Superpowers!

I said earlier that being a black hole is the ultimate in physical unstoppability. That was true, from a certain point of view. That’s as far as I can go without invoking philosophy.

Speaking of which, I can do magic.
I’m not talking about the fact that I routinely carry artifacts that allow me to communicate instantaneously with people thousands of miles away. Or that allow me to walk through (some individual pre-specified) walls. Or the fact that before breakfast this morning I used an ancient ritual involving prime numbers and a black circle of fire to transform a lump of organic matter into French toast.

You’re probably quibbling that it doesn’t technically count as magic if anyone could do it. That’s because you never bothered to define it. According to Wikipedia, “Magic is the art of producing a desired effect or result through the use of incantation, ceremony, ritual, the casting of spells or various other techniques that presumably assure human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature.” That’s nice and vague (especially the “various other techniques” bit) and doesn’t actually help much.

An unquestionably very much more reliable source explains it better: “There are universes where the visible rules are simple, mathematical, and fundamental, and everything that happens, happens within them. And there are universes where the visible rules are complicated and have explicit special cases for surface phenomena – and usually some of the visible rules are about mental phenomena, and don’t visibly reduce to rules about non-mental parts. We call the former sort of universe ‘natural’, and the latter sort ‘magical’.”

You might be thinking that we live in a universe of the first kind. The author of that definition thinks so. I don’t. You see, I am a dualist. (If you don’t know what that means, you’re probably one too. I have this particular bit of philosophy in common with people who haven’t thought about it much.) It means that I am not just a collection of material components in the shape of a humanoid body plus brain; that’s all just equipment. Pretty awesome equipment, and I’m rather attached to it, but that’s all it is. More importantly, I have a nonphysical mind with which I control all that. You have one too, if you’re interested. And it cannot be reduced to physical parts: No matter how much information you have about what’s going on in my brain, you won’t be able to predict everything about my mind.

So plug that into the definitions up there. As a not-merely-physical being, I have free will. Free will is my favorite superpower. It means that even if the laws of the universe themselves say one thing should happen, I get to say otherwise and win. Free will is awesome. I love being a dualist.

The main forces of nature I can control, for those of you keeping score, are the boringly named “normal force,” which is so okay it’s average but is very useful, and friction. More indirectly, I also order around electromagnetism, gravity, and air pressure quite a bit. There are probably more, too. Tension, I guess. There are so many forces I can influence that I have trouble keeping track. Anyway, the example I use when someone challenges me to prove I have superpowers is to pick up an object and explain how the laws of the universe, specifically gravity, say it should drop. But it’s not dropping. Because I don’t want it to.

Obviously, my powers are kind of limited. I never claimed to be omnipotent, or to have absolute control of those forces I listed. Range is one big limitation, scale is another. Most things are way too small for me to move with any useful precision, and lots are too massive for me to even try. Just in case you thought I was sounding arrogant already; that comes later.

So, I’ve got superpowers. But what if you’re not a dualist? Are you just out of luck? Lots of people don’t believe in anything nonphysical at all; in fact I once got the response “Wow, a real live dualist” when fessing up to it. If you’re a physicalist, don’t worry; there’s stuff you can use too.

A physicalist is someone who thinks that everything is just its constituent particles and nothing else. In other words, all mental phenomena can be reduced to physical ones. Since I’m not one and don’t believe that all of the following is actually true, here’s Carl Sagan on the subject.

(Philosopher General’s warning: The following section contains physicalism. Excess exposure to physicalism may cause existential crisis, loss of qualia, being reduced to atoms, or boredom.)

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
What Sagan means is that those atoms were fused in large stars that went supernova and blasted them here, so that every single atom heavier than helium came from the inside of an incomprehensibly huge explosion. So if you’re a physicalist, you get to say that you were forged in the fires of a thousand dying suns. Of course, so was everything else from homework to toothpaste, but who cares? You get to say you were forged in the fire of a thousand dying suns. Wow, now I think that not being a dualist would be almost as awesome.

(That wording is mostly not mine. In my travels around the Internet, I ran across someone asking how many supernovae would have their atoms currently in a random human body on Earth, and the answer they reached was “trillions.” I changed the number because 1) “thousands” is smaller and thus more reasonable, and 2) it sounds cooler. Click here for the thing I’m talking about.)
~End of Physicalist Stuff~

I don’t get to use that line myself, because I’m not a physicalist and therefore don’t believe that about the constituent particles. I have also never even been inside a supernova. But now that I’ve proven I’m being fair to non-dualists, here’s a list of implausible-sounding but true statements. My favorite kind.

(I was forged in the fires of a thousand dying suns)/(I can overrule the laws of physics with an act of will) [Note: Pick one],  I travel through time and space, and I am really good at selectively applying definitions. I can move through space faster than the Earth moves around its Sun, and I do it with less effort than blinking. I can observe the universe and comprehend the observations, and even predict how the universe will react to what I do next. You’re a human, and I’m one of the most intelligent beings in this universe.

Not “The most intelligent,” because that wouldn’t be true, but I’m definitely more intelligent than most things. I’m not the most superlative; just, you know, comparatively.

This was written in the first person, but everything in it is just as true of you as it is of me. Use it any time you urgently have to win an argument. And let me know if you come up with any other cool statements like that.

P.S. I hereby declare Google dibs on the phrase “epiphenomenal cosmic power.”

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