Not So Omniscient After All
"I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being — forgive me — rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger."
"A trap!" exclaimed Warlock in
Resurrection #2, "And I led us into it like a bumbling neophyte!" Hey, excuse me, but didn't you claim to be God last year?
— Marvel Year In Review 1993
A character that knows everything
, except that he actually doesn't know everything
He believes himself to be omniscient, other people trust him to be omniscient, or both. In either case, the results can be catastrophic.
Maybe he's just a wannabe, a Small Name, Big Ego
or Know-Nothing Know-It-All
who talked his way into some undeserved credibility. Or maybe he used to be omniscient, but lost his touch - a dethroned Chessmaster
who is no longer on top of the Gambit Pileup
, a God who surrendered part of his divinity to be able to live among mortals as one of them, or something.
This is the standard way to dethrone an Omniscient Hero
so he becomes more interesting, and a common way for protagonists to get to have a chance against something that looked like an undefeatable Invincible Villain
This turning point is likely to be a retroactive Moral Event Horizon
, as it turns out that all the sacrifices were for nothing. If the character has any insight, then such a event is likely to be a My God, What Have I Done? Heel Realization
Not So Omniscient After All is a great way to Deconstruct
and Moral Dilemmas
: Make them fall apart by showing how complex the world can be and how hard it is to overview a situation without overlooking a lot of stuff that can prove relevant later on.
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Anime and Manga
- In Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan is an omniscient Non-Linear Character. During the storyline, something happens that make him lose his omniscience while still being a Non-Linear Character.
- In being so, he seems to relish the uncertainty.
- Hercules from Incredible Hercules temporarily became omniscient during the Chaos War crossover. Despite this he was tricked repeatedly and had to be guided to victory by others. Omniscience is useless if one either ignores it or does not bother to use it.
- Invoked in Lucifer: For one brief moment Destiny had his omniscience foiled, according to Lucifer. As Lucifer destroys a page in the book of destiny to Destiny's total surprise (in fact it's the first time he shows any emotion). However the ash falls to spell "Yggdrasil" both answering Lucifer's previous question leaving him with no choice about what to do next, as Destiny had predicted.
- In a different story Destiny gets rid of his book after the interference of people Immune to Fate render it useless.
- Invoked in Oh, God!:
Jerry: "...I thought you could tell the future."
God: "Absolutely I can tell the future — the minute it becomes the past."
- In Mortal Kombat, Liu Kang asks Raiden (god of lightning) in the end if he knew all along what would happen.
Raiden: I had no clue. You humans are so unpredictable.
- Although it's hard to tell whether he's serious or sarcastic; he follows the comment with his trademark laugh.
- In Star Wars, both the Jedi and the Sith seem to love gushing about their precognitive powers. However, their actual accuracy is not significantly better than the rest of population.
- The Jedi totally failed to foresee the Clone Wars, or their own near-extinction under Order 66.
- Return of the Jedi: "Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design..." Palpatine says to the guy whom he earlier didn't expect to be there. Oh, and did Palpatine foresee his army's defeat at the hands of Ewoks? How about himself being tossed down the Bottomless Pit stupidly placed in his throne room? Part of this is due to lack of planning on the part of the Rebels. They never counted on the Ewoks, who never planned on attacking the Empire themselves. Vader also never planned on killing Palpatine, it was only done in the heat of the moment. Unplanned events have a habit of catching Force users by surprise. And when it comes to planned events, the fewer people who are in on the plan the easier it is to hide it from Force users. Hence the success of Palpatine's Clone Wars gambit, culminating in Order 66: no one other than Palpatine himself know the full plan, and only a handful of others even knew there was a plan. And since Palpatine was quite adept at keeping his mind closed off to the Jedi...
- Vetinari of Discworld fame definitely fits the bill, if rarely. See Thud!! and his reaction to what A.E. Pessimal did during the riot.
- In Flatland, the character "Spot" knows exactly nothing and sees exactly nothing. The result is that Spot has nothing to compare with, and thus considers itself omniscient. The main character ("A Square", a character who is two-dimensional both metaphorically and literally) sees right through Spot's delusion, but is unable to make Spot understand that its knowledge is limited.
- "Spot" is only ever referred to as the king of Pointland.
- Many characters in the Harry Potter universe hold the view that Dumbledore always knows what's going on and what he's doing. Dumbledore himself, however, is perfectly aware that he can make mistakes.
- In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron sees everything that goes on in Mordor. Frodo and company have to get through Mordor without Sauron noticing it. Gandalf and Aragorn manage to get Sauron's attention focused elsewhere, temporarily disabling his omniscience in Mordor. It helps that Sauron's omniscience was always limited — he can see anywhere, so long as another power isn't blocking him, but he's not aware of everything all the time and has to actively look for something in order to find it.
There were some personality issues that further limited Sauron's omniscience. Sauron was a Big Picture Megalomaniac — he concentrated on epic scales, on the fates of nations and sweep of civilizations. He didn't even know the Hobbit race existed until his goons blundered across Gollum and he blurted it out under torture. It was also a matter of Evil Cannot Comprehend Good — he was never looking for them to bring the Ring into Mordor, because he could not conceive of the idea that they would destroy it rather than use it against him. He also believed the destruction of the Ring impossible, because it was so consuming that no-one who had it would intentionally destroy it. He was right: Frodo was unable to destroy it after all, and the Ring was eventually destroyed by Gollum accidentally falling into the Crack of Doom whilst holding it. This was something he could never have predicted.
- In Mistborn, the Lord Ruler thought himself to be completely invincible with absolute knowledge of everything in his empire due to his Inquisitors and Kandra spies. He also thought that since he knew every metal (he didn't) and every other character was ignorant of the true number of metals he would be unbeatable. He did not expect to be defeated by Vin wielding Malantium, who was able to figure out his true identity and his weakness; his reliance on the metalminds he wore.
- Grand Admiral Thrawn does this a couple of times, one of which eventually proves fatal, enough for the reader to suspend his disbelief over Thrawn's deductive omniscience most of the time.
- The Dresden Files introduced the power of intellectus. The ability to know the answer to a question just by asking it without going through the usual channels of learning it. At first confused with omniscience. The difference is with omniscience one knows everything all the time. Intellectus only lets you know something when you ask the question. Both limited in you have to ask the right questions and so far the only beings who have it have it in a limited form.
- Intellectus also doesn't tell you why. For example, using it to find out how to hurt Harry Dresden will tell you to go after his friends and daughter. It will not tell you that this is because he loves them or that he will respond by grabbing as many weapons as he needs to end you.
- It is also limited to the domain of the entity holding it. For an ancient island containing intellectus, the island will know everything that happens on its lands and shores but not about the region beyond or even a person standing on a dock connected to the land. Angels, ancient gods, demons, and Mothers Summer and Winter likely have a wider range of knowledge.
- There's possibly a brief example in the Belgariad series. The Prophecy normally knows everything except for the outcomes of key meetings between the Child of Light and the Child of Dark. It usually sets things up far in advance, but in the fourth book, when Olban tries to kill Garion the Prophecy warns Garion at the last second, suggesting it didn't see this one coming.
- There's a definite example in the prequels. Belgarath and the Alorn kings' theft of the Orb of Aldur from under the god Torak's nose was intended to be a foregone conclusion, as it wasn't an EVENT (the Prophecy of Light won the last one)...but neither Prophecy anticipated that Torak would refuse the Dark Prophecy's orders by attempting to reclaim the orb personally. After a moment of panic and hasty negotiation, both prophecies agree to allow the orb to be used against him.
- In Safehold Merlin Athrawes has access to uber-high tech spying devices which give him near-omniscient spying capability. Especially considering that his enemies are all using renaissance-level tech. However he can't keep up with everything at once, and things occasionally slip past him; resulting in much guilt on his part over things that happened that he feels he should have been able to prevent.
- Also a critical problem for him is that he can't send his gear too close to the Church's headquarters for fear of tripping still functioning high-tech sensors. This results in critical knowledge gaps if the plans being developed are kept sufficiently quiet: the terrorist attacks such as those in the fifth book, How Firm a Foundation, are an example in that Merlin had no idea they were coming.
Live Action TV
- In LOST, Ben starts out as The Omniscient but gradually slips down from the top of the Gambit Pileup.
- Evil versions occur in Stargate SG-1 with the Goa'uld and the Replicators. The best (and therefore most recurring) way to convince the Goa'uld's or Ori's followers that their gods are false gods? Show they're not omniscient, usually by figuring out a way to kill the former or kill the Priors of the latter.
- The beginning of Teal'c's defection (or just the end of his faith in the Goa'uld) came when he decided to disobey orders, allowing a prisoner to escape, then lied to his "God" about having carried out the order to kill. Apophis believes him and you can see the look in Teal'c's eyes confirm everything he had feared.
- An episode involves android duplicates of SG-1 getting captured by Cronus. Robot!Daniel is about to be executed by a staff weapon blast to the face. The blast results in his head flying off, showing everyone that he's not human. The look of utter shock on Cronus's face convinces a large number of the locals that he cannot possible be a god.
- The Doctor can often be perceived as omniscient; he's one of the most intelligent beings in all of the universe, with an excellent knowledge of culture, science, history and language, and manipulative enough to initiate many a plan. To many, he appears like a God figure, with titles such as 'The Lonely Angel' and 'Oncoming Storm'. But he can make mistakes, and he makes them hard.
- In the episode "Midnight," he is constantly expected by the human characters to know exactly what is going on, but as he insistently tells him time and time again, the entity they encounter is something he literally knows nothing about.
- The episode "The Satan Pit" demonstrates that even some of the Doctor's assumptions about the fundamental nature of the universe can be entirely wrong.
- One would think that, seeing as he knows the vast majority of Earth history and a not insignificant amount of the history about the other planets he chooses to visit, he wouldn't be surprised by as many of the events that happen to him as he inevitably is.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Enabran Tain. Even in retirement The Spymaster stays on top of everything, right down to knowing when people have made impulsive, last minute decisions to visit him and what their favourite drinks are. In the end, he comes out of retirement to head a joined Obsidian Order/Tal Shiar task force intent on destroying the Dominion long before. It does not end well. Unfortunately, he didn't realise his second-in-command (the Tal Shiar leader) was actually a disguised Founder who had instigated the entire task force with the intention of wiping out both organisations as a prelude to invasion. When Tain realises what's happened, it's too late, and he observes to Garak that he's clearly lost his touch because he'd never have been deceived prior to his retirement.
- The Fatal Flaw of Exalted's Sidereal faction is to get into large groups, predict the future, and then make horrible, horrible decisions. One time they did this, right before the Usurpation, led to the temporary annihilation of the Solars, mass deaths among the Terrestrials, and genocide against the Solar's allied races, in order to establish a lesser but safer and more stable response to the Golden Age. So many beings in Exalted have Screw Destiny as a passive power, though, that this eventually led to the deaths of nine tenths of the human population of Creation.
- The Maidens of Destiny (most particularly Jupiter, Maiden of Secrets) are, between the five of them, virtually omniscient, able to use their powers (and authority in the Celestial Bureaucracy) to know virtually anything. They do have certain limits; there are some things that are not in any of their domains, their fellow Incarnae tend to escape their vision (the Unconquered Sun is big enough that prophecy kind of warps around him, and Luna is extremely unpredictable), and there are some things (like the creation of the Exalted) that they just don't see coming (although it's vague if this is because the source of their visions doesn't know it either, or if it simply withholds the information from them).
- In Devil Survivor your constant screwage of destiny causes the future predicting Laplace mail (named for the near omniscient Laplace demon) to start barfing out errors and eventually shut down.
- Even the slight changes you perform early in the game cause the text to glitch out a bit more with each new mail.
- Moebius spends most of the Legacy of Kain series being an excellent Chess Master who manipulates everyone else into doing exactly what he wants, but he slips up towards the end of Defiance when he gloats over Kain's death, only to realise Kain is alive and standing right behind him:
Moebius: It is a small price to pay for Kain's demise.
Kain: You're a bit premature...
Kain: Is there a crack in your omniscience after all, Moebius?
- BlazBlue had the supercomputer Takamagahara which was omniscient by virtue of being able to observe every single variation in the time-space continuum at once. However, when Big Bad Hazama / Terumi pitted Ragna The Bloodedge and Kusanagi: Sword of the Godslayer against each other, all three minds got so occupied with observing the possibilities of the battle that it lost track of one possibility for 1/470000th of a second. That lapse in attention, it turns out, was all Hazama/Terumi needed to infiltrate Takamagahara and expose it to a magical supervirus, thus putting it out of commission.
- In Dragonfable:
Vaal: How can I be omniscient when people do not tell me what they are doing?!
- In Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, people who rely on Fateweavers to know how things turn out are always caught off guard when the Fateless One gets involved.
- Messiah mentions that the Earth government has discovered ways to keep some secrets unknown even to God; hence why God dispatches Bob the angel to Earth, to gather intel.
- A good half of the plot in Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath, the expansion to Tiberium Wars, is juggling threads behind the scenes so that the eponymous Magnificent Bastard can pull off his usual schtick in the main storyline. From Rio to Sarajevo to Egypt, Kane is always one step ahead, but only through considerable effort on behalf of his top-secret special forces. And Alexa Kovacs's scheming and betrayal of Killian and Kane himself comes as an outright shock even to the master manipulator.
- People trust the Avatar to be the world's intelligent, skillful, omniscient and pretty much perfect savior. Too bad Aang's just a kid who was trapped in an iceberg for a hundred. freaking. years.
- It's not much better in the sequel series The Legend of Korra. The Avatar this time around is a teenage girl who was raised in an isolated compound for most of her life and thus has no idea how to handle real life matters like politics, romance, laws, or even buying food. She's skilled at bending (with the exception of Airbending) but not much else. The people of Republic City still trust her to be the perfect hero that will solve all of their problems. The look into the past explaining the Avatar's origins reveals that the Avatar was never a perfect savior. Both halves of the original Avatar, the spirit and the human, were well intentioned but flawed people who caused almost as many problems as they solved. It's also made clear that every Avatar was just an ordinary person trying their best to bring peace to the world and just as prone to making mistakes as anyone else.
- From the Futurama episode "Godfellas":
Bender: So do you know I'm going to do something before I do it?
God Entity: Yes.
Bender: What if I do something different?
God Entity: Then I don't know that.