Reading Philip K. Dick’s Short Story, The Minority Report
I have carefully attempted to not deliver spoilers for the book or the film. However, my suggestion if you aren’t familiar with either: Read the book first. And don’t forget to read my final third of this article —Minority Report: Prescience!
The Majority Report: Dominance
Why? Oh, why did I have to see The Minority Report film before I read Philip K. Dick’s short story?! I loved that film! I hated the book…almost.
All throughout the 103 pages (published by PKD in Fantastic Universe in 1956), my imagination is polluted by the images and adaptations in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film. The two worlds collide in disparity. PKD’s original protagonist: middle-aged, balding, John A. Anderton and his commitment to Precrime. The movie Anderton, young Tom Cruise, seeking to disavow and destroy it.
My early conclusions were that the movie is much better, more engaging as a mystery, with such interesting and prescient technology! Naively, I thought those were mostly the brainchild of PKD, but realized with a bit of disappointment (and some fun research), they were the end result of numerous developers.
Original film script – Gary Goldman with Ron Shusett and Robert Goethals in 1992. Novelist, John Cohen adapted the script in 1997. Spielberg requests revisions by Cohen. Spielberg also consults the Global Business Network and several prominent scientists, urbanists and futurists to develop a plausible future reality — to include Joel Garreau, Peter Calthorpe, Douglas Coupland, Neil Gershenfeld, Jaron Lanier, and William J. Mitchell. They produce something called the “2054 bible” which is revered canon for production designer, Alex McDowel. The script continues to go through reworking, Scott Frank edits Cohen’s script. John August polishes that. Frank Darabont does a version that is closely followed in the film. The Writer’s Guild ultimately has to arbitrate on credits…
The film obviously had many major contributors. A huge team of thinkers and artists propelled by massive energy — oops, money — produced the film I love.
But let’s set the timeline straight: The first contributor, was a single brilliant mind. Despite the differences between book and film, Philip K. Dick’s original material is a source file of compelling themes drawn together for an original story: Pre-Crime – a predictive policing system that detects and apprehends criminals before they’ve had the opportunity to commit crimes. Precogs – individuals who possess precognition as a form of extra-sensory perception. Multiple Time Paths – the possibility of multiple future time paths existing simultaneously, and the ability to affect or change the future by one’s choices. Majority Reports – calculated by a computer, probable future time paths are predicted by majority overlap or agreement among Precogs. Minority Report – implied by the existence of majority reports, the minority report suggests an alternate possible future path.
The Comparative Report: Consonance
I’ve finished the short story, dizzied by the corrupting influence of film on my innocent PKD fandom. I’m digesting and outlining the differences between the film and what PKD wrote, and consider rereading to clarify this. But it’s much easier to tap into the internet and see these differences outlined by others. If you’re curious, check these three great links (but be prepared for complete spoiler overload on both book and movie):
Minority Report vs. Minority Report From: Atoll Comics: A Darwinian Comic Book Nightmare-Hellscape, Michael Bround produces a weekly blog on his search for 10 great comic books to follow.
Wikipedia Article Scroll Down the article for a synopsis of differences between book and film.
The Duck Speaks A really good (long) article by book-to-movie reviewer Zack Handlen.
Most reviewers and commentary on this book and its film companion, cite the major theme as being one of free will. Indeed, Philip K. Dick regularly explores the theme of free will in his books through monopolistic corporations and authoritarian governments. This focus is quite understandable in the context of two facts about PKD: He wrote during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, a time of tremendous cultural paradigm shift. After reading Plato, he was fascinated by philosophical questions about the nature of reality, which discoveries became the primary subject of his unfinished VALIS trilogy.
Free will is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action. There continues to be much philosophical debate about the role free will plays in our lives. Determinists suggest that only one course of events is possible, which is inconsistent with the concept of free will. Metaphysical libertarianism claims that determinism is false and that free will is at least possible. Compatibilists hold that free will is compatible with determinism, some even suggesting that determinism is necessary for free will.
In the movie, Anderton uses free will to try and nullify Precrime for the good of humanity. This is Anderton’s argument during the climactic scene where Precrime creator, Lamar Burgess, faces the choice to kill or not kill Anderton: “You see the dilemma don’t you. If you don’t kill me, Precogs were wrong and Precrime is over. If you do kill me, you go away, but it proves the system works. The Precogs were right.”
In the book, Anderton hopes to preserve the validity of the Precrime system. The minority report has been identified by General Leopold Kaplan, who intends to use it to discredit Precrime and replace it with a military authority. When asked if the minority report is incorrect, Anderton replies: “No, it’s absolutely correct. But I’m going to murder Kaplan anyhow.”
Both the movie and the book appear to take the compatibilist view. While determinism is the underlying premise of the Precrime concept, both the book and film offer scenarios where people make choices and explore the role of free will in the eventual outcome of events.
The Minority Report: Prescience
Prescience: The ability to see around the corners of time. As yet, unsupported by repeated scientific trials. Anecdotally prominent in most religions and metaphysical schools. Something I have personally experienced. Prescience or precognition seems to defy the laws of causality.
As a whole, science leans in the direction of causal determinism — the idea that everything is caused by prior conditions. However, some sciences seem more aligned with compatibilism, such as biological determinism which presupposes both a genetic and environmental influence on development.
PKD’s book spends little time exploring the Precogs beyond describing their basic nature as mutant children with “talents” that have been developed and capitalized by the government. Precogs have damaged brains and are considered “retarded.” Their bodies are deformed, constrained in chairs, and their enlarged heads are wired to computers. They cannot understand their own predictions, which are collected, calculated and regurgitated into reports by machines. However, the entirety of The Minority Report, is dependent on the premise of prescience.
The argument against prescience is the theory that retrocausality, or reverse causality is an inherent self-contradiction. However, time-independent aspects of modern quantum physics may allow particles or information to travel backward in time. Theorists suggest that objections to macroscopic time travel may not necessarily prevent retrocausality at other scales of interaction. Even if it occurs, it may not be capable of producing effects different from those that resulted from normal causal relationships.
Metaphysics is concerned with the nature of cause and effect. One theoretical approach is process philosophy, the idea that every cause and every effect is respectively, some process, event, becoming or happening. Thus, truth is “movement” in and through substance, as opposed to substances being fixed concepts or things. This true reality has been posited as “timeless.”
Philip K. Dick’s short story, The Minority Report, considered science fiction and glamorized and materialized by moviedom and money, is actually an exploration of metaphysics. Or viewed in another way, is an example of a sci-fi author’s prescience regarding evolving theories of quantum physics.
Check out these interesting links I discovered during my Minority Report research!
I happened to be reading Philip K. Dick’s 1972 speech, “The Android and the Human,” the weekend I watched Steven Spielberg’s film, “The Post.” This was not a planned intersection, yet somehow, my friend’s invite to see the film as her SAG-AFTRA guest, coincided with my determination to finish The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (Lawrence Sutin, ed.). Surrounded by actors most likely enthralled by the film’s consummate cast, I pierced the rosy feminism, journalistic nostalgia and shadowy government implications with a PKD lens. “The Android and the Human” (henceforth designated as The Android), would be my source for analyzing and exploring the essential themes in “The Post” (henceforth designated as The Post).
Why Intersect The Post with The Android?
PKD’s writing is highly reflective of the political climate from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, and often involves his paranoia regarding the government. The Post, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, focuses on just a few weeks in 1971, but features The Washington Post’s decision to publish parts of the classified Pentagon Papers, which chronicled…”