Could we have Superheroes in the real world?- Plausibility & Ethics

Marvel have a seemingly infinite roster of characters with abilities often deemed as, ‘super’. Some chatacters are grounded and reflect real life, and some are otherworldy and unorthodox. Either way, we all wished we had their super powers. I bet there’s millions of people who know of Spider Man and have therefore imagined walking up walls. Remember that time you got really angry and just wanted to turn into The Hulk and smash everything up? Or that time you found yourself in an awkward situation and just wished you could teleport away? Imagine if real life was littered in powerful and vibrant vigilantes, all wearing colourful costumes. The local newspapers with headlines like: ‘Ten-Armed Woman Stops Car Crash with Rainbow Lazerbeams’. Living in a world where superheroes were the norm would be amazing right? Well we’re going to find! First of all, we need to discover what would be plausible for a real life super power, how we’d apply it to a human, and what exactly defines its “superness“. 

Please note: If you’re planning to use my findings and research to kick start your super villainous activities, such as rob a bank or form your very own Sinister Six with your friends, then don’t tell anyone I’m the reason behind your inspiration to destroy the world, because that would look bad on me.

Okay, so we need to figure out what could potentially be done in the real world. Yeah that’s right, spoiler alert, those awesome powers you see on screen often defy all known laws of physics… sorry for crushing your dreams. I suppose we should start with a list of common super powers and work from there. So there’s things like flight, instantaneous growth or shrinkage (size manipulation), telekenisis & mind control, time foreseeing or manipulating, shapeshifting, teleportation, invisibility, immortality, inhuman damage resistance, elasticity, energy harnessing, portal creating and reality warping. Then there’s all the things that have the word, “super” in front of them which are amplifications of real life traits, like super; strength, reflexes, healing, agility, endurance, sensory or speed. All these things are either built with fictional science, magic, or they’re woven within characters genetics. Even though I’ve just tipped my brain upsidedown in search for as many different powers, there’s probably a hundred more… but for now, I’m sticking with the popular ones that came to mind. (If you think I’ve missed some big/obvious ones then please leave a comment and we’ll figure out its plausibility together!) In the comics/movies, a toxic waste barrel will guarantee someone some pretty badass powers with no repurcussions. However, do that in real life and the only thing you’ll be getting is super death. So in conclusion, I think we can rule out barrels of dangerous substances as origin stories. It’s clear to see what defines an ability/trait as “super”. Anything that humans can’t do with their bodies is super, and amplifications of what we can do is also. Next I think we should filter through the list from least plausible to most. Starting with Reality Warping. 

Reality Warping: The alteration of the world as we know it, physics turned upside down, backwards, or completley inside out for that matter. I think it’s safe to say, this is out of the question. How would we begin to harness a reality-changing ability? Not only that, but how could we then alter it into something new. You wouldn’t be able to comprehend a new reality when all we know is our reality! The closest we could get to this is gas to liquid to solid manipulation, which, if you didn’t know, if nothing too spectacular I’m afraid. 

Time Foreseeing or Manipulating: Being able to pause, rewind, slow down or fast forward time itself, as well as look ahead or pass through an infinite array of alternate timelines. I’d give this one a big fat nope, and here’s why. Time is not real. Let that sink in for those that didn’t know as I elaborate. Time is just something we humans created to measure the distance between what happened before, what’s happening now, and what’s to come. We invented seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years etc for the sake of keeping track and segmenting our lives. Yep, time is just a made up measurement, just like mathematics. We invented numbers to count objects and so on, which funnily enough, we then applied to clocks. So in theory, we could easily manipulate time if we told ourselves something like, a day will now be made up of the total of 37 hours instead of 24… but that’s no fun. We’re talking about the ability to actually skip by moments or physically relive previous ones. First of all, I think the only way to technically go back in time is to sift through old memories in your brain. As for going forwards in time, how can you see or travel ahead to something that hasn’t happened yet? Some will argue that because time isn’t real, it should therefore be possible to traverse forwards and backwards. But that theory is a double-ended sword because you can say the opposite. If time isn’t a real concept then surely it’s impossible to traverse it? I’m afraid the only way you’re going to be able to have dinner with your great, great, great, great, great grandkids is if you freeze yourself for a while… but that’s not travelling through time is it. As for peering through alternate timelines, you’d have to make sure they even exist which again, nope. Yes there’s a lot of theories but they’re called theories for a reason. If there were alternate timelines we’d need a way to see them all, like some sort of hub where you can observe the ongoing infinite alterations of events. Let me know when you’ve figured out how to extract yourself from life and find a way to look at varying versions of the universe.

Teleportation & Portal Creating: The contruction of a two dimensional doorway through time and space, and the ability to instantly alter your presence to another location. I put these two powers together because they’re fairly similar and both pretty much ruled out. I don’t have to repeat the issues we have with traversing time again do I, so we’ll focus on traversing through space and moving ones location in the blink on an eye. The problem I have with teleportation is that you’d have to not exist for a moment whilst your body shifts from one place to another, because even if you change location seemingly instantly, time has still passed from when you were at Place A to when you arrived at Place B, even if it was a fraction of a nanosecond. There might be a way to get around this however. Instead of instantly changing location, we define ‘teleporting’ as moving from one place to another almost instantly. That lets us think of a different way of travelling. The way I imagine it is if we used an orbital satellite to somehow “beam you up” and then back down to place you somewhere else. Think of it like sending a text, you hit “send” and the data of that message goes to a satellite which is then passed to your friends phone for them to receive. The atoms that make up your body and its cells would be the data so to speak, and you would deconstruct cell by cell and then passed to another location, which you would then reconstruct! Unfortunately, we hit some barriers. What is determined as your atoms? Atoms make up the universe so how would something be able to highlight everything regarding ‘you’? Would your memories be intact afterwards? How would you reconstruct perfectly back the way you was? Before that you’d have to hope you survive being literally torn apart. Then we come to portals. Seemingly, you don’t need to tear yourself apart, as you’re given a convenient opening to a new location. First off, how would you make a portal and what determines where its exit is. You know what, let’s not waste our time, it ain’t happening. 

Telekinesis & Mind Control: The ability to move/manipulate objects with your mind as well as take command of another humans vessel via the victims own brain. This one is overused in my opinion. You also see a lot of claims of these powers in the real world too, for example, hypnotism. Mind control would insinuate you could tap into someone else’s head even though you’re not connected… unless we all are? I’m not talking about that connection you have with your best friend where you know one another so well, I mean literally know what the process of another humans thoughts are, as well as take control of them. Some say that twins sometimes know when one of them is in danger. That seems more plausible than two strangers experiencing something like that, seeing as though twins are developed at the same time, together in the same womb. Is there a chance that their brains are in a way, one? Another example of connection is when you see someone yawn and you feel the need to do the same. Some scientists say that the sharing of yawns is something that goes back to when we were four-legged swamp monsters crawling out of the sea. It’s the same as wolves howling together. In that case we should rule that out as genetic instinct rather than a direct connection to another person’s brain. I’m rather sceptical of hypnotism as it is, so imagining someone with the ability to take command of another person’s mind like you see in the comics/films is pretty hard. Could demonic possession be classed as mind control? Let’s not give ourselves nightmares. On to telekinesis! Look at the object furthest away from you that you’re not currently touching. Imagine moving that without having to move closer or by laying a finger on it for that matter. We’d need to be able to connect our brains with inanimate objects which inclines we have a connection with it in the first place. Technically, as we discussed, the universe is made up of atoms so we’re in fact part of the same thing but not at the same time. If there was a way to extend from the atoms of your body and steer an object then sure, but I highly doubt it.

Size Manipulation, Shapeshifting or Elasticity: Instant bodily alterations either at ones will or not. Our skin is indeed elastic to some extent. That’s why you become saggy and wrinkled when you grow old (sorry for the bad news). It’s because your skin is old and it’s lost the majority of its elasticity. So we know that we’re stretchy to a miniscule degree, so how would we acomplish feats like Mr Fantastic? His entire body stretches, not just his skin, so for full bodily expansion, your organs, bones and muscles would have to stretch too. Of course, we grow from a tiny baby so we do stretch in theory but it takes us 18-21 years to reach our maximum height. To stretch ourselves or to simply grow or shrink ourselves, we’d need our entire bodies to alter instantly without tearing apart! (Hashtag, Stretchmarks). Unfortunately we don’t grow that fast, and we don’t choose our minimum/maximum heights. I’m afraid there’s no known way to regrow cells as rapidly as that. That leaves us with shapeshifting. Again, we technically change through time. It’s called evolution and growing up. Our bodies have adapted to our ever changing enviroment through the millions of years. I know, we’d want to shapeshift into something or someone else entirely in the matter of seconds… but evolution decides that for us, and I’m afraid it takes its sweet time. 

Invisibility: Changing the entirety of ones body completley transparent. I have similar issues with this that I have with teleportation; what determines ‘you’ in this equasion? Here’s a gross example for you… if you were able to make your body invisible, what about your organs? Do they turn invisible too? Okay, well what about your poop? Does that turn invisible too or does that just seem to float in the air?! I suppose if the skin was the cause of invisibility, for example, the pigments, then I guess it would be a sort of cocoon which’d hide everything from that and inwards. Unfortunately, that’s not good enough. How would there be a projection of what’s behind you anyway? Therefore, the whole of you would have to literally be transparent. Unless we go back to the cocoon idea and we evolve chameleon-like skin to mask ourselves into the background. If our skin isn’t up to the task then we can only hope that crazy scientists create clothing with the same effect.

Energy Harnessing: Absorbing external energy and using it to amplify yourself or to transfer into an outgoing projectile. I guess we can absorb energy to an extent. We absorb the suns light, electricity is able to travel through us… but how can we purposefully collect it in great quantities to then shoot out of our bodies? There’s eerie stories about people spontaneously combusting but the solidity if those cases aren’t concrete. Even if they were, it’s a bit too sporadic to be classed as harnessing energy, even if they do end up exerting it. The only way humans would probably be able to harness energy is through technology which humans have already with solar panels, wind turbines etc. If those things powered ones super suit then I guess you’d technically be harnessing energy as a power… but it doesn’t sound too ‘super’ does it?

Inhuman Damage Resistance, Super Healing or Immortality: Skin deemed impenetrable, cell regeneration at a faster pace than normal and the ability to never reach an age, which would begin the deterioration of any aspect of ones body that would usually result in death. We’d all love to live forever I think, or at least not have to jump up and down in agony when you hammer your thumb instead of the nail you were holding against the wall. Surprisngly there are people out there that actually don’t feel pain due to a problem with their nerves. However, this doesn’t mean that their body isn’t taking damage. Saying that, it would still help when you’re fighting crime with bare fists. The only way I can think of having an impenetrable fortress for a body is if you wore a suit of armour made entirely of diamond, which would just create a whole new set of problems. It’s a shame we don’t have Vibranium huh? Increased cell regeneration could be done through certain remedies, but I don’t think it would be particularly rapid! In terms of immortality, I think that’s just as implausible as time travel. Think about it, what happens when all life on Earth has died and you’re just stood there alone? What happens in billions of years when our solar system doesn’t exist anymore and you’re just floating through space aimlessly. Does immortal mean you can die, just not from natural causes? Immortality is too vague, so it’s too difficult to achieve. Basically, just eat well and hope you don’t die whilst fighting crime in your diamond suit. Still, no way near worthy of being considered ‘super’. 

Flight: Wing-powered or mechanical aviation as well as magical levitation. First of all, I’m crossing levitation off the list becauase you can’t alter gravity somewhere of your choosing. Unless we evolve wings which would probably only occur if the Earth had less land in the future. Even then, we have more chance of evolving into aquatic creatures than avian. It all comes down to a mechanical frontier, which we already have. Ever since the Wright Brothers invented the first working plane, humans have advanced from jets to jet packs… even fabric wing suits. It’s only a matter of time until we see a near-match to a flying IronMan suit, I assure you. It’s the same as mobile cellular phones; they were huge and terrible, but after time they became smaller and more powerful. Flight is one of the most plausible super powers… but if it’s so easy and common in the real world, it doesn’t particularly stand out as ‘super’. At least you can expect to see a lot of flying vigilantes.

Super Reflexes & Super Senses: Enhanced touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell as well as the ability to react and process and calculate actions at a faster rate than normal. We all know that ones senses and reflexes can be fine tuned and mastered with time and practice, but we’re looking to exeed that. For advanced reflexes, the synapses in our brains, everything to do with our senses and our thought process would have to work as though it was predicting the events before they were occuring. Certain foods and liquids are said to awaken and envigorate you such as caffeine or sugar, so unless man makes an artificial consumable which helps out further, we probably have to stick to mastering it in a ninja dojo for a millenia. 

Super Agility, Super Speed, Super Endurance & Super Strengh: Exceeding traits and inhuman power regarding all aspects of the body. I suppose you can find all three of those traits inside of a generic super soldier. I swear, 99% of everything revolves around someone trying to create a super soldier serum! The question is, could they? If not, you can always rely on mechanics to assist the human body to give it a boost. This can already be seen with paraplegic volunteers as well as fabled army prototypes you know you’ve probably seen on Buzzfeed or something. 

It seems that there are some plausible contenders, but would we actually see a superhero rise? The thing about the comics/films, everything falls into place because the story is obviously scripted. Life is spontaneous and all over the place. Hell, you have a greater chance of getting crushed by a vending machine than you do getting eaten alive by a shark. So if you’re swaying between becoming a ghost seeking vengeance on marine life or a vending machine pancake then choose the latter because you have more chance. Yes, things like flight and enhanced strengh are plausible super powers, but what are the chances of someone being a successful hero? Real life is full of rules and regulations… it took the MCU 13 movies to get to the superhero registration… I guarantee you that whoever dares become a super vigilante in the real world would be signing something on their first day! Unless they’re arrested for life. 

Yeah, I know it’s a shame that life can’t be as cool as the movies but that’s probably for the best. Let’s talk ethics for a moment. Vision has a great quote in Captain America: Civil War, where he stresses that the increase of superhero activity has in turn increased the amount of super villains. He says there’s a causality… and I agree when he says that something powerful would invite challenge (even though I was #TeamCap!). With all this to take on board, what’s wrong with being plain old human anyway? We humans can do remarkable things! Scientists are constantly discovering and unfolding the answers of life and the universe, whilst athletes are achieving incredible feats on a day to day basis. People look after the planet, give food, blood, money to those in need. We have doctors, nurses, firefighters and police, all intended to save us when we’re in need. I’d say we’re already pretty super. You just have to work hard enough and aim high! That doesn’t mean we can’t look to our favourite movie heroes as role models, seeing as though they only seem to be as human as us underneath their amplified traits.

Bye for now and stay awesome!

Bonus: Super Smarts. Some say we only use a third of our brain… who’s ready to see how omniscient we become when we unlock the rest of it??? 


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