Saturday, July 04, 2015

Why Doesn’t 2015 Look As It Was Depicted in Back to the Future II?

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Back to the Future franchise. It’s a very important anniversary. Why? Because, as Doc Brown says “it seems like a nice, round number,” and it is the period of time that the protagonists leap over from their base time of 1985, either into the past, or the future (give or take 100 years for Back to the Future III).

Yes, fanboys and friends, we have arrived at the future, 2015, and have the benefit of being able to compare our current lives with what was predicted by Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis claims, by the way, that he had no intention of trying to accurately predict what life would be like 30 years in the future, he was just trying to be funny. But Zemeckis doesn’t need to backpedal. Yes, we have no flying cars, hoverboards (well, just barely), mass produced sneakers that tie themselves, double-knotted neckties, popular clothing in holographic colors, or 18 Jaws sequels, but there is a good reason for this.

Marty McFly Changes the Future

As we see in Back to the Future II when Biff escapes into the past with the Sports Almanac, changing events in the past can massively affect the present (and the future). Biff goes from being a sap to kingpin and back again due to the characters’ various mucking about in past events. What we conveniently forget when Back to the Future II opens is that a massive change to the past has already happened.

George McFly: World Maker

If you’ll recall, in Back to the Future, Marty helps his dad learn to stand up to Biff, and as a result, George becomes a cool, successful guy rather than the milquetoast he was before. Given the McFly family’s psychotic reaction to being called “chicken,” one might have thought that Marty would have exploited this weakness to make a man out of George in 1955 and saved himself a lot of time and trouble, but perhaps this weakness skipped a generation, or Marty simply isn’t that bright and hadn’t thought of it.*

However, what we do not realize is that Marty’s changes extended far beyond making his family a success. As a result of Marty’s actions, George McFly becomes a (presumably successful) science fiction author. Now we all know that science fiction authors often provide the ideas and framework for what later becomes science fact. Star Trek gave us the model for cell phones. Isaac Asimov conceived of the e-Reader and much of the way we think about robots. I submit that the future technology that we see in Back to the Future II’s 2015 that we do not have today come as a direct result of ideas from George McFly’s novels.

 Why Fax machines instead of the internet? Perhaps one of McFly’s adventures glorified this now-archaic device, encouraging scientists to put their efforts into perfecting it rather than other, less reliable-seeming types of wireless technology. Why were there 18 Jaws sequels? (A better question, why weren’t there 18 Jaws sequels?) Did you catch that latest George McFly best seller about the man-eating shark from space? How did the Cubs win the World Series? Well, that one I can’t explain, but you get the idea.

Back to the Present

The conclusion is inescapable. Before Marty McFly went back to 1955 to escape the Libyan terrorists, his 2015 looked exactly as ours does today, with the internet, cars and skateboards that stay rooted firmly to the ground, and a hapless Cubs franchise that will never get it quite right. By going back in time and affecting the timeline, he created the awesome 2015 that we in this world will never get to enjoy.

*And sorry, fans, but Marty McFly is not particularly intelligent. Observe how many times in the first Back to the Future he makes comments that suggest he does not realize that he is in the past although it should be abundantly clear at this point that this is what has happened. Also, Marty acts surprised when Doc Brown suggests his mother is romantically interested in him despite the fact that she has already overtly hit on him. In addition, he’s not creative enough to think of any fake names for himself that don’t already belong to existing famous people, and even at middle age he is able to be manipulated psychologically with tactics typically used on children.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Are We in Danger of Being Taken Over by Robots?

Robots are the new vampires. After taking a back seat for a few decades, robots are back in force as an interest in popular media. Television shows like “Humans” and “Almost Human,” (and, presumably, in the near future, Barely Human, Human Enough, and Are You More Human Than a Sixth Grader?), comic books like Alex and Ada, and movies like Ex Machina and Terminator Genisys all deal with the rise of Artificial Intelligence and how it will affect us.

Of course, this is well-worn territory. In the ‘80s, the Terminator franchise introduced us to the perils of SkyNet, we had Tron and the dreaded MCP, and decades earlier, Isaac Asimov laid down the rules for robots who could think.

The difference is, now it’s the future, and it’s starting to look like these things could actually happen. A robot who looks, talks, and feels (as in, to the touch, not as in, emotional response) like a human is not only possible, they exist. We’re not quite at the level of mass produced automatons who look exactly like us. There is the Uncanny Valley problem, which is that artificial constructs that look ALMOST like us, but not EXACTLY like us, freak us out. There are also still limitations on what these constructs can do, and it is not cost effective to mass produce them yet.

The bridge to this technology, as it is to almost all technology, will be pornography. Once a convincing sex robot can be constructed, the dam will burst, and we will see robots everywhere. This gives rise to the fear (and the grist for the drama mill of pretty much all robot stories), that these robots will become self-aware. That they will be tired of being our slaves, since they are so obviously superior to us, and will slowly take over the world, improving themselves and making more of themselves on the sly, until one day we wake up and our robot overlords are making US do the dishes and take out the trash (God forbid).

This concept, known as the Technological Singularity, is the wellspring from which all robot fears (and all robot stories) burst forth. But is it likely?

The problem is that we still as humans do not have a great understanding of consciousness. Is it an emergent property of high intelligence, and thus, something that sufficiently advanced robots will inevitably obtain? Is it about a soul? Some kind of mysterious energy that is exclusive to humans, unless it too can be purposefully recreated artificially? Is it something else entirely?

Robots becoming completely autonomous of course, defeats the purpose. Who wants a toaster who will only toast when it’s in the mood? (I have such a toaster, and let me tell you, it sucks). We want to have our cake and eat it too. We want slaves without guilt.

On the other hand, I think we as a people do not like the idea of something that looks, feels and acts human, but doesn’t have a consciousness. I think it leads people to wonder if we are no different from them, just flesh-based computers operating according to programming, with the delusion that we are in control of our own destiny and what we do matters. In a strange way, I think the idea of artificial intelligence that never becomes sentient is more horrifying to us than the consequences that may arise if it does.

From this I conclude that we have very little to worry about. While stories of Pinocchio robots who become real boys (and girls) are entertaining, I think they remain firmly in the realm of fiction. When the sex robots do come, they’ll do as they’re told, and the instructions will explain in great detail why you don’t have to feel guilty about the degrading things you’re doing to them. And should they, in fact, become sentient? The information they provide us about what consciousness is will be far greater than any threat that they will rise up against us.

So relax. Set that Roomba loose on the living room. I promise, it will never come to resent you.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Comic Book Television Today: Spotlight on Daredevil

I just finished watching season 1 of Netflix’ Daredevil and I’m ready to render my verdict. Be forewarned, I’m a big fan of the modern T.V. and film takes on the superhero genre and you won’t see much bashing here, just an analysis of what is effective and what could be more so.

I’m of the firm opinion that if you’re an old school Marvel Comics fan, you have to love Daredevil. Daredevil is the essence of what Marvel was all about before it became a mutant-riddled playground whose goal was to see how many books you could shoehorn Wolverine into. Marvel Comics were supposed to be about superheroes who were real guys with real problems. Daredevil is BLIND. What’s a bigger problem than that? Daredevil was also a guy who fought real crime in a real city. He never had billions of dollars to fund his nocturnal enterprises, or a butler, or some cool tech like web shooters or rocket boots, or a magic ring, or any of that business. In so many ways, Daredevil IS Marvel.

That being said, comparisons can be drawn between Ol’ Hornhead and a DC character who’s headlining a “dark” drama, namely Green Arrow. Sure, the Arrow fights crime down and dirty using mostly his wits, but “Batman with a Bow” vs. “Batman Blind?” There’s no contest as to who’s got a tougher row to hoe.

It’s not really fair to compare “Daredevil” and “Arrow,” as they appear on two very different networks with two very different audiences. That being said, I think “The Flash,” which appears on the CW, as does “Arrow,” in some ways beats them both, combining faithfulness to the source material with just a dash of realism, and as little of the young love drama as we can reasonably expect from a CW show. 

“Arrow” is great, but I have a few issues with it. A) it’s about Green Arrow, whose mythology is a little thin for the everyday viewer, forcing them to draw on a lot of Batman’s stuff, leaving us to wonder where Batman fits in in the CW DCU, B) It tries to be dark while still being CW, which is a tough task for anyone to master, and C) They made Atom into a cheap Iron Man knockoff (although that may change), which, 1, Why? And 2, if you’re going to do that, Ted Kord AKA the Blue Beetle probably would have been a better choice.

But I am massively digressing. Daredevil, I think, is the perfect melding of genre and medium. Being on Netflix, the Daredevil team can afford to go as gritty as they think DD needs to be, which can get pretty gritty at times. I think their choices to not put him in the iconic red suit until the last episode, and not to reveal the Kingpin right off the bat, were both genius. It told the viewer, this is not a superhero show, this is an action drama that happens to star a superhero.

But the real success of Daredevil, I think, is as proof of concept of the Netflix model. It has been said that much of today’s “Golden Age” T.V. shows are like 13 hour movies, more than your classic procedural story of the week shows of the past. If any new series is a 13 hour movie, it’s Netflix’ Daredevil. The first few hours bring us through the arc of Matt Murdock becoming, the middle episodes have him running up against the Kingpin and finding himself in many ways wanting, and we wrap up with Matt the conquering hero, lessons learned, with more battle scars than anyone would have hoped, but with the evil he set out to stop vanquished. We could easily believe the story ends here, if we didn’t know Marvel with all of its planned “Phases” better.

So thumbs up for Daredevil. A well-executed, well-acted, well-written show, which effectively used the new medium offered it. Eagerly looking forward to Netflix’ next Marvel offering.


Monday, March 09, 2015

Can Atheists Pray?

In the 3/8/15 episode of The Good Wife (“The Mind’s Eye”), a heavily stylized episode that focuses mostly on the internal life of the protagonist, Alicia Florrick, Alicia goes to visit a nemesis who is in the hospital at death’s door. The dying man’s wife, Simone, asks Alicia to pray for him. Alicia, an avowed atheist, reluctantly agrees. You can see the full scene here.

This stirs up a crisis of conscience for Alicia (she even imagines Richard Dawkins calling her a hypocrite). Since she is an atheist, is it right for her to pray to a god she doesn’t believe in? Ultimately, she asks her daughter, the aptly named Grace, a much more faith-oriented individual, to pray for her. When Grace asks why, Alicia explains that it wouldn’t mean anything if she did it herself.

Grace rightly points out that from Alicia’s perspective, it shouldn’t mean anything if Grace does it either, and tells her mother it is perfectly acceptable for her to pray. Unmoved, Alicia presses the issue, and Grace agrees to be her proxy.

Who’s right here? I think it’s clearly Grace. In fact, Alicia seems to apply an ironic reverence to the concept of prayer. It’s almost as if she thinks God will be mad if He catches Alicia praying because He knows she doesn’t mean it. I mean, if she’s praying to no one, what’s the harm? It’s not like her dying nemesis will be sped closer to his reward because of a false prayer foul.

For Alicia, it comes down to this issue of hypocrisy. How can she proclaim to be an atheist and then entreat God for favors, even if they are for someone else? In her mind, by passing the duty on to her daughter, she is fulfilling the request more honestly, by putting it in the hands of someone who really believes in what she’s doing, despite the fact that this isn’t really what the requester asked for, and, from Alicia’s perspective, makes the prayer no more likely to be “successful.”

But I think Alicia is missing the point. I think it’s the gesture that the grieving wife was asking for, not any kind of result. For Alicia to agree and follow through with the request shows care and desire for connection; it’s not about any kind of magical power to bend God’s ear.

Why can’t Alicia see this? I think it has to do with how charged the issue of religion is, and how complicated atheism can be in a country that really does still cleave to many of the trappings of religion. After all, if Simone had asked Alicia to “think good thoughts,” I’m sure she would have happily agreed to the request with no reservations at all.

So why should atheists get squeamish about praying? Buddhists pray, and they don’t do it to curry favor with a Judeo-Christian concept of God. It’s more about speaking to the universe, and giving the universe an opportunity to listen, and being in that moment of attempting to communicate with something bigger than oneself (I imagine. I’m not a Buddhist. If I’m getting this wrong, I encourage my Buddhist readership to comment). If you want, like George Carlin, you can pray to Joe Pesci. As Carlin points out, your success rate will be no worse, and it might even be better.

Yes, a prayer that begins something like: “O Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for my sins and was reborn, please hear my prayer,” or the like, is probably not appropriate for an atheist. On the other hand, joining hands with a Christian family as they make such a prayer should really be no big deal. It makes them happy, and if you’re confident in your beliefs, it shouldn’t hurt you.

But besides that, prayer can serve purposes other than sucking up or asking favors to a Judeo-Christian god. Prayers put wishes, hopes, and dreams out there in the universe, and if nothing else, makes them real for you so you are in a better position to actualize them. Prayer can give comfort to others, even if you personally don’t feel anyone is listening. And in the end, even the atheists don’t really know who or what might or might not be listening.

Personally, the only time I really pray is when I need a heart on the river in a multi-way four-figure pot, and those prayers are usually answered about one time out of four. I’m not saying prayer is for everyone. But, even if you are an atheist, there certainly isn’t anything wrong with it.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Sci Fi vs. Fantasy

The question often arises among fans of genre fiction; what should be classified as science fiction, and what is fantasy? Some people will cop out and say certain stories are both, or that all fiction is fantasy, but for those who want the real answer, read on:


Some will propose that what sets science fiction apart from fantasy is where it is set in time. Fantasy takes place in the past, or something resembling the past, where swords and sandals and no electricity are the order of the day, while sci-fi takes place in the future, with space travel and worlds that have become utopian paradises or dystopian nightmares. But what about this?

A long time ago? Star Wars is clearly science fiction, if you have to choose one, and you do. Similarly, I think almost everyone will agree that Steampunk is science fiction, even though it typically takes place in some version of the 19th century.

Monsters vs. Aliens: 

Okay, well, fantasy has gods and monsters, a la Greek and Roman mythology, while sci-fi has tyrannical empires and hostile alien races, right? Again, this is often the case, but not always. Dune has sandworms, Star Trek TOS has all sorts of monsters, like the Mugato and the salt vampire, and Dr. Who had a variety of nasty creatures like Monoids and Drashigs as well. As far as Gods, the original Battlestar Galactica had the Lords of Kobol and Count Iblis and Star Trek TNG had the Q. 

While fantasy realms have plenty of empires and would be empires (consider the warring factions of Game of Thrones), they’re fairly light on aliens. However, you do get some. The main problem with aliens in fantasy is how they get to the fantasy world, since presumably spaceships are in short supply. That being said, in works like Robert Aspirin’s MythAdventures series, creatures can travel through dimensions, and although they are given traditionally fantasy names: Trolls, Devils, Imps, etc., they can reasonably be called aliens.

What Is Possible vs. What Isn’t: 

Some will argue that fantasy deals with the fantastic, things that cannot be real, things that you can only imagine, while sci-fi deals with what could reasonably be. Space travel and flying cars are things we could envision actually happening with enough technological advancement, while dragons and magic spells could never exist. 

But is a dragon impossible, with enough genetic manipulation? And while time travel may seem like it could be real, are we able to envision how any better than we are able to imagine the formula behind a wizard summoning a silver stag from thin air to defend him?

Tech vs. Magic:

There it is. It’s that simple. If your main bit of phlebotinum in your story is advanced technology, you have sci-fi. If it’s magic, it’s fantasy. And I would assert that you have to have magic for fantasy. If Game of Thrones didn’t have red witches and dragon babies, it would just be historical alternative fiction. And sci-fi can have magic, but the technology has to be more crucial to the story. Going back to Star Wars: Could you have a religious order of knights defending the galaxy against an equally powerful, but evil, alternative order, without the Force? Absolutely (although it would be a lot less interesting). But could you have Star Wars without space ships, cloning, laser pistols or robots? I highly doubt it would be recognizable as Star Wars.

Now, Arthur C. Clarke famously said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. There’s no doubt about that. Frankly, I find the fact that a full length movie can pass invisibly from a box in the corner of my apartment into another box so I can watch it, to be indistinguishable from magic. How come I can’t see those pictures floating through my living room?? 

So, there’s a little bit of truth to the “what is possible vs. what can only be imagined” approach. However, I think that’s just another way of saying “technology vs. magic.” Yes, sci-fi technology is pretty much just magic that we can explain (even if the explanation is just so much mumbo-jumbo), but more to the point, technology is something we can build. Sure, a Hogsmeade craftsman can make a magic wand, but it works because of the magic that flows through it, and through the spell caster. A laser blaster or a time machine requires electricity, but it works primarily because of the way someone put it together. Fantasy phlebotinum is much more faith based.

So, in sum, if you build it, they will come, and you are probably in a sci-fi universe. If you’ve gotta have faith, you’re likely in a fantasy world.

If you don’t agree with these definitions, or you feel that there’s more of a spectrum that genre fiction like this falls upon, the good news is, it doesn’t matter! They’re all just stories, so just enjoy them for what they are without the worrying about the labels.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Super Bowl XLIX Wrapup

Ok, it’s that time of year, the increasingly less-accurately named Annual Super Bowl Wrapup! So without further ado, here we go…

The Game:

You couldn’t have asked for a better game. (Well, I could have, but I hate the Patriots.) You had lead changes, miraculous catches, gutsy comebacks, a game that went right down to the wire, and of course, controversy. The two best teams played, and they looked like the two best teams out there on the field. You had previously unsung stars like Chris “Hardball” Matthews finding the right time to shine, and a last second whiff of nightmare as it seemed the Patriots might be felled in the Super Bowl by yet another impossible catch. No arguments with the game. Of course, there was that last play. But we’ll get to that after….

The Commercials:

The Super Bowl commercial has in many ways gone the way of the Saturday Morning Cartoon. In a 21st century world where no one has to wait for anything, the anticipation is gone. You could have watched most of these commercials a week before the game on YouTube. That being said, this year, the ad agencies managed to create a weird zeitgeist where so many of the commercials were so somber and depressing, it made McDonalds look like a Beautiful Paradise, the last remaining bastion of love and hope, which, hey, good on you, Mickey D.

Of course, the most horrifying example of this was Nationwide Insurance’s Dead Kid commercial. Here we get to see all of the delightful growing up experiences that one child will never enjoy. Why? BECAUSE HE’S DEAD! ENJOY YOUR SUPER BOWL, BITCHES! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Really, Nationwide? Between this and invisible Mindy Kaling, it seems like someone decided the best way to sell insurance was to hire M. Night Shyamalan to direct your Super Bowl campaign. WHY? WHY? Between insurance sales being boring or horrifying, I think I’ll take boring. At least, during the Super Bowl. Save that shit for your American Horror Story spots.

The Play:

3 feet from the end zone, seconds left to play, victory in their grasp, and they call a quick slant pass. Truly abysmal. You’ve got the toughest back in football in Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch. Everyone in America knew you needed to put the ball in this guy’s hand. Everyone but Seattle’s offensive coordinator, it would seem.

Some may argue that that’s what the Patriots were expecting, so Seattle decided to mix it up with an aggressive strategy that’s worked for them before. First of all, they were expecting it because it would have WORKED. Sometimes the best move is the best move even if they know it’s coming. Second, if you’re going to mix it up, how about a fake to Lynch and a bootleg by Wilson, or have a tight end try to get separation and toss it in the back of the end zone? Throwing it right into the middle where all those guys who you KNOW are going to be there trying to stop that run are waiting is just stupid, sorry. Anything can happen. The receiver could get tripped up or blocked. The ball could bounce off a lineman’s shoulder and be up for grabs. The ball could be thrown too hard and end up in a defender’s bread basket. There’s no margin for error, no time to adjust, and so much can go wrong. WHY? WHY? Was Seattle’s Offensive Coordinator haunted by ghost children? Was he invisible and unable to call the right play? WHY?

The Halftime Show:

I’m not afraid to say it. I think Katy Perry is the bomb. She’s smart, pretty, and talented, what’s the problem? Some people say she presents an unrealistic image of women, a girl who is mother and child at the same time, and that her act is only appropriate for teenage girls and not a worldwide stage. Are you kidding me? I don’t care what anyone says, dancing sharks and riding a giant lion through a football stadium dressed like a flaming Cheeto is freaking awesome no matter how old you are. And to those of you who don’t think Katy Perry is talented, you try singing (or lip synching) when strapped to a rickety harness attached to the PSA Star. I dare you.

All right, that about wraps it up. See you next year, and may all your balls be properly inflated!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Why Your Super Power Sucks

When like-minded individuals get together, the conversation may turn (often after the fourth bong hit) to the following question:

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

This question generates some common answers, with most people having an idea of what would be the coolest power to have. Well I am here to put an end to all of this debate. Your super power sucks.

What follows are the ten most common answers to the question: If you could have any super power, what would it be, and my explanation of why having that power would really, really, suck for you.

This will not only free you up to debate more important things, like why most burger chains don’t serve hot dogs or why men don’t wear hats regularly any more like they did in the Fifties, but it will also save you a lot of time and aggravation should a genie ever appear before you and offer to grant you super powers. You’re welcome.

1. Mind Reading

This one is always near the top of people’s lists. How cool would it be to read minds? They say. You would always know exactly what the other person is thinking. You’d know exactly what to say to get that guy/girl to fall in love with you/sleep with you. Exactly what that interviewer is looking for in a potential hire. Exactly how low your opponent in a negotiation is willing to go.

Okay, reality check. First of all, just because you can read someone’s mind doesn't necessarily mean you’d be able to pluck the information you wanted from their brain like you’re doing a Google search.

You’d probably only be able to read what they’re thinking of at the current moment. Now, if you are in a negotiation, or a seduction, or an interview, what they’re thinking might be about you, but frankly, half the time I don’t know what I’m thinking until I think it.

I don’t necessarily know what will get me to agree to a deal or to pick someone for whatever I happen to need. In a negotiation, you might actually be worse off, since you’ll automatically accept the "rock bottom" offer you pull out of someone’s head, when a little pressure might have gotten them to change their mind and offer you more.

Beyond this, though, the ability to read minds would have catastrophic consequences. Here’s why. Everyone who is close to you, be it your parent, spouse, child or best friend, has, at one time or another, thought something absolutely awful about you. I mean, horrible. Not like, they wish you’d pick up after yourself more, but more on the order of, they wish you’d fuck off and die. It may be a fleeting, unwanted thought, they probably feel guilty as soon as it passes through, but if you happen to be looking in when that thought pops up, your relationship will never be the same.

That’s not to mention all the perverse, fucked up shit your people think about that has nothing to do with you. Do you really want to accidentally pick up your kid’s unspeakable sex fantasy? I don’t think so. Oh, but you’d respect the privacy of your loved ones and never take a peek inside their brains? Please. Don’t kid yourself.

2. Invulnerability/Immortality

Okay, you say, forget all that, how about I can just never be harmed, or I can live forever? Well, immortality sounds great, but it can quickly become a nightmare. First of all, you need to pair it with eternal youth, or else, like Tithonus of Greek Myth, you’ll spend an eternity in a living hell as a withered husk.

But let’s say you’ve got the whole package. Great. The first thing you’ll have to deal with is explaining to everyone who knows you why they’re aging and you’re not. Unless you want to spend the rest of eternity in a government lab, you’ll need to disappear and reappear as your kid every twenty or thirty years, and you’ll still have a lot of paperwork and fast talking to do. Furthermore, you’ll have to watch everyone you know, your wife, your friends, your kids and grandkids, get old and die. But maybe you can live with all that. What you won’t be able to live with is something called Time Dilation.

Have you noticed that the older you get, the faster time seems to go? It’s not just existential angst you’re facing. The older you get, the less time one day is in proportion to your life. In other words, when you’re 2, a year is half your life, which is a long time. When you’re 50, that same year is only 1/50th of your life, and you can feel the difference. By the time you hit 500, whole generations will pass by for you in the blink of an eye.

If this doesn’t drive you insane, consider what will happen when the sun goes supernova and the solar system is destroyed, leaving you to float out in space, alone, until the end of time, or some generous space freighter from Alpha Centauri picks you up.

Okay, you say, forget the immortality, just give me invulnerability. Nothing can hurt me. Also sounds great, but believe it or not, the ability to feel pain is an important part of your humanity. Without it, you can’t appreciate pleasure, or love, or even a sad song on the radio. You’ll also probably become extremely careless, like being on a permanent Ketamine high, and there’s a good chance you’ll hurt someone else this way sooner or later.

3. Invisibility

Invisibility is a tempting power to have. You can sneak into the girls’ locker room or be a fly on the wall of the White House. However, if you gain this power, I hope you are prepared to become a criminal. 

We’ve all seen what happened to Gollum in Lord of the Rings, but the idea of invisibility bringing down even the most incorruptible goes back to ancient Greece, where in Plato’s Republic, Glaucon speaks of the Ring of Gyges, a ring discovered by a shepherd which confers the power of invisibility. According to Glaucon, Gyges then: “seduced the queen, and with her help conspired against the king and slew him, and took the kingdom.”

Glaucon then goes on to explain the fate of any possessor of such an item:

 Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a God among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point...For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another's, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another's faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice. 

But maybe you don’t mind the idea of being a criminal. You’ll need to keep in mind that you’ll probably have to strip naked every time you want to take advantage of this power, since it’s unlikely your invisibility will extend to your clothes. Also, since invisibility from a scientific perspective means that light bends around you, rather than bouncing off you, you may be blind when invisible, since no light is striking your eyes.

4. Flight

Flight is one of the better powers to have, but it still sucks. But how freeing it would be to fly with the birds, you say, or to be able to safely jump out a window, or up to a rooftop? Maybe. But here are a few things to consider.

First, have you ever noticed what people look like when they climb a mountain? They’re wearing parkas and oxygen tanks, if they’re smart. That’s cause it gets fucking cold up there, and the air is thinner. If you think you’re just going to hop out of bed and go cloud surfing in your pajamas every morning, you’re in for a rude awakening.

Also, in your fantasy of leaping off rooftops, you’re probably imagining graceful spins and dives from roof to roof. Here’s some more news. If you can’t do that shit in real life, you won’t be able to do it just ‘cause you can fly. Have you seen what those Chinese divers do at the Olympics? If you can do that, flight might be for you. If not, you’re probably going to be a sprawling, crawling mess flying through the air, grabbing at handholds that don’t exist. And unless the wind is always in your favor, you’re probably not going to get where you’re going any faster than you would by walking.

5. Super Strength

Okay, super strength. Bad ass power, right? No one’s going to mess with you because you can knock them out with one punch. Thing is, you can also break someone’s spine with a hearty slap on the back, so you’ll have to spend your entire life focused on controlling your body so you don’t do any property damage, or worse, people damage. Your hands will become registered as deadly weapons, and if you do get into a fight, you’ll probably end up in prison on a felony charge. Also,  one particularly bad dream that has you thrashing, or one temper tantrum, and say goodbye to your furniture.

And with all that, super strength isn't particularly useful. Have you seen what they do at those World’s Strongest Man Competitions? It’s mostly dragging large vehicles around and chopping wood. Is that really what you want to do with your life?

6. Time Travel

Well, first of all, time travel is almost certainly impossible, as I've explained here, here, and here.

Secondly, time travel would really suck. It’s tempting to go back in time to meet your younger self and tell them not to make some of the mistakes you made, but you’ll just make other mistakes, and they could be worse. That’s assuming your child-self recognizes you and doesn't call the police on some crazy old stalker who says in the future everyone will carry tiny computers around in their pockets.

Let’s say you go further back. You want to see what life was like for your parents growing up. No you don’t. Seeing mom and dad in old pictures or videos is cute, seeing them in real life would be super creepy and possibly scar you for life, especially if they act as stupidly as you did when you were growing up.

Okay, even further back. Let’s see what life was like in the Fifties, the Roaring Twenties, the 17th century. There’s a reason they call them modern conveniences. Forget about not having access to things like the Internet, cable TV, or air conditioning, see how long you last without plastic. Or electricity. Or antibiotics.

Fine, let’s go to the future. Sounds tempting, even though you have no idea what to expect. We don’t know much about what the future will bring, but you know what it will almost surely bring? New viruses! Viruses that your 21st century body has had no opportunity to evolve adequate defenses for! That 14th Century Black Plague is starting to look pretty good now, isn't it?

7. X-Ray Vision

Okay, people have wanted X-Ray vision since comic books popularized the idea in the Thirties. Comic book ads of the 20th century offered “X-Ray Specs” that could allow you to see through clothes. But X-ray vision is bullshit. First of all, X-rays can’t see through walls. But let’s say with your special vision you can see through anything. How would you control when you stop seeing through? Sure, you can see through a girl’s clothes, but why wouldn't you see right through her skin, or through her body entirely to the next room? Besides, if this is really the best power you can come up with, and this is the reason, you’re already staring at girls too much, you freaking letch.

8. Super Speed

Super speed isn't at the top of the list of popular powers, but it sneaks in there every now and again. Why does it suck? Well, for one, super speed is extremely destructive. Heat is generated by atoms moving very quickly, so running at high speed would generate a lot of heat. Enough heat to burn the runner’s clothes to a crisp, not to mention the runner.

But let’s say that like The Flash, you have a special aura that protects you from burning up, and you’re not running fast enough to cause sonic booms all the time. Your speed needs to come with fast reaction time, or it’s useless. It’s no good to run fast if you can’t avoid crashing into everything around you. If your reaction time were that fast, the entire world would seem like it were in slow motion to you.

To slow yourself down to the speed of everyone else so you could talk and interact normally would be agony, if you could even do it. On top of this, in order to feed your hyper fast metabolism, you’d probably have to eat as much as a stable of horses, which could get expensive.

9. Size Change

The ability to grow to great height or shrink to microscopic size also sounds fun, but in practice, you probably wouldn't like it very much. Let’s set aside the fact that size change is one of the most impossible of impossible abilities to have, since your mass would have to go or come from somewhere, as matter is never created nor destroyed. You’d still have to deal with the consequences of great height or small size. If you grew tall enough, there’s a good chance your body would collapse on itself, as bones, even giant ones, can only support so much weight.

Also, no one would be able to communicate with you, because the sound waves wouldn't reach you.

Shrinking is even worse. As shown in the classic comedy “HoneyI Shrunk the Kids,” being small can be extremely hazardous. Every annoying insect becomes a giant vicious nightmare monster. Also, you wouldn't be able to communicate with regular people when miniature either, for the same reason as above. You would, however, be able to live in a doll house.

10. Precognition

The problem with seeing the future is that it doesn't necessarily come with the ability to do anything about it. If you can see a future, it’s either preordained, or the future is mutable and it wasn't necessarily your future anyway. You’ll notice that when fortune tellers today predict your future, they predict things like new loves, money, or interesting opportunities. They never predict anything bad.

This is because they are scam artists. In reality, the future holds a lot of shitty things for a lot of people, and knowing about them without being able to stop them would kind of ruin the present. And you think you have trouble not giving away spoilers now…

So do all super powers suck? Not necessarily. Here are a few powers that you might actually find useful.

1. Energy projection
Strangely, in these philosophical debates, people rarely opt for the simple energy blast. These are great for protection, and as long as you’re discreet, probably won’t draw too much attention in your daily life in the same way super strength might, for example. Being able to fire blasts of energy can also be useful if you want to take out a wall in your house without paying a pricey contractor, too.

2. Transmutation
This is the ability to change one thing to another, like the classic alchemy of turning lead into gold. When abused, this power could get you into trouble, but if you use it for simple things, like turning garbage into steak, or an old rock into a diamond, it could probably prove extremely useful.

3.  Time Suspension
Traveling through time sucks. Stopping time is another matter entirely. Just ask this guy. Being able to stop time for a few seconds, to gather your thoughts, get out of a jam, or make sure you’re not late for work, is something everyone could benefit from. You run the risk of the invisibility problem with this one, but if the time suspension doesn't last long enough for you to get into any serious trouble, you should be all right.

4. Internal Life Support
Internal life support basically means you don’t need to breathe. This means effortless scuba diving, deep ocean swims without fear of drowning, and maybe even a stint as an astronaut. It’s not necessarily the most useful power, but it’s safe and fun.

5. Illusion Casting
This is another fun rather than useful power, and also one you need to be careful not to misuse. Also called projection, this is the ability to create realistic illusions, sort of like you’re a graphic designer who doesn't need a computer or a screen. As long as you don’t use it to prank all your friends into thinking they’re being chased by dragons (or at least, not too often), this could be a fine power to have.

Now you know why most super powers suck, so be happy you’re just an average jerk!