Thursday, December 16, 2010

musings on time and super powers after a long day

Over Thanksgiving, we discussed with our friends if "Going Back In Time" would be a useful super power. Since then, I read Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman, a series of short vignettes about what the world would be like under different laws of time.

An example:

24 April, 1905

In this world, there are two times. There is mechanical time and there is body time. The first is as rigid and metallic as a massive pendulum of iron that swings back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The second squirms and wriggles like a bluefish in a bay. ...

Many are convinced that mechanical time does not exist. ... They wear watches on their wrists, but only as ornaments or as courtesies to those who would give timepieces as gifts. They do not keep clocks in their houss. Instead, they listen to their heartbeats. They feel the rhythms of their moods and desires. Such people eat when they are hungry, go to their jobs at the millinery or the chemist's whenever they wake from their sleep, make love all hours of the day. Such people laugh at the thought of mechanical time. ... They know that time struggles forward with a weight on its back when they are rushing an injured child to the hospital or bearing the gaze of a neighbor wronged. And they know too that time darts across the field of vision when they are eating well with friends. ...

Then there are those who think their bodies don't exist. They live by mechanical time. They rise at seven o'clock in the morning. ... When their stomach growls, they look at their watch to see if it is time to eat. When they begin to lose themselves in a concert, they look at the clock above the stage to see when it will be time to go home.

Anyway. Aside from being a nice alternative to an actual biography of Einstein that I've been reading (er, or letting sit on the bookshelf) for 2 months, this book got me thinking back to the conversation about "Going Back in Time" powers.

I am against having this power. Yes, you could go back in time to relive fun moments or to erase past mistakes. But I think I would end up in a continuous loop of going back to make better choices than I did the last time I went back to make better choices. I'd be stuck in 7th grade forever!

Plus, all super powers need limits. Probably the "Going Back in Time" limit would be that you had a rewind button but no fast forward. So you couldn't just skip from happy memory to happy memory. You'd have to live all the boring and uncomfortable parts in between.

And this brings things back to the age-old question: If you could have any super power, what would it be? Guests on a recent "This American Life" episode posited that when given the choice between the powers of Flight or Invisibility, people tend to choose flight as the more noble power but would rather be invisible so they could sneak into movies and shoplift.

I prefer to think better of humanity.

But if I could have a super power, I think it would be a third hand. It would come in so (I can't resist) handy!


Jen said...

I've often wondered how differently I'd live life if our family used our land to be totally self-sufficient and I home-schooled the kids. (Let me just say that I am far more likely to live off the land than home school.) The thought of not living by the clock is so appealing! There are probably lots of drawbacks to that lifestyle so a more simple example would be Christmas Break. One of the best things about Christmas break is that our whole family stays home for a week with no scheduled activities!

I thought that was such a great This American Life episode, but I was convinced afterward that a super power would be too much hassle.

tpmotd said...

Abe and I talked about this several times freshman year. My long-time favorite: mass-independent shape shifting. So you can become whatever has the ability you need. Gain effective invisibility by becoming very small. Gain flight by sprouting wings. Gain night vision by very carefully retooling your retina... It's very versatile.

Erin said...

That's a good either/or Jen. Maybe I'll pose that one later on - live off the land or home school your children. I would guess that for some people it would be agonizing to have to do either and for others it would be hard to do to only one.

Erin said...

So what would be the weakness of mass-independent shape shifting? Vulnerable during the transition phase? Have to stay in that shape for a certain time period. Both of those seem forced...What would be a natural imposition?