I'm really enjoying the new ABC show "Flashforward" - at this moment I'm one episode behind and just about to catch up. From a Quantum Mechanics point of view this is an interesting point to be: I don't know if that next episode, there in my Tivo DVR, is the best episode yet, or if it's just ok. Until I observe it, it's both, according to QM. Quantum Mechanics is a truly fascinating arm of science: it literally seems to break down to, for all intents and purposes, magic at the basics. We've observed a particle cease to exist in one spot and appear in another without existing in the space inbetween - teleportation. A split particle, whose halves vibrate identically from stimulus on one no matter how far apart they are may prove the key to faster than light (indeed instantaneous) communication over great distances in space - explaining how Captain Kirk and all those admirals could hold a conversation without delays in it light years apart.
The premise of Flashforward is that everyone on Earth simultaneously has a vision on what they'll be doing for 2 minutes and 17 seconds at the exact same time six months into the future. A fascinating idea. Some people see themselves in new jobs, which they go out and apply for after their visions. Others see unhappy changes in their lives that they hope won't actually unfold. Still others see nothing at all, leading them to believe they'll be dead in six months time. What's interesting, though, is that while many of them see themselves in a position that is created by the flashforward - like the FBI agent Mark Benford who literally sees himself investigating the cause of the flashforward, using clues seen in the future to guide his investigation in the present - none sees what is the most obvious thing that will occur at that moment: a pause, like midnight on New Year's Eve, as we reach the moment we have seen, feared, and anticipated for the last six months. One flashforward overhears a newsman on TV describing a senator's scandal - in fact, wouldn't he be saying "Here it is, we've reached the moment that changed the world when the global community saw it six months ago!"???
Of course, a vision of the future that merely reveals itself to
be aware of having been seen in the past (whew!) does not make for good TV. Rather than getting an immutable view of the future, the world in Flashforward seems to have been placed in a six month long Schrodinger's box - but given the view of one possible outcome. It's already clear on the show that's not the only possible future, as Agent Al Gough commited suicide to avoid his future vision of a world in which he accidentally killed the mother of two young boys. Despite having seen a future for himself, he now undoubtably will not fulfill it. Both states - alive and dead - were possible outcomes of the six month long box.
If you're not familiar with Schrodinger's Cat, Wikipedia can help you out here. Animal Man - one of the better, most underused characters in the DC Universe (for reasons I'll hope fully explain here one day) once described the thought experiment using a pizza, a hot pepper package in the box being either broken - making the pizza too spicy to eat - or whole, leaving the pizza edible. I only mention this because I really liked Animal Man, and I hung this comic on the wall for a long time.
Just as an aside, The X-Files once dealt with the question of future knowledge in a differentway. In the episode "Clyde Bruckman's final repose," Peter Boyle as Clyde warned Mulder that he would find himself in the dark kitchen of a hotel, chasing someone, only to be jumped and choked from behind. Mulder, finding himself in a dark kitchen and suddenly
realizing this is the vision described to him, whirls around with gun in hand to get the drop on his assailant - only to be set upon by the assailant, in the shadows that were directly in front of him, now choking him from behind. Mulder's vision was not a box with two possible outcomes, it was truly an immutable future, and any twist and turn he made to avoid it only brought him closer to it.
Poor Schrodinger's cat. Or not. As long as you don't open the box, it's okay to feel fifty percent sorry for him.