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Multiple-Choice Future

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"No one can see the future. I can see options and trajectories. Time is like a river that splits into creeks or pools into lakes or careens down waterfalls. I have the map, and I steer the ship."

Determinism is a philosophical category of theories that brings up the ideas of free will and its relationship with fate and destiny, and comes in a variety of flavors. Hard-Determinism suggests that there is no free will, that all actions and choices made were predestined and preprogrammed with no hope of escaping. Causality is king on the throne of Hard-Determinism and his word is set in stone. In-contrast, Soft-Determinism suggests that there is a balance between causality and free will, that there are many different outcomes and one's own choices that decide which outcome becomes true. There is also Indeterminism, but who cares about that, right?

While it is impossible to divine the future in any meaningful way in Real Life, Seers in fiction usually see the future for real and are forced to choose between a multitude of prophecies. When the future is a multiple choice question with no wrong answers, one Self-Fulfilling Prophecy means a near-infinite supply of Self-Defeating Prophecies. In some cases, this can lead to Alternate Timelines, with various forms of media showing that each probable future (often caused by crucial decisions/different happenstances) has happened and live parallel with one another.

Supertrope to Either/Or Prophecy, where there are exactly two possibilities. Subtrope of Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate. Sounds similar but has nothing to do with Multiple-Choice Past. For more meta-examples, see Multiple Endings. See also Temporal Mutability when time travel is a factor.


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    Anime & Manga 

  • In Spy X Family, this turns out to be the case for Bond's future-seeing powers, with a person's actions or decisions leading to his visions changing. And since he's a dog, he obviously can't just inform people of things. And while the telepathic Anya can certainly help in matters because she can see his visions, she herself is a young child and trying to keep her own powers a secret, leading to her actions being the things that could alter the original vision.

    Comic Books 
  • Armageddon 2001: Waverider experiences numerous different versions of 2001 in his attempts to determine Monarch's true identity. For Superman and Batman, who have multiple books covering their stories, they seem to have two or three multiple choice futures apiece.
  • Generation Zero: Telic has the ability to see the flow of time, giving her a limited ability to see multiple futures.
  • Squadron Supreme: In Supreme Power, Arcanna has a limited ability to see possible futures and collapse them into a preferred outcome.
  • The Ultimates (2015): Galactus reveals an apparently simplified view of time to the Ultimates, including the sliding timescale (some events have a certain 'weight', so are always only a decade or so behind), and various futures struggle to realise themselves as they become more and more probable, with the 'Old King Thor', 'Maestro', '2099', and Days of Future Past futures among those shown.
  • X-Men: Destiny, a member of the the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, can see the future but makes it clear that what she sees are probabilities, not set-in-stone facts.

  • Brother on Brother, Daughter on Mother: Reshek Taryn, a Time Police officer, describes the overall timestream using the metaphor of a rope, made of strands of probabilistic outcomes. The author explains further in related forum posts that some outcomes are more probable than others (as a way of explaining alternate timelines' tendency towards In Spite of a Nail similarities).
  • Child of the Storm has multiple probabilities, though some are far stronger than others, and the future can be altered - in fact, Doctor Strange, a Time Master, world-class Seer and Magnificent Bastard without equal, makes a habit of this as part of his master plan to stop Thanos. He's also implied to not be the only one who's tried it, with the Norns of Yggdrasil previously having meddled the same way, and it's very strongly hinted that he 'persuaded' them not to.
  • Ignited Spark: Forty years before the events of canon, All for One stole a precognition Quirk from woman that allowed him to see five possible futures, of which only one would become reality. This eventually helped him prepare his survival after the fight on Endor Forest.
  • The Meaning of Harmony: When Sunset is shown all pasts and futures by Destiny/Entropy/the 'dark force', she realizes that everyone is free to choose their own path in life.

    Film — Live-Action 

  • The Asterisk War: This is how Claudia Enfield explains her Seer abilities (granted by her Orga Lux, Pan-Dora) in volume 7. Pan-Dora in essence gives her Mana Meter that allows her to expend accrued points (which accrue at a rate of one second of viewable future time for every three days that she experiences normally) to look an equal number of seconds into the future. This is unreliable, particularly when attacking, because how an opponent responds to her future attacks varies based on what she does. If she tries to preview the results of, for example, five different attacks lasting two seconds each, she consumes ten seconds of viewable time (5 attacks x 2 seconds).
  • In The Carpet People, all wights can see the future and so they assume that Hard-Determinism is real and that their fates are fixed, and do what they've foreseen themselves doing because that's what they've foreseen — except for one, who can see multiple possible futures and knows that it's possible to choose between them.
  • In The Cosmere, some entities have the power to see into the Spiritual Realm, a Place Beyond Time and Space where Connections into the past and future are tangible. The Shards, Pieces of God who exist primarily in the Spiritual Realm and have the Super-Intelligence to process all those Connections, can use that to project potential futures to a greater or lesser degree: it seems to be a matter of incredibly complex, highly interdependent probability distributions rather than a definitive image of the future.
  • The Hand of Thrawn: Luke at one point uses the Force to meditate on the future and try to decide his next move. He perceives nearly infinite possible futures and wonders if this is what Yoda saw while Luke was fixated on his vision of Darth Vader capturing Han and Leia at Cloud City back in The Empire Strikes Back. He ultimately selects the only course of action he saw that didn't appear to lead to complete chaos: leaving the Caamas crisis to Han and Leia and following Mara Jade into the Unknown Regions. The result: First Contact with the Chiss and the Empire of the Hand, recovery of an intact copy of the Caamas Document which allows the actual perpetrators to be punished, and he and Mara having a Relationship Upgrade and deciding to get married.
  • It is strongly implied that there is no set destiny in the Harry Potter universe, with various character's choices and instances on fulfilling prophecies being the catalyst for many of such prophecies in the first place. Dumbledore flat-out states that the only reason Harry Potter became Voldemort's undoing was because he believed in the prophecy that he would be defeated by him so much that his own attempts at curtailing it led to his own undoing. Because of this, Divination is considered an especially fickle skill to master given that the future is constantly in flux, Hermione Granger once describing it as "woolly" and "a lot of guesswork."
  • His Dark Materials: this seems to be how predicting the future works. There is a prophecy surrounding Lyra and her actions, but there are caveats in it that state certain things must happen in order for it to be fulfilled; if they don't, then the prophecy is moot. Another person says when using the alethiometer (a tool many factions use to try to predict events): "Please understand, the alethiometer does not forecast. It says 'if this happens, then the consequences will be...'", showing that there is no absolute future.
  • The Iliad: Achilles' mother knew that he could either live a brief but glorious life as a hero or a long life of I Coulda Been a Contender!. While she tries her best to steer him towards the latter by disguising him as a girl, it doesn't work, and when she sees how easily he takes to the warrior's life she realizes she would rather he be happy rather than miserable for the rest of his days, so she stops trying to keep him safe.
  • In The Night Room, Argus is a computer program designed to predict the futures of high school and college students to allow them the freedom of choice to either pursue the prediction or stridently avoid it.
  • Exploited in Reign of the Seven Spellblades. The Fourth Spellblade, "Angustavia, the thread that crosses the abyss", explores possible short-term futures to find and reach one with the optimal outcome—namely where one has defeated one's opponent against all odds. In volume 1, Oliver uses this technique, acquired from his mother's Ghost Memory, to Literally Disarm Sadist Teacher Darius Grenville in a one-cut duel, a one-in-ten-thousand chance for a first-year student. In volume 10, however, we learn that Oliver's version is subtly different from his mother's original: he doesn't pick the optimal future, but the one where he lives to suffer the most anguish.
  • In The Story of a Mother by Hans Christian Andersen, a mother sacrifices her hair and eyes and allows herself to be pricked by thorns to ask Death to bring her child back. When she finally reaches him, he shows her the two futures that could be her son's: one where he's a happy, beloved citizen, and one where he's a suffering, lonely criminal. Afraid of condemning her son to a life of misery, she lets Death take him.
  • In the Sulien novels, all seers can see multiple possible futures, and have to weigh up which one seems most likely to come true and what they can do to bring it about. In a twist, it's said that what they're actually seeing is the futures of alternate timelines, meaning that the one future no seer will ever see is the one that's actually about to happen to them. Most of the time this makes no practical difference, since they will see futures that are like their real future in every relevant detail, but they can be blindsided if a god intervenes to cause something impossible to happen, since that won't be reflected in any other timeline. (Sulien herself has her life saved by divine intervention early in the series, with the result that seers have no idea what to make of her because she never appears in the futures they see.)
  • Forms the backdrop to Theirs Not to Reason Why. Ia, the protagonist, is an impressively powerful precognitive who grew up tormented by visions of the entire galaxy being wiped out by a Horde of Alien Locusts 300 years in the future. She ultimately sets out to wind her way down the only possible combination of events where the Alien Locusts lose, which involves becoming a war hero instead of a musician like she wanted, while leaving messages for thousands upon thousands of people across the galaxy to nudge them onto the correct paths, too.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Min has the gift of seeing cryptic visions of the future around people. Most of the ambiguous ones are Prophecy Twists that come true in unexpected ways, but on two occasions, she gets viewings with two possible outcomes depending on whether one person is present for another at a crucial time. Perrin takes the warning to heart and saves Rand's life, while Siuan and Gareth do not and are killed soon after they separate.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Andromeda Trance Gemini can see multiple timelines and pick the best one possible. One episode focused on her shows her reviewing different possibilities and rejecting them by pruning one of her plants.
  • Despite being able to see the future and being established as both a Manipulative Bastard and The Chessmaster, Rumpelstiltskin from Once Upon a Time is continually blindsided by various foreign-factors that continue to catch him by surprise, including falling in love with Cora and Belle (and the various hurdles and complications that come from it), meeting Zelena, the prophesied boy that is his undoing being his own grandson, etc. Justified, considering the Seer that granted him his prophetic abilities explained that he sees multiple probable futures and is forced to cherry pick the most likely of them to make any sense of it.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Final Appeal", Ezekiel tells the US Supreme Court that he has seen multiple possible futures during his travels through time.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Discussed in "A Matter of Time" when Captain Picard is arguing with Berlinghoff Rasmussen, who claims to be a Time Traveler from the future (he's actually from the past), and whom Picard is currently trying to convince to give him some clue about the optimal solution for the Problem of the Week.
    Picard: Every choice we make allows us to manipulate the future. Do I ask Adrienne or Suzanne to the spring dance? Do I take my holiday on Corsica or on Risa? A person's life, their future, hinges on each of a thousand choices. Living is making choices. Now you ask me to believe that if I make a choice other than the one found in your history books, then your past will be irrevocably altered. Well, you know, Professor, perhaps I don't give a damn about your past, because your past is my future, and as far as I'm concerned, it hasn't been written yet!

    Multiple Media 
  • BIONICLE has two varieties of Destiny. One unexplained universal force that seemingly governs everything and an artificial version exclusive to the Matoran Universe that's programmed into everyone who lives there and is celebrated by the good guys as the third most important life virtue (the others being Unity and Duty). While it's possible to create diverging alternate timelines that drastically change history (such as the Kingdom, Empire and Melding universes), and there are Masks of Power that let people see or even travel to these timelines, it is generally advised that if someone's duty is to be a hero or protector, they should not stray from that. Doing so either leads to a disaster and their own downfall unless they come to their senses and rejoin the good side, or something will force the intended future to happen anyway. The liquid substance called Energized Protodermis has a power directly tied to both types of Destiny: it either mutates or destroys whatever touches it based on their fate. However, EP has different effects in alternate universes, which shows there is no unified Destiny across the BIONICLE multiverse.

  • In Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues, Finn is granted the power of pre-cognition and is randomly struck with flashes of the future. However, the future is not set in stone, and instead the future that he sees at any given point is merely the most likely outcome if a significant enough change isn't implemented to move away from it. At one point he looks into the future, only to see it dissolve and be replaced with a different one as a result of other character's actions.

    Video Games 
  • In BlazBlue, the world runs on a quantum principle, i.e "multiple worlds" and uncertainty theory where there exist multiple "possibilities" of events and things in the world. Someone with the power of Phenomenon Intervention is able to change something happening with an existing "possibility" for it. Noel, with her "Eye of the Azure", can see through multiple possibilities and "shift" them around (at first unconsciously, later at will), causing the phenomenon called "Continuum Shift".
  • Fate Series: As shown in Fate/Grand Order and Fate/Extella, history naturally "branches" into multiple timelines as it goes, following the different decisions and events in each part of history. However, the world - which is a supernatural, sentient being in this franchise - regularly cut off those branching timelines with something called "Quantum Time-Lock", which occurs every hundred years or so. The branches that are cut are those that strayed too far away from the "trunk of the history tree", i.e the correct history.
  • God of War Ragnarök: The Norns reveal that no prophecy is absolute, but gods only appear to have inflexible fates because of a combination of their own magic enforcing their fate and their own stubborn nature pushing them towards it. The secret to defying prophecy is to defy yourself and act against / change your own nature, which can radically change your destiny to one of many paths.
  • In King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow the Oracle of the Winged Ones invokes this as a subtle hint that there are two major ways to finish the game:
    Fate is not like the cut of a blade, young one, but rather like the myriad of paths formed when a hammer cracks ice...
  • Much like BlazBlue above, Zero Escape runs on the many-world theory — there are countless universes out there, each being created as one of the results of any decision. Once trained, SHIFTers can move through them at will, and this becomes a requirement for reaching the Golden Ending.

  • This is Jonah Yu's superpower in Skin Horse. Having escaped a "Groundhog Day" Loop in which he lived through multiple versions of the same event, he now gets precognative flashes of multiple possible futures. While this is useful, there's often something disconcerting about him cheerfully assuring everyone that the disaster that just happened is the best thing that could have happened, because all the other options were worse.

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • "The Choices" from The Amazing World of Gumball has Nicole recalling how she first met Richard when they were children. While reminiscing, she imagines all the ways her life would be different if she had done different things in the moments leading up to their meeting. Several of the imagined outcomes are her suddenly dying.
  • The Ben 10 franchise establishes that there are countless alternate timelines and potential futures for the characters, and the future is constantly changing based on the events of the present. Each time Ben learns about a potential future, his real future changes.
  • In Danny Phantom, Clockwork himself compares time to a parade, and while the Observants can only see the immediate future based upon present occurring events, he watches the "parade" from above, and can see every course it might or might not take. This makes Danny realize that rather than eliminating him to prevent Dark Danny's existence, Clockwork was helping him to change his future.
  • Kaeloo: There are multiple episodes that show the futures the main four could have, and each one is different because it's based on what the characters are doing in the present. The trope is even lampshaded in Episode 30, where witnessing a Bad Future makes them promise to actively take steps to avoid what caused it.
  • Garnet from Steven Universe is established is having "Future Vision", an ability that allows her to see into many different probable futures. Many of these range from mundane to incredibly improbable (ranging from various comical deaths to chasing away the Ruby Squadron with a game of baseball) and are selected by the choices people involved in such outcomes make. In-contrast, Sapphire's future vision is much more hard-deterministic in nature and can only see one possible outcome, implying that Ruby's passionate and impulsive personality enhances her future vision while fused together as Garnet.
  • In Voltron: Legendary Defender, there are countless realities that are the result of diverging paths at different points in time. It's implied that Slav has the ability to see all these different realities, along with future ones, and is easily overwhelmed by them.


Video Example(s):


The Fourth Spellblade

"Arise". Knowing he doesn't stand a chance against Professor Darius Grenville in a straight fight, Oliver Horn reveals his ace: the Fourth Spellblade, "Angustavia -- the thread that crosses the abyss", which searches through the range of possible short-term futures to find and reach the one future in ten thousand where Oliver evades Darius's cut to his throat and severs his hand.

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