At the end of this article you might be able to tell that as I have navigated down my list of IMPs, posted here, I went from refuting 100% to refuting with less strength. The more I go down the list the more nuances I have to make about my claims. In my last IMP article, about teleportation, I ended up coming to a very scary conclusion that we might create terrible animalesque humans that comes straight out of a dystopian nightmare, but never achieve the goal of true teleportation.
In this article I will address superpowers. If you follow Edward Feser you will know that he has addressed the ideas of humans having superpowers, and you might check out of this conversation, then, and I wouldn’t be terribly offended. But even if you know his arguments, you may still find a point of relevance here in how we react to his arguments.
Superpowers are, of course, of super interest to us humans. By their very name they mean that they are abilities beyond our normal means, something to make us special and something that allows us to overcome normal difficulties with great ease. What kid growing up watching Avatar: The Last Airbender didn’t want the ability to bend one of the four mystical elements?
“Yeah sure, but no one thinks superpowers are real or could be real”
Are we sure? Why are people working on jet packs? Are you telling me scientists aren’t working on cellular regeneration? What is DNA manipulation about if not this? Telepathy is a very real technology that the startup world is already taking advantage of. These things may not end up looking exactly like the Marvel characters so many of us are familiar with (or not, if you’re lame), and we may not be talking about Avatar levels of power, but these technologies and manipulations of the human body are exactly used for the same purpose that superpowers have. Hello, Iron Man is a superhero, too.
Just thinking from your own experience, and especially if you’ve been reading my other articles, you can guess that something like Marvel or Avatar levels of superpowers are not something coming down the pipeline. Why do you think science is so focused on the technology side of our ability to overcome nature? Changing things with your thoughts, or adding some supernatural physical ability like flying, is not something that just happens for a human.
This is an impossible modern possibility: humans will never have superpowers.
So there…that’s…it, right? Wow, short article.
Except not so much.
There are two situations that we need to contemplate with regards the supernatural side of our imagination.
- The value of discovering and incorporating super technologies into our lives, essentially granting us supernatural abilities.
- The deeper reality of our will, and what a perfected will looks like. Would we even want superpowers?
So, first. The value of getting all of these super technologies. It’s a fascinating point.
What if we could live forever?
What if we could fly?
What if we could see what other people were thinking?
What if we could have an advantage over everyone else?
There’s some fascinating answers to these questions. You could think about the innumerable material benefits that these powers would grant us, but what value would it have for us? That we could possess more of the material world? That we could get more…social power? Possessions? Comfort? Security?
Aristotle, when reviewing the notions of what true happiness consists, looks at all of these things. He ultimately comes to the conclusion, though, that nothing in the material world could be a true source of happiness, because anything gained in the material world ultimately goes on to serve some other purpose. There is nothing in the world that leads to true happiness, that is based primarily in itself, that does not lead to some other end.
Money cannot be the source of happiness, because it’s inherent design is to acquire other goods. The other goods cannot be the source of happiness because they inherently serve to cause you pleasure. Pleasure cannot be the source of happiness (via food, drink, or diversion), because, as Aristotle says, ‘that is the life of a fatted cow’ (Nicomachean Ethics, Chapter 5)- a human can have all of those things and still be sad. Power cannot be the source of happiness because it inherently serves to leverage the later possession of other goods or other peoples’ pleasing you.
All superpowers could do is provide us with more leverage within the worldly domain. Extend our time or other peoples’ time on earth, delaying the inevitable doom of death, of which all people suffer. In other words, superpowers cannot provide us with something that we do not already have – opportunities to seek good, truth, pleasures and evils within the world.
In short, I must ask you to reflect, what’s the value of pursuing superpowers? Why even care about manifesting them in real life? Additionally, I ask you to reflect on the wonderful superpowers that you already have access to: video calling, internet, electricity (the most advanced form of firebending), plumbing (waterbending), etc. Have those superpowers landed us with some amazing form of life that has resolved our problems? Or has it just left us hungry or more, putting us on a path of constantly seeking for more worldly things to satiate a hunger for happiness and goodness?
Now, second. If you have read Feser’s article on superpowers (forgive me, I cannot find it for the life of me), you will know that he does allow for the possibility of superpowers…just…with an interesting nuance.
If you follow with the logic for the existence of the Aristotelian human form, you know that there are the intellect and will as integral parts of the human form, or soul. Now, St. Thomas Aquinas argues that because the intellect and will are part of their own cycle of act and potency, the soul itself is capable of persisting beyond death and into eternity. It does not exist in an ideal way, since our form is meant to co-exist with materiality (i.e., our bodies), but it does keep existing.
Now, if you aren’t a Christian and you don’t enjoy the idea of an afterlife…well…I’m sorry for you. But bear with me here.
As far as the Christian life is concerned, we are promised a future Heaven. The Unmoved Mover of the universe, God, the reason for which we exist and the reason we exist at all, has revealed Himself to us and promises that, should we believe in His divinely revealed message, sent through His son Jesus Christ, then we will have eternal life. Just as Christ was raised on the third day with a perfected material body that was capable of co-existing with His eternal soul, so one day we will also be given a material body that does not deteriorate as our current bodies do.
On this future Earth, things will be a bit different. One of the principal causes of disorder in the world is that humans became inherently disordered, starting back with Adam and Eve. They were created perfectly, but chose sin (chose away from God). One of the consequences, St. Thomas Aquinas believes, is that the hierarchy of nobility within the human person (intellect and will, rational faculties, are more noble than sensory faculties) became inherently disordered. Whereas Adam and Eve had a perfectly ordered existence (suffering no physical ills, their rational powers having complete and proper domain over their other powers) they chose sin and lost that order.
In the restored Earth, Christ has promised us bodies that are perfectly restored. This means that our wills and intellects will have complete and proper domain over the rest of our bodily powers.
So, what’s the point of this?
Feser’s point is that a perfected will would have complete domain over the perfected body. Should we will ourselves to float? Well, the body should just comply. Should we will ourselves to move incredibly fast? The body should just comply.
Now, I’m not saying this is some sort of perfect argumentation, but I wanted to mention all of this to come to this main summary point: if we are in a perfected and restored Earth, and basically had every manner of using superpowers, we wouldn’t want to use them. What would be the point? We would need no advantages, we would need no increased material gain. We would have everything we needed and wanted. Even in this distinct possibility in the existence of having superpowers, there would be no point for them.
In conclusion, fantasizing about superpowers does no one any good, just like the rest of these impossible modern possibilities. So we gain a couple more years of life, so we live a little more comfortably, but what then? Nothing much more at all.
Just like the reasoning for the rest of the IMPs appeals to, we have much better things to focus on and much more important things to attend to than trying to make possible these modern impossibilities.