There are fictions where we can travel to the past, but it often raises causality paradoxes. There are others where we can see into the future, and it has also some implication on free will.

But what if we could see in the past. Which is what we do every night, looking at the stars. But what if it was a much developed capability, to look exactly what happened where. No paradox in sight, we could watch:

  • how the pyramids were built, or how the dinosaurs disappeared ?
  • Who killed Kennedy, who didn't killed Epstein ?
  • did Jesus left the tomb after 3 days, did buddha really said what is written on my fortune cookie ?
  • who stole my beloved pen ! where did I left my umbrella...

I'm fascinated by this underrated super power ! But if movies like "minority report" explore the implications of pre-cognition, I'm wondering in what kind of society we could live if we could see the past. It is well known that bigger sentences have a much lower effect on criminality than ineluctable sentences.

Would the crime rate drop ? The amount of conspiracies decrease ? Could a single video/audio of a crime be enough to settle a trial, even in complex sexual assault case ? What about religions !? And last but not least kind of abuse of this power could be devised and how to avoid those...

Update, After reading your contributions:

Indeed, this power could not be for everyone. I was imagining it, at first, only at the service of the justice, but it is mainly because I live in a country with a low level of corruption and where the judiciary system seeks for truth (Napoleonian code), not for compromises (common wealth system). But even in the hands of a system, it looks like in this kind of world, dictatorship would be ineluctable :)

Thanks @Joe Bloggs for the suggestion of 'The Light Of Other Days’ by Arthur C Clarke, and @Allan for 'E for Effort' T.L. Sherred, I will look at those

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    $\begingroup$ Does the location affect anything? If not, then I can imagine seeing the crime rate dropping drastically as a result of more clear cut cases and the easy ways to solve crimes. Otherwise, if location does affect things, then kidnappings and other cases where people dissapear without a trace might not drop, but others will. Also, your question, which is super interesting, is probably going to get closed for being to opionated. $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2021 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ Paycheck (2003) by John Woo, with Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 30, 2021 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ It sounds like you are describing a society of omniscient beings - everyone has the ability not just to see the past, but see anything in any place at any time in the past. Since the past is removed from the present by an arbitrarily small quantity of time, anyone with this power effectively has an omniscient view into the present, too. $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2021 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ The surveillance-data access capabilities of Robocop (20014 version) for everyone. As soon as it's switched on I see millions of murders and fights breaking out, hysteria, suicides. Difficult to imagine how society might exist at all. Very tough to answer unless you give more detail on the control structures, taboos etc of your society. $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2021 at 19:01
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    $\begingroup$ You might want to look up ‘The Light Of Other Days’ by Arthur C Clarke. It explores this exact plot point in quite some detail. There is a period of immense turmoil followed by society adjusting. Eventually things work out very well. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Apr 30, 2021 at 19:56

4 Answers 4


Society gets a lot more honest for good and ill.

Crimes of passion increase slightly. People still have individual perspectives but you can't hide things like infidelity, abuse, or indiscretion. so people will still commit murder, assault, and other crimes of passion. Everyone still has their own personal narrative.

Theft and fraud become basically non-existant. there is no point to these crimes any more, it becomes nearly impossible to get away with them. Premeditated crimes become nearly non-existent. There is no point in stealing someone else password because they and the police will know you did it. In the long run it becomes nearly impossible to get away with crime which will prevent some crime and not others. Only petty theft still exists where the theif relies on going to the police being too much of a bother. people will still shop lift candy bars, no one will ever rob a bank account.

Law still exists because large populations still limits individual knowledge, I still don't know how trustworthy you are when I meet you, but it becomes much easier to shun untrustworthy people in the long run. Serious crime drops like a stone.

For day to day events people will rely more on biometrics and physical security. a locked door is still a locked door even if you know what the key looks like. So you will not have unauthorized personnel wandering into places they could do a lot of harm. combination locks will become worthless, key locks and timer locks become more common.

People will still have personal bias because they are limited by what they choose to see at night, people can still lie to themselves although it does become harder. Ironically politicians become much much more honest, since public figures no longer have secrets.

Public indecency laws may disappear, after all, any and all sex is public for all intents and purposes. Celebrities will be far less common, only exhibitionists will want to be in the public eye.

Social progress with either advance quickly or grind to halt, nothing is truly private, parents know what you did yesterday, so society will either let go of many hang ups about sex and gender or become a repressive and totalitarian. We see this in hunter gather societies where privacy is rare, sex either ceases to be taboo or the taboo is rigidly enforced. Taboo's become few and far between but the ones that persist become rigidly enforced.

Religion shows a drastic down turn. Only the less restrictive religions can survive, religious that are too restrictive or rigid collapse under exposed hypocrisy and infighting. Only low impact religions survive.

We see the opposite in science, experiments and duplication become much easier. Science becomes much easier. Historical sciences explode as the become only limited by what questions you think to ask. Bias still comes into play so their will still be debates but observational evidence is much much more accessible on all fields. this brings up questions about the limits of such abilities, can I "see" subatomic phenomena, or do I still need a machine to test them. Can I see the movement of fish in absolute darkness or can I only see thing that have been illuminated.

War grinds to a halt, without secrecy surprise attacks become impossible. Small scale conflicts can still erupt be cause of self delusion but much of the motivation for large scale war disappears. Again politicians can't lie effectively, and generals can't keep secrets. Every government will have teams of people sleeping in shifts to have up to date intel. if an attack cannot be planned and launched in a few minutes its not a surprise. At first you would think this would drastically favor super powers, but it doesn't since cooperation becomes so much easier coalitions can happen in hours. Unless a conqueror can take on the whole world by themselves they are screwed. Dictatorships become so hard to maintain you that they can't exist on the large scale.


First, the benefits. Historians, physicists, astronomers, bioligists... pretty much every science-based profession will have the knowledge to develop origin stories, whether it be the beginning of life or the universe. Technology will definitely benefit as a result.

Next, the privacy concerns. Privacy is dead. Every moment of everyone's life could be under scrutiny by someone in the future. Yes, crime would drop and wrong convictions would drop to near zero. But the downsides of this would be very large. Celebrities, and really anybody who is liked or hated, will have their entire life scrutinized by people in the future. Likely, this will lead to a society that is much more tolerant of neuroses, as they have no way to hide them behind closed doors.

Needless to say, all of these will also go out of style: surprise parties, secrets, undiscovered landmarks, intellectual property, art(why buy an art piece when you can watch it be made, or at anytime in it's life?), trade secrets, losing things(rewind and watch where you placed it), unsolved crimes, mysteries of any sort... and probably more I can't think of right now.

Practically, humans live in the past. We take milliseconds or more to respond to external stimulus, so all of our actions are in response to something that occurred in the past. This means that you can watch in essentially real-time(delayed by a Planck-second) the entire world around, giving you access not only to the past but also to the human present. I can imagine this ability being leveraged by authoritarian leaders to completely subdue their population. With no way to hide or spread without being exposed, how can a resistance movement ever grow? You get a strong AI and hundreds of government agents monitoring the past and present, looking for signs of insurrection, and you get an unstoppable regime.

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    $\begingroup$ As Asimov pointed out in the short story "The Dead Past", one-hundredth of a second ago is "the past", which means if someone had such an ability or a device that could do it, for all intents and purposes they can see everything now. You don't have to worry about what someone in a few years could see you do, because they'll be able to see what you're doing as you're doing it. $\endgroup$ May 1, 2021 at 6:50
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    $\begingroup$ If everyone had this ability, there would be no world leaders. They could not exist. Everyone would be equal, and have exactly the same universal experience. It would be a collective hive mind with no individuality. $\endgroup$ May 1, 2021 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think art or the purchase thereof would go away. I know I personally have commissioned multiple artist to draw multiple pieces. If I hadn't done so, those would not exist. And there could still be people who want to view the completed piece but don't care about the process. $\endgroup$ May 1, 2021 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison "You don't have to worry about what someone in a few years could see you do, because they'll be able to see what you're doing as you're doing it. " What does this mean? $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 1, 2021 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron, it's in response to the comment "Every moment of everyone's life could be under scrutiny by someone in the future". As I pointed out, the "past" is everything that took place before "now", including events that took place a microsecond ago which, in practical terms, means as it's happening. So there's no point worrying that someone sometime in the future could see what you did when it's possible someone could be watching your actions right now anyway. $\endgroup$ May 2, 2021 at 3:36

The world would end in nuclear holocaust right after the post-cogs emptied our bank accounts

Just a few of the things post-cogs would destroy.

No Password is safe

Seedy post-cogs would use it to learn our usernames and passwords. All the post cog has to do is watch some rich person log in to their bank account and clean them out.

Vegas would close down as divorce rates rocket upwards

Every wife would be able to get a high-light reel of their husband's "work trip" to Vegas. One in four spouses cheat on their partners, so the courts will be backed-up for years as angry lovers use post-cogs as proof in their divorce case.

Mass incarceration because plea-deals are moot, every cold-case is solved, and everyone has broken the law at least once in their life

No need for plea-deals anymore. Call your post-cog and find out exactly what happened. Make sure to record it for the jury to get the maximum possible sentence

Dude acting suspicious? Call a post-cog! Don't like the guy hanging out on the corner? Call a Post-Cog! Want your rival out of the way? Call a Post-Cog!

Chaos in the streets as all agencies get hacked at the same time

Almost all records are only stored digitally, which thanks to the post-cog hack is no longer trusted (see #1).

Millions of prisoners have their sentences change and will be released today. Every person with any savings has been cleaned out by post-cogs, and no one accepts electronic or paper money anymore because of rampant post-cog thievery. We're back to trading in ounces of gold.

Rioting and looting start as people realize they have no money, but need necessities like bread and water.

Finally nuclear holocaust to stop the post-cogs

Finally, people will begin to realize post-cogs must be stopped at all cost. Several countries have stock-piled nuclear weapons, and still use pass-codes (see #1). A few post-cogs find the nuclear launch codes and poof - no more post-cogs, along with the rest of humanity.

  • $\begingroup$ Why would you store anything digitally if everyone is a post cog? $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 30, 2021 at 23:21
  • $\begingroup$ @trioxidane - exactly, you wouldn’t. Any record stored that way wouldn’t be trusted $\endgroup$ May 1, 2021 at 0:07
  • $\begingroup$ 2FA. my bank account is safe. $\endgroup$
    – ths
    May 1, 2021 at 12:01
  • $\begingroup$ what"s the point of committing these crimes, everyone will know who did it. theft in particular becomes a non-existent crime. People break the law but few people break serious laws, so you will probably see a reduction in laws regarding less serious crime. In the real world important data is backed up with hard copies so you will see a regression to pre-electronic transactions. the economy still worked without computers. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 1, 2021 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ Nuclear launch codes aren't a pincode that you enter to fire a nuke. They're for authorizing the order to launch. In addition to the fact they expire and new ones are generated every day, one would still need to have physical access to launch site to turn the key/press the button. Also, 2FA appears to be a strong counterpoint as it requires a knowledge of the present rather than the past, especially the kind of 2FA codes that get re-generated every 30 seconds or so. $\endgroup$
    – JANXOL
    May 1, 2021 at 15:33

Let's reduce this to absurdity.

If everyone had this power to see everything in the past, there would be no reason for memory. Everything that ever happened could be 'seen', not 'recalled'. No reason to clutter up the mind with 'data storage'.

If there is no reason for memory, there is no reason for learning. The individual would have access to everything, every analysis, every event, every data point, every piece of information, every analysis. The individual would not need to 'learn' anything, since all knowledge would be instantly available.

Since every individual has this ability, there would be no need for intelligence. Someone with more or less 'intelligence' would have no advantage.

Since no individual would have 'intelligence', no individual would have a personality any different from anyone else. No one would have any unique qualities.

Since all people are the same, have the same knowledge, the same intelligence, access to the same information, what is left is nothing but a collective hive mind. All individuals are fungible. You can replace any individual with any other individual.

And there would certainly be absolutely no resemblance, no likeness, no similarity to the world we live in. Humans as we now know them would not exist.

So something may have this ability, but it would not be human.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    May 4, 2021 at 15:08

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