December 12, 2007

The problems with dreaming

In doing some semi-regular blog maintanence I noticed that I had a blog post or two that got started but never quite made into anything substantive. Today's lost find dates back to a conversation that I had maybe a year or so ago. I remember with whom I was having the conversation - a regular commenter and blogger in her own right - but I can't for the life of me remember when or where the conversation was had.

I'm a comic book geek - in case you hadn't noticed - and I'm enough of a dreamer/dork that I've had the standard "which super power would I most want to have" conversation a dozen times in my head. It was always flight. I wanted to fly, to be able to simply think about leaving ground - no giant motions, no arm swing, no dorky arm-crooked pose - and to float or zoom into the ether above. To be able to look down on the Grand Canyon and to draft across the meadows of the midwest.

But now, as an adult and science geek, I have a different take on things.

Flying by just thinking about it isn't possible. The physics of instantaneous anti-gravity is pretty darn preposterous and crosses that one off the list. Plus flying - while cool - doesn't solve any of the problems that I have in the world.

Next option as a kid was invisibility. It'd be cool to be able to wander in and out at will, to slip unknown into the corridors or power and see what really goes on there - in the places where we suspect things are constantly happening just out of our earshot, through doors that are always shut to us.

But if you were invisible, light rays couldn't go through your eye's lense, bend toward through your iris and back onto the cornea to be received by your optic nerve and drifted brainward. You'd be blind. Plus no matter how invisible you are, your footsteps would still be heard. You'd still need to sit somewhere and it'd be awkward to be the invisible guy in the seat about to be occupied. There's the issue with people hearing your breathing, with your clothes not being invisible, with the need for invisible puffy coats lest you freeze your invisible jublies off sneaking around. So invisiblity's out.

Super strength never really appealed to me because there's always somebody stronger. And brute force rarely solves problems in what I've seen of the world, after all.

So there's telepathy - but does that mean just receiving or sending, too? And if it's sending, and you're the only one with the power, you're still gonna have to talk to people because they can't send back. If it's receiving, are you receiving at random - just absorbed in the constant static of the thoughts around you. Would things sound like total stream of consciousness, babbling brooks left and right - sun! - bright! - sad... - sex - hot - baseball - Barry Bonds - big head - Todd and the Monsters - that song I can't remember the title of or would thoughts come across as coherent messages as they always seem to in the funny pages?

And if they do come across as coherent thoughts, wouldn't that mean that there would be no secrets? That nobody could surprise you with a gift or a party or a kiss on the cheek? Would you pick up people's dreams? Would you know everybody's deepest, darkest secrets or just their superficial ones? I'm kind of okay being lied to from time to time - I know the shirt doesn't match the pants, and I'm okay with you saying that they kinda work. Thanks...

So how about super speed? Super speed - a la the Flash - requires super intake of calories, something I'm not thrilled with. If you've got to run from here to New York City in under two seconds in order to save the whatever from the whomever happens to have kidnapped the other whomever, then you're gonna need some serious runnin' fuel, and stopping by every McDonalds to empty their coffers is gonna be nearly impossible - wind resistance, the wake caused, the sonic boom, and the issue of just stealing their food kinda sucks, too.

Then there's the issue with friction. Either you have friction - in which case you're gonna catch fire from the air resistance, or you have no friction in which case you're never gonna get started or be able to slow down.

The one that as an adult I would totally choose if I could get it to work would be the ability to stop time. My most frequent wish is to have just a little more time - to catch a nap, to get that other thing done, to do that thing I'd forgotten to even start, to get a hand under the plate before it hit the ground - that time stopping would be perfect.

Except that stopping time is going to require a massive action of stopping molecules moving - a tough enough task. But I don't want all the molecules to stop moving because I still want to be able to breathe, so I need air molecules to still push their way into my lungs. And I don't want to freeze to death, so I need molecules to keep moving so there's temperature. Plus, if I want to get from point A to point B, I'm either going to have to walk or run or drive. If it's walking or running, I'm back to the need to have food made in what seems to the chefs as being an instant. I need to have burgers cooked in the blink of an eye - and I don't want to cook all of them myself, so I need to cooks to still move.

And it's not like I can stop time to catch a movie - one of my wishes is to have more time to see more movies - because somebody has to thread the projector and run the film - which I can't do and enjoy if I'm trying to watch the movie myself. And I'd want the power to let me stop time for everybody except the person/people I wanted to spend time with. Spooning in beside somebody who's frozen and immobile isn't exactly my idea of romance, and propping a friend up to fake playing minigolf isn't as fun as it was in Weekend at Bernies.

There's the blasting of some form of energy from my body - eye beams, lasers, plasma blasts - but the law of conservation of energy means I'm again stuck with the need to hork down massive amounts of fuel, something that I'm gonna just to rob a bank or something to pay for. Not a good option.

Metamorpho could change his body into any element/compound in the blink of an eye - from water vapor to caustic hydrochloric acid gas to gold to fire-fighting foam - in instants. That kind of power transfer - changing elements into other elements - again puts us back into the realm of needing to wat way too much for viaibility. You'd be eating too often to do anythign useful with your power.

How 'bout telekinesis. That'd be pretty cool, admittedly, and I'm not entirely sure that I have a valid scientific argument against it, so telekenesis might be the choice. We have magnets, and they affect objects from distances. You wouldn't have to be significantly stronger than you already are, just able to take your normal force and apply it over a distance.

Plus it'd be fun at parties.

Does anybody have a scientific argument against telekinesis?


Katydid said...

As the film Amelie says, "These are hard times for dreamers."

Big Head Todd and the Monsters song...Bittersweet, Broken-Hearted Savior?

achilles3 said...

wow...i love how science can just make everything unfun in a few paragraphs.


calencoriel said...

It was a Saturday and we were in St. Louis at the NSTA conference. We were eating that crappy lunch on the second floor of the convention center after we were both finished with our presentations for the day - clearly, my superpower is memory of minutia.

So, yes, instead of critiquing our work, this was what we discussed. Sadly, achilles3, we both thoroughly enjoyed I know I did, and I'm guessing from the fact that this post occurred nearly a year after the discussion occurred, so did chemguy - the conversation and shooting holes through each power we said we'd like to possess.

achilles3 said...

don't get me wrong it was a fun read but now i just don't wanna be anything but me anymore and that's just a bummer. I am super but dang!

andrew said...

@calen: I think you actually mentioned this before, because it sounds very very familiar.

@chemguy: I suppose telekinesis could work, but so far as I know, it would have to act through one of the four fundamental forces.

Strong: too short range
Weak: not really relevant
Gravity: too weak, or would require manipulation of large masses.

which leaves electromagnetic, which would presumably require large amounts of electric current to work on magnetism (like MRI machine), or some sort of radiation pressure which is ruled out by the same argument that rules out laser-beams-from-eyes.

The Mentat-assassins from the Dune series were always pretty awesome.


PHSChemGuy said...

Science is never meant to sadden the world, Lakes.

In honors, there's a question that I ask the students early in the year (to paraphrase it here): Do you prefer to know how things work or to stay ignorant and just enjoy the beauty?

My answer might be an upcoming blog post because I have so much to say there.

I really did enjoy the discussion of thinking of which powers I'd like to have - and stopping time is the power that, as an adult, I'd easily most want to have - and then seeing if it was even possible. Few, sadly, were.

Andrew - I think you're right in your analysis. It's clearly not strong, weak, or gravity, and electromagnetic seems wrong.

bdffgs - I don't think I can define this and leave the wv blog as school-appropriate.

joey said...

ive always been partial to being able to breathe underwater. I know, super lame, but hey, possible! Just watch Harry Potter 4 and I think they give the best outward-anatomical description of how to pull it off.

I've always had dreams in which I can, and it rocks cause its always like, James Bond type stuff.

which is you know, awesome.