Thursday, January 30, 2014

Twilight: Making sense of Alice's power

So, no story here, just a very simple: what the hell is the text telling us?

This is difficult because the text is first person and people lie to Bella.

For example Edward is all about how Alice is fallible when he first tells Bella about her powers but it will be a very important plot point in Book 2 that Edward thinks Alice is infallible, which Alice will deny because it's not exactly the best idea to get on the Grand Poobah of evil's "I want you on my team" list, but also because it's not true.  It's another important plot point in book 2 that Alice has utter blind spots.

Things she can't see at all.

When Alice first tells Bella about her powers she doesn't exactly lie, but she does undersell.  She sort of pulls an, "Always in motion the future is," commenting that the future depends on peoples decisions so if someone changes their decisions it can change everything.

Later on we'll learn that, while that's true, Alice can see the various possible futures that result from the undecided decisions.  She doesn't have to wait for someone to make up their mind to see the future, it's just that before they do make up their minds there are multiple possible futures for her to see and she doesn't know which one will come to pass.

Now Alice not letting on about this the first time might be because that wasn't working right for her at the time.  Not at all.

There are basically four things that can potentially mess up Alice's ability to see the future:
  1. Edward: I don't know that the text ever gets into this but he can read her mind, and then choose not to do the things she sees him doing.  Of course this would have to be instantaneous, if he made the decision based on reading her mind six weeks before the event he changes then she'd have six weeks worth of warning, "Hey, feedback made it so there is a future previously unforeseen."

    Until someone comes up with a better theory it has entered my head canon that the problem at the birthday party in New Moon was a result of Edward doing just this when there was just one drop of blood.  (His actions made it so there was a lot more blood and only then do we see everything going to shit.)
  2. Werewolves.  Or shape-shifters if you prefer.  Alice cannot see them at all.  The arguments for why are sort of crap.*  This means that any action they take part in Alice cannot see.  The more werewolves are involved in the world, the less powerful Alice becomes.

    Not only can Alice not see them, she can't see people affected by them until touching base with those people again.  (Bella had gone invisible to her after a werewolf saved her until she found out Bella was in fact alive.)
  3. Vampire-human hybrids.  Again, can't see them at all.  Again, the arguments for why are sort of crap.*  We don't see enough of them, since they appear at the end, to really get a feel for whether this is the same sort of blindspot as werewolves.
  4. James.  Alice's life before becoming a vampire was traumatic.  Her turning into a vampire was traumatic.  Finding out that James was coming for her is what caused her to be turned into a vampire (it was the only way that she even might survive.)  James murdered the only person who was ever nice to her.  All of Alice's memories before becoming a vampire were repressed, James being a part of that.

    When he comes she's off her game.  She sees him coming, but falls short on the where and when.  (She doesn't see that he and his companions will meet them at Vampire Baseball.)  She can't see what he's going to do well at all and her visions of the future come in muddled and unclear.

    Where other times she's able to prepare for multiple possible futures (created by yet to be decided decision point), with James she's blind until the future is almost present, specifically until he's made up his mind and even then her visions are vague and hard to interpret.

    There's no stated reason for this difference, and there's a decent chance that at the time she was supposed to be muddled and unclear all the time, but a simple way to reconcile this with the rest of the text is that James is a fuzzy spot because James is traumatic for her.  She can't focus on him clearly because her mind wants to shy away.
By the end of the series there's werewolves everywhere and more vampire-human hybrids than anyone ever expected and Edward is still Edward, so it's probably fair to say that Alice's power is severely diminished.

One thing I haven't mentioned in all this is focus.  Some visions come to Alice unbidden but she also has controlled future seeing.  She can focus on a person or a thing (or multiple but that apparently spreads her thin) and see that person/thing's future in detail.  Presumably this is when she sees the multiple possible futures that various decisions will lead to thing comes up.  Instead of there being the whole world out there to consider and letting the visions float in on their own, she can focus only on what affects this one person/thing and thus get a better read.

This can also be used to explain what she doesn't see.  If she's most comfortable checking the weather, then rather than bore herself by looking through each member of her family's day and every permutation thereof, she can probably be content to see, "Will there be sunlight?" and count on them being nigh indestructible vampires to keep themselves safe.  She also monitors incoming potential threats.

None of this would, say, alert her to an out of control van spinning toward Bella causing Edward to use super-speed to save her.

I want to close on this note:

Alice's power is strong enough that it can violate causality.  There are things that she only does because she saw that she would be doing them.  Stable time loop.

She looks into the future and sees herself doing something she wouldn't otherwise do.  So she does the thing.  Which is why she saw herself doing it when she looked into the future.


* There are two theories put forward on why Alice has blindspots.

One is that werewolves (briefly) cease to exist when they are transforming and therefore ... stuff.  No, it doesn't make any sense.  For this to be the explanation it would have to mean that vampire-human hybrids had similar existence failures.

The other is that Alice can't see them because she's never been one.  She can see humans because she's been human, she can see vampires because she's been a vampire.  This is silly.  You know what Alice says she can see the future of best?  The weather.  You know what Alice has never been?  The weather.

In the very first book she sees the interior of buildings.  Alice has never been a building.

She's also never been a cliff or an ocean but she can see those when Bella jumps off of one and into the other.  What she can't see is the werewolf who saves her.

I'm going to put forth a third theory right here right now: natural immunity.  If some people can naturally have the ability to turn into bear sized wolves then why the hell not have the natural ability to be unseen by oracular vision?

The closest that anything has come to just going, "Natural immunity," is, "Well... maybe it has something to do with the number of chromosomes."


[Twilight Index]

[Added after the writing but before the posting:]
Vaguely related, I've added three more designs to the Team [someone] shirt series available for purchase here.  Now it includes:
  • Team Alice: (I know this ends...)
  • Team Bella: (I am a rock; I am an island)
  • Team Edward: (Sparkling and Dead / is better than / Alive and Human)
In addition to:
  • Team Leah: (Let's get out of here together)


  1. Perhaps it's just that some creatures don't collapse wave-functions by observing them, and therefore can't be predicted by the same means. (See Greg Egan's Quarantine for where I pinched this from; there's a decent summary on Wikipedia.)

  2. I've always wondered why the cat in the box doesn't count as an observer.

    1. She'll let herself observe herself when she gets out. Right now, she's too busy with a blowtorch. She has no time for being a subject, even for herself.


    2. You have no idea how much I love the fact that someone remembered and mentioned the Physics Version.

      Thank you. Made my day. (And it's early in the morning here, so with day already made I'm off to a good start)