Would a seer have to learn how to operate a machine (say, a smartphone as a trivial example) if she can just observe herself operating it in the future? Would this make tutorials, courses, user manuals, etc. obsolete? Would technologies intended for precognitive people then be designed to facilitate learning by observation/imitation?

(And coming to think of it: Are modern smartphone apps designed for precognitive people?)

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    $\begingroup$ "Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future." - Yoda. It entirely depends on your precognition: if it's a hazy thing more omen and intuition than science, it doesn't really help as a training manual. If it's a crystal clear vision, sure - but now you've got temporal loops. $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Dec 8 '16 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ Seer looks into the future. Sees vision of self flailing helplessly at control knobs. Everything is on fire. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Dec 8 '16 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ This is an example of a bootstrap paradox. If the seer has no clue how to operate a machine, how is there a future in which the seer is using the machine correctly? $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Dec 8 '16 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ @RobWatts I'd assume she went to school sometimes between now and the future. But if structured learning is deemed obsolete, then there'd be no schools around the area. So how is she going to watch herself operating anything in the future since her future-self won't know how to do it either because there wasn't any school around teaching her how to do it because structured learning is obsolete and deemed unnecessary? $\endgroup$ – Juliette Evans Dec 8 '16 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ @JulietteEvans I wasn't aware that precognition could get creepy...I mean, standards of decency/political correctness might be different amongst seers of divine mystical auras and such...after you watch the entire fate of humanity unfold in countless paralell universes, watching someone blowing their nose in private might seem less significant. Idk, it sure did with me! Lololol! $\endgroup$ – Thom Blair III Dec 8 '16 at 20:14

You are proposing that a seer gaze into the future, and using her mystic talents, view the actions necessary to accomplish a particular task with a complex tool?

We have that. It's called "video tutorials on Youtube." So far, they have not made learning obsolete.

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    $\begingroup$ YouTube tutorials... uplifting education/learning by demonstrating what the alternative looks like. $\endgroup$ – HopelessN00b Dec 8 '16 at 22:16

Avoid Temporal Loops & Paradoxes by Cognizing Someone Else

In order to avoid paradoxes and all manner of temporal problems, she can just cognize someone else using the gadget. A particularly good choice might be someone teaching a class on the gadget.


Even if temporal loops and chicken/egg paradoxes aren't a factor, I think there are still many other important factors. For example:

  • The precog might see herself turning a knob on a gadget, but does that cognition merely give her visual information only, or does it also contain her future thoughts as she is turning the knob? Simple visual information may not be sufficient to teach her all she needs to know for all possible uses of the gadget--her cognition might need to also contain her conscious mind's thoughts, as well as any subconscious/reflexive/body-memory information (such as how to ride a bicycle)

  • There are different styles of learning and some people do better with some styles than with others. For example, visual learning (learning by watching), auditory learning, manual learning (learning by doing). So, if the precognition does not contain the type of data she uses to learn best, she might not learn as well. For example, if she needs to hear things described in order to learn best, but her precogs only contain visual data, she might need more help.

  • Cognition can include data from the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. Both of these levels of consciousness can be cognizing incoming data from the five physical senses as well as mental processing of this information and the resulting responses. So, a certain person's gift of precognition might be limited in some ways, such as sight only (essentially precognitive clairvoyance) or precognitive clairaudience, or combinations of any of these things. Someone with master-level precognition would theoretically have conscious access to all types of information desired, while newer precogs might only have some partially developed skill.

  • Another frequent theme/issue with precognition is how voluntary it is--often the precog does not have conscious control of perception, and so it's more of a gift, whereas someone who is more masterful can control the ability more or less, potentially all the way up to omniscience.

  • Another theme often is some degree of discomfort or disorientation associated with the precog events. These kinds of negatives might make learning solely by precognition undesirable.


Watching a task be performed,and actually successfully doing the task yourself are two very different things.Even going into a situation with an understanding of the mechanics involved can still be difficult.I don't believe learning could ever be rendered obsolete for a precog. Even after learning something and doing it many times,it may still be necessary to revisit some aspects of it through use of a manual or other learning material.

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    $\begingroup$ Some additional points for your answer: a neophyte observing some process may not pay attention to the important signs in a process, resulting in their failure to replicate that process. For instance, how tight do you affix a work piece in a lathe? Would you know how much cutting fluid to use? There are time savings to consider when bothering to look at thousands of future cuts vs. consulting an expert. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Dec 9 '16 at 3:19

How is the precog observing herself using a device different from a normal person observing someone else using the device? I can observe someone coding perl, but it wouldn't make me an expert programmer; I'd have to learn from the basics. I'd expect it to be the same for the precog.

  • $\begingroup$ You are right about perl, but that is because of the way perl is designed. You can observe someone using facebook on a smartphone and will - depending on how proficiently the person you are observing uses it - be able to learn everything there is about how to use it. $\endgroup$ – 0range Dec 9 '16 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ The difference between observing someone else and observing yourself in the future is that the former requires a complete chain of imitation / technology diffusion, the latter does not: You would be able to create knowledge - knowledge no one else has - without actual innovative research. I realize that this is a bootstrap paradox as mentioned by RobWatts in the comment to the OP; there are probably different ways to resolve it. $\endgroup$ – 0range Dec 9 '16 at 14:38

No, I doubt very much precognition will ever make structured learning obsolete.

In your example, there are a couple problems - one is that your precognitive will not understand the process just because she sees herself doing it in the future (even perfectly). So, she can twist the knobs and push the buttons, but will have no way of knowing why that produces the result it did, or how to change the process when she got or wanted to get different results. One example is, watching and copying a click-by-click walk-through of, say, how to call person X (on this phone) will let the seer...call person X. On that phone. Not let them call person Y, or Z. Not send a text message to person X. Not receive a call from person X (or Y or Z). Or receive a text message from them. They can't check their voicemail, or return calls, or input contacts. They can't even repeat the same action, a call to person X, with a different brand of phone (buttons in wrong places, or different operating system, etc)

She can eventually learn all these things, by blindly memorizing the sequence of each action and slowly piecing together patterns with logic and extrapolation - which is a slow and inefficient way of learning anything, as compared to learning the reasons underlying the actions that need to be taken, and how and why the parts work together to get the result. Its a lot easier to learn to read a map than to memorize and extrapolate from looking out the window from the passenger seat - and it is too easy to not even try, and let the gps navigate for you, until even a drive you've made weekly for years is impossible without the gps telling you what to do.

The other problem is that precognition is...nonstandard. For example, how easy is it to turn on and off, how difficult is it to show exactly what the precognitive is looking for, how much information can be taken in via precognition, how easy is it to remember it...

So your precognitive would have to be a perfect precognitive, they would have to be able to specifically and reliably call forth the exact sequence of events needed to make the "whatever" work, whenever they needed it to work, they must always call up successes - or else they would perfectly reproduce future failures, they would have to learn it somehow for it to be in their future. They must be getting the information at the right rate to successfully copy it, and the right information to boot - that is, if they call up a vision of a future when they are comfortable enough to speed through the process, or when they use shortcuts that they haven't set up yet (example: pre-programmed contacts), or even use a different method (example: a future device or different app or even an update they don't have yet) they may not be able to successfully follow along and make it work with what they have in front of them.

So to make structured learning obsolete - not just not unnecessary for a specific character, but obsolete... you need perfect control over your precognition, you need everyone ever to be precognitive, and with perfect control over that precognition, and able to learn the information (perfectly) via the methods the precognition can provide (visual images if "visions", extrapolating from specific to general, using logic to work out the gaps between what's shown and what's needed)

So, yeah, I wouldn't call being able to mimic a string of actions from the future "operating" the machine, I would consider it the person getting walked through the (specific) use - even if the person walking them through it is themselves from the future.

And you have a bigger problem... seeing and mimicking a specific series of actions may be enough to, say, use a smartphone - it is nowhere near enough to make one. Not enough to design, or manufacture, or assemble one. Or program it, or design apps for it, or troubleshoot when things go wrong, or fix it when someone messed up at any previous step, or any number of other things. For those kinds of things, you need to understand what it is, how it works, and what it does. Even a vision of the (future) blueprint is useless unless you know what all the markings are, to be able to faithfully reproduce them ("Oh, you needed a value here? I thought it was a smudge!" or else "and what does that abbreviation stand for?") Or maybe person X has a correction or alternative to person Y's vision-ed blueprint, but the vision didn't show corrections, so should it be altered or not? You need to know how to read the blueprint, and which materials to use and how to get them, and how to put it into production, who to talk to, and a host of other things.

In short, you need knowledge. You need to learn things, and teach them. You need people who can work together. You need people to have ideas, develop them, do the underlying research (scientific study results via precognition? ah, NO). And really, the best way to get these things is by some kind of structured learning. Classes, groupwork, projects, innovation, methods of doing things - it might, perhaps, be different from they way education is structured now, just like memorizing is much less important in education now than it was historically because of the easy access to facts via the internet - but it will be structured somehow, because that is the easiest way to make this education standardized, to make sure all the basics are covered, and that people will have the skills they need.

Bonus question - without that there is a genuine question of who runs the world? I mean, if people are just repeating what their visions they will do, if they don't need to learn anything... who regulates that world? Who determines allocation of resources? Who decides what the visions teach them - some people are better at some tasks, or have different abilities, so who decides who goes to which jobs (and which jobs are prioritized), who regulates the industries or the markets, or checks for environmental and safety hazards, or makes long-term decisions... who fails, for heaven's sake, when they have to know they will - but what world is this of no one tries?

Are you picturing a silent world, where everyone is running on some hive-mind - or actually a pre-planned future-vision-dictated-world, but there's no practical difference, is there - everyone just knows where they need to be, what they need to do, because precognition told them so? where people just walk into jobs they never trained for (or even applied for, because the visions say who will succeed therefore who bothers to apply) and start working, repeating sequences of actions that they don't understand towards ends they don't recognize? Do people act out whole sequences of unalterable, meaningless events, or do they just skip it because everyone already knows, because everyone can just precognition the events and conversations and the results? Meetings where everyone has already precognition-ed the information, mouthing apologies when everyone already precognition-ed the explanation?

Yeah, the only way precognition replaces (structured) learning is by replacing cognition. You don't need to learn, if you don't need to think - just obey the visions. Obey. Obey


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