I had an interesting philosophical discussion with a friend a while back involving the consequences that come from tapping into parallel worlds/realities/alternate timelines. So the question that came out of that was this: If you could see the outcomes of all actions (even just limited to your own), would this enable you to achieve perfection?

My response was no, that actually knowing all of the positive and negative results of every action you took would eventually turn you evil.

If you did know every outcome to every action, you could decide to do nothing because of the potentially endless, cascading negative consequences that invariably arise from taking even one good action of consequence (e.g., stopping and eliminating a terrible dictator before he gets a foothold in his country). The resulting paralysis would, in turn, create endless, cascading paradoxes and negative consequences that come from not taking that action. (Remember, you would know every single consequence that would ever occur beforehand). It would also signal the end of small decisions: even regular day-to-day tasks would become moral hazards. Would you, for example, even be able to fill up your car with gas and drive it around if you could actually witness firsthand the long, bloody body-count (either through direct violence, political oppression, or environmental disaster) attached to that gallon of gas? Any justifications like “acting for the greater good” or calculations involving things like “acceptable losses” would become grievous burdens when weighed against the “If I’d only” after-effects that might potentially last into the hundreds or thousands of years. How long would it take before all that knowledge drove you first crazy, then evil? (Because who ever becomes good after going crazy?)

You could also decide that nothing you do really matters anyway, because simple existence always causes some degree of harm to others. What benefits one person will certainly cost others something, since needs and wants are basically infinite, but the ability to meet them is not - someone will have to pay a price or go without. Also, evil is going to endure and people are going to get hurt no matter what you do, because it’s impossible to prevent all harmful acts from occurring. Therefore the concept of good and evil becomes subjectively meaningless, undertakings simply become means to ends, and you decide to act only the information that interests you, while ignoring the information that doesn’t, regardless of the consequences. By choosing this path, you willingly embrace a liberating yet callous and indifferent evilness.

If you decided, however, after becoming omniscient and aware of all consequences, that it would be better to take your own life and not exist at all (to avoid enduring this horrible curse), you’d still be faced with same the paradoxical loops mentioned in the first example, stemming from the absence of your all-knowing nature (in effect, one of permanent inaction). Could you really allow all that knowledge (along with the potentially incalculable good it could do, as in the cases of life-saving, early warnings for earthquakes, tornadoes, or tsunamis) to pass out of mankind’s reach just to spare yourself the grief of enduring a kind of personal damnation? If you could not and you chose to live on, it would only be a matter of time before you found yourself facing the effects of that first scenario.

I can only conclude that knowing all things would either make you insane and evil or callous and evil, and that either outcome would be a terrible burden to bear.

(c) 2016-2019 by Steve Pool.  All rights reserved.