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I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being -- forgive me -- rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.
Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter

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 self-deluded Ted Baxter or a 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 certain Aesops 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.

Examples of Not So Omniscient After All include:


Comics

  • 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.

Film

 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.
  • 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?

Literature

 "Excuse me, are we talking about the same A.E. Pessimal? Little man, very clean shoes?"

  • 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.
  • 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 Lord of the Rings, Sauron see everything that goes on in Mordor. Frodo and company have to get through Mordor without Sauron noticing it. Gandalf manages 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. Gandalf and Aragorn just gave him something big to completely occupy his attention.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • In the latest book of A Song of Ice and Fire Melisandre's chapter reveals how much of her confident prophesying is in fact her interpretation of rather vague visions, something she's much more frank about when dealing with Jon than with Stannis.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.
  • 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.

Tabletop Games

  • 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.

Video Games

 Kain: Is there a crack in your omniscience after all, Moebius?

  • Blaz Blue 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.

Web Comics

  • In Kid Radd, The Seer, who else? has one of these moments when he takes over Crystal's body, taking away his omniscience and causing him to miss two vital things that let Radd win: the Lucky Penny and the health power-up inside Bogey (or perhaps just Bogey's presence inside Chimera). Doubles as a Villainous Breakdown.
  • Doc Scratch in Homestuck is functionally omniscient. He still has gaps in his knowledge. He does not like being reminded about that.
  • Sarda in Eight Bit Theater is shown to be completely omniscient until Red Mage finds one place he can't get into - his a-hole. That is, where the Light Warriors end up when Red Mage puts them between two portable holes (the a-hole and the b-hole) and drops one into the other.

Western Animation

  • People trust the Avatar to be the worlds intelligent, skillful, omniscient and pretty much perfect savior of this world. To bad Aang's just a nutty kid who was trapped in a fucking 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.
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