A couple of months ago, This American Life aired an episode of their show called superpowers. The part of the episode that stuck with me the most was John Hodgman’s discussion of which superpower is better: flight or invisibility?
When the time is right, (and it’s almost never easy to tell), I’ve taken to asking groups of my friends which they would choose: the ability to fly — Superman style — or the power to turn oneself completely invisible at will. Which choice would you make?
As per Mr. Hodgman’s clarifications, the ability to fly wouldn’t mean you weren’t any stronger than you are now nor would you have faster reflexes or a special resistance to the cold. The maximum flying speed would be 1000mph but you’d still need to stay within the atmosphere if you wanted to breath.
Invisibility came with it’s own set of caveats. One would vanish with his clothes but any non-clothing items would remain visible. (I think it’s safe to assume items in your pockets would disappear too, but I don’t think he specified). It would last as long as you wanted and could be turned on and off just by thinking about it.
I’ve found the varied responses to this question very interesting. The number of people that choose invisibility surprises me. To me, the huge list of things that could be done as someone that could fly would far outweigh the chance to sneak into a few restricted places or the ‘thrill’ of shoplifting thousands of dollars worth of clothing before you got bored with the idea. Sure you might be able to hunt down Bin Laden, but you’d still have to actually go to the Middle East and start looking. Are you really going turn yourself into “Dog” the Bounty hunter? Perhaps you are. Still it seems like a choice for invisibility says, “I’m the type of person that wants to get away with doing something illegal.”
On the other hand, choosing the gift of flight says, “I want go places and I want to do it in style!”
If I could fly, this is what I’d do: I’d officially be done with the ridiculous 40 below zero weather that we put up with in Southern Alberta every winter. That doesn’t mean I would leave Canada for good — after all, I do love it here — however, it wouldn’t take me long to discover that rather than waiting for the next chinook, the two hour jump to southern California is totally worth it.
I would certainly make “flight” a part of my living and at the same time I’d travel the world in a way few have ever even considered. With the power of flight, I’d be a hero everywhere I went and as far as fame and fortune go, I have to admit, I would eat it up.
I suppose the possibility of unlimited free travel by plane would be there for those that choose invisibility but you’d still have to find a place to sit on any fully booked flights.
So, in answer to the question which is better: it’s flight all the way.
There is one question ruminating around in the collective American subconscious. It pervades all facets of society. It is an age-old question that seeming has no right or wrong answer: Which superpower would you rather have, flight or invisibility?
But there IS a right answer. And it's obvious — flight. But let us look deeper than right and wrong. Let's reexamine the validity of the hypothetical from which the answer stems. Is it even in the best interest of the collective good that this question remains in the American zeitgeist? So here is a definitive guide to resolve the issue and prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that flight is a better super power than invisibility.
Let's think about the practicality of flight and invisibility for a moment. Which would be more useful more often? Having the ability to travel by air with zero-personal cost is about the most cost-effective thing imaginable. You would never need a car, bus or plane ever again. There are similar cost-effective advantages to visibility, but they don't add up as quickly. You might be able to sneak into movies or events, but you would need to stay invisible so as to not to be found out.
This also shows the moral implication of both abilities. While flying as opposed to taking a plane has no moral negative, sneaking into a movie by being invisible is morally objectionable. It would require you to steal in order to be advantageous to you. If this moral quandary is meaningless to you, then your answer to the question is very telling indeed.
Will It Save Your Life?
This brings us to our next big litmus for the desirability of each power. Can the ability help save your life? It is important at this junction to specify that the power of invisibility does not imply intangibility. That is to say, invisible does not also give you the ability to quantum tunnel through solid matter without harm. These are separate and distinct powers. If you wanted to change the original question to "Which would you prefer Flight or Intangibility?" then I would say you have an argument for both, but THAT IS NOT THE QUESTION BEING ASKED.
Invisibility can only save your life as well as it can hide you from the threat of danger. If you are in a situation where you are being chased by thugs without guns in an open field, then turning invisible might help you. If they have guns, there is still the off chance you get hit by a bullet by accident. If you're being chased down a narrow alleyway, you may turn invisible but you still have to rely on your sneaking ability to escape.
Flying can save your life in an infinity number of ways. If you're stranded somewhere, you can fly to a clear sight line to find the nearest point of help. If you fall from a great height you can fly to avoid impact. If you are in a plane crash you don't need a parachute to escape unharmed. If you are in any questionable situation you can immediately evacuate by flying to safety. These are just several examples.
Is flying foolproof? No. But it does provide you with many more avenues to rescue yourself from danger than invisibility ever could possible hope to.
It might be established in the phrasing of the hypothetical question, but it is important to note when answering if you are the only person in the world to have either flight or invisibility. If you are, flight is extremely advantages because people knowing about your ability would give you instantaneous fame with no actual detriment to your power.
Invisibility is a different story. People knowing you are the only person who can become invisible would make you a pariah. It would also negatively impact the effectiveness of your ability.
Are You a Creep And a Perv?
If you are a super huge creepy perv, then yes, invisibility is a better power to have.
What Does it Say About You As A Person?
Let's look at the reason we ask the invisibility vs. flight question of people in the first place: We want to shed some light on the personality of the individual answering. Why then pick these two specific superpower?
Picking flight suggests you are an extrovert and picking indivisibility suggests you are an introvert. That's it. That's all we hope to accomplish by asking these two powers.
But if that is really at the heart of the question, why not just ask, "Do you consider yourself more of an extrovert or a introvert?" directly? The reality is that using this profound of a hypothetical to answer such a basic question is a waste of a perfectly good hypothetical. A hypothetical should cause the person being asked to reflect on their own values and beliefs. Instead of flight and invisibility, ask yourself "Which would you prefer Flight or Super-Strength?" This question roots itself in what type of freedom individuals prefer. Each power represents a type of freedom. The choice then becomes a matter of personal preference that must be explained.
This type of hypothetical is worth more than the former, simply by virtue of it being less parallel to a more basic question. We might strive to understand the person better by then following the hypothetical question with a "Why?" and then actually listening to their answer. This would foster healthy discussion and ultimately lead world peace.
Are there EVEN MORE reasons why flight is better than invisibility? Let me know ALL OF THEM on Twitter or in the comments below!
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