders of Ann Lively, Leo Crow, and John Anderton all give credence to the idea that these “predictions” are nothing more than one of several potential outcomes. In each case, the destined course of events were forecast wrong by the precogs; regardless of whether or not the murder still occurred, it did not happen in the way it was determined to by “fate.” There were discrepancies in the chain of events that occured in both Ann Lively and Leo Crow’s murders from the predicted result, whereas the murder of John Anderton didn’t happen whatsoever. Given this fact and the existence of the aforementioned “minority report,” it would be dubious at best to claim any faith in the PreCrime system or in the precogs to take the reigns of Fate.

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As such, I believe the movie to most closely reinforce the idea of Compatibilism. This becomes especially true when Agatha, one of the precogs, informs John that he has a choice in the matter involving his prophesied murder of Leo Crow. Agatha exposes the fallibility of the precogs then: their predictions are not some predetermined series of events that must happen, but rather a suggested series events that are all determined by cause and effect. The events don’t necessarily have to precipitate at all, let alone the way they were suggested to. And sure, we do have incidents such as with Howard Marks, who was seconds away from plunging a pair of scissors into his wife before he was detained. I think the point isn’t to say that determinism is inherently wrong, but rather that determinism is only half of the variable.

There are events that, like the murder of Leo Crow, are “destined” to happen, and no matter how much “freedom” you exert, you can’t escape. John Anderton, even with all his endeavors to escape destiny, was unable to prevent himself from killing Leo Crow. But that was because Leo Crow made a choice: he was willing to be killed by John so that his family could get money. Similarly, like the suicide of Lamar Burgess, there are events that have the potential to arise if the chain of cause-effect follows its course; that chain can be stopped by your own free volition. Lamar Burgess made the decision of his own free will to shoot himself, even though all signs pointed to him killing John Anderton. Events are predicated on long and complex chains of causes, effects, and decisions that we, simply put, can’t hope to understand.


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