{Matrix reference}
June 7, 2015 4:35 PM   Subscribe

You might have seen this image floating around, if you frequent the likes of Tumblr. One of many simple speculative choice pictures - here's eight pills that give you superpowers, which one would you take?

Well, Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex decided to do a write-up about how each choice might go. And how they might go wrong.
posted by kafziel (88 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
 
That was pretty good. Felt very Lev Grossman-esque. I could've read much more about those characters.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:47 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I pop a handful of pills without looking.

I then wonder why every time I use the ATM machine, it spits out $40,000 and tells me it loves me right before I morph into a banana slug.
posted by delfin at 4:48 PM on June 7, 2015 [24 favorites]


Orange Pill: Become graphics wizard and expertly recreate the pill graphic at a higher resolution or in a vector format with legible text.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 4:57 PM on June 7, 2015 [65 favorites]


None of them make you smarter?
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:01 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why would you need to be smart if you could be a rich and sexy banana slug?
posted by phunniemee at 5:03 PM on June 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


Reading the mind of anyone you can see, even if it's just a photo? Way to be unbelievable, internet.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:03 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


The usual trick is to ask for the pill that gives you wisdom. then the pill givers give you at least a couple of other pills because they are so impressed by your wisdom. You wisely know which pills will make you happy and how to use the pills to the best ends.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:05 PM on June 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


OBVIOUSLY you take the blue pill. How is this even a question? Not only can you travel everywhere on Earth in a split second, you are also now the world's greatest thief. You are sorted for life.

Plus - set OKCupid search to global. This is now your realistic dating pool.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:05 PM on June 7, 2015 [35 favorites]


I want the Grey Pill, since that can pretty much give you control of the entire internets.
posted by hellojed at 5:11 PM on June 7, 2015


I have always thought Yellow or something like it would be the most powerful, uh, power for someone with some cleverness and no scruples, but I had not really even thought of Black.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:13 PM on June 7, 2015


Good writing
posted by mumimor at 5:15 PM on June 7, 2015


The problem with the Black pill is, unless you can form an alliance with a hardy tribe of blue-on-blue-eyed desert people and use them to overthrow oppressive warlords, you're doing it wrong.

And even then you're out there in a desert drinking your own recycled pee.
posted by delfin at 5:17 PM on June 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well what usually happens is that you say that the pill you dropped into the river was not the gold or silver pill, but just an ordinary pill. The pill goddess of the river will be so impressed by your honesty that she will grant you all three pills. Using all three pills during the seventh day of the seventh month will allow you to build a rainbow staircase to the moon. When you take the princess you found in a bamboo stalk to the moon palace, you'll get fifty thousand bonus points and disintegration resistance which will prevent instadeath from wide-angle disintegration beams.
posted by cyberscythe at 5:19 PM on June 7, 2015 [13 favorites]


Oh my god, showbiz_liz, you have just described how teleportation could solve all my problems.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 5:22 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Black it is. Win a nice lottery, keep it invested safely, have a nice life.

The story was great though.
posted by jeather at 5:24 PM on June 7, 2015


I'd take the blue pill just so I could eliminate my commute. I'd work in an expensive city and buy a house somewhere affordable.

I would probably also develop a horrible late-night habit of teleporting inside cheese shops after they'd closed.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:25 PM on June 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


You Google “red pill advice”. The sites you get don’t seem to bear on your specific problem, exactly, but they are VERY FASCINATING. You learn lots of surprising things about gender roles that you didn’t know before. It seems that women like men who have BRUTE STRENGTH. This is relevant to your interests!

This article is the BEST.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:26 PM on June 7, 2015 [19 favorites]


Definitely the black one. Move to Vegas and bicycle down every morning to the Strip to place bets on the day's sporting events. Retire after a few years a gazillionaire and then stop taking the pills because there are some things you really don't want to know...
posted by jim in austin at 5:29 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


cyberscythe: "Well what usually happens is that you say that the pill you dropped into the river was not the gold or silver pill, but just an ordinary pill. The pill goddess of the river will be so impressed by your honesty that she will grant you all three pills. Using all three pills during the seventh day of the seventh month will allow you to build a rainbow staircase to the moon. When you take the princess you found in a bamboo stalk to the moon palace, you'll get fifty thousand bonus points and disintegration resistance which will prevent instadeath from wide-angle disintegration beams."

Unless you take them in the wrong order. Then it's game over. And it goes on your Gamerscore.
posted by Samizdata at 5:30 PM on June 7, 2015


Just finished the actual story, it's great! Didn't see the ending coming at all.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:31 PM on June 7, 2015


cyberscythe: That sounds like the strangest Harvest Moon game ever.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 5:31 PM on June 7, 2015


“As the current Pope, I suppose I would have to agree with that assessment, though as the current UN Secretary General I am disturbed by your fanatical religious literalism.”

Seriously, the BEST.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:34 PM on June 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


I want the Grey Pill, since that can pretty much give you control of the entire internets.

Unfortunately, 20 minutes later, you are entirely full of cat .gifs.


Wait, didI say unfortunately?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:34 PM on June 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh my god, showbiz_liz, you have just described how teleportation could solve all my problems.

My theoretical superpower of choice has always been the ability to freeze and unfreeze time at will, and not to age in the meantime. This gives you functional teleportation from the perspective of everyone else, with all the benefits of going anywhere you like and stealing anything you want - just with a heck of a time lag for you, but with the added bonus of unlimited reading and sleeping time. Plus, I could finally bike in New York without fear!
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:35 PM on June 7, 2015 [17 favorites]


Ooh, I like the time-freezing ability! You're somewhat limited in your traveling ability if you depend on public transportation, though. On the plus side, you could bike everywhere with zero traffic.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:40 PM on June 7, 2015


Oracle of Correspondence or no deal, Storyteller.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:41 PM on June 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


And even then you're out there in a desert drinking your own recycled pee.

Well it's not like you can't foresee this problem

So at some point you have to realize you just like drinking pee
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:43 PM on June 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


Take the pink pill, go into politics
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:44 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think I would abuse the time stopping power and just sleep for loads of extra hours / days / weeks.
posted by pmcp at 5:44 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Blue pill: after awhile, you'd be the first suspect for any weird impossible crime. "Where were you from [time] to [time + 1 second]?"
posted by user92371 at 5:46 PM on June 7, 2015


All of them of course. "Why can't I be a Kryptonian?"
posted by happyroach at 5:50 PM on June 7, 2015


My theoretical superpower of choice has always been the ability to freeze and unfreeze time at will

Completely agreed, especially if I can bring unfreeze specific people to hang out with me outside of time.
posted by dialetheia at 6:08 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just remembered when I was a kid there was a TV show about a girl who could freeze time, but it was on at 10am on weekdays or something and the only time I ever saw it was when I was sick off school. There were a few times when I pretended to be sick to get stay home and it totally felt like I had this superpower. Time may not have been frozen for my fellow pupils but some of those double maths lessons felt like skirting an event horizon*.

*My understanding of the physics may be wrong, but I may have missed that lesson.
posted by pmcp at 6:23 PM on June 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Black wouldn't be so interesting if all you could see was an immutable future, but would by far be the best one if you could see the potential outcomes of your future actions Alex Verus style (which is what the story seems to run with, in fact the way they describe how the black pill works is almost exactly how divination works in the Verus series). It is how a wizard with no powers other than being able to see the future can get into fights with guys and gals that can shoot fire and death rays from their fingertips and still win.
posted by C^3 at 6:34 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just remembered when I was a kid there was a TV show about a girl who could freeze time, but it was on at 10am on weekdays or something and the only time I ever saw it was when I was sick off school.

Out of this World.
posted by MikeKD at 6:40 PM on June 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


My heart says Black Pill, if for no other reason to see the monthly letter-writing to the heat death of the universe effect he describes unfold. Would that happen though? Wouldn't you just see until the last letter you write before you die?

Also seconding freezing time, but with the condition I can also go back to a save point, preferably ones I can leave at will. It would kill me to freeze time at some crucial moment, realize what could have been done to prevent this in the first place, and not be able to change it but rather just delay it happening. I think being able to click back a few saves and start from there would have to be included for me to take freezing time. Long distance travel becomes much more difficult, and I wonder about what material things you could and could not interact with during frozen time. Of course you could hit so many banks so fast, sacking dozens or hundreds of them if you wanted, that you'd have enough cash to have yourself nothing but time to do whatever you please.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 6:41 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I imagine Mr. Red Pill as Chris Pratt, not so much for the physical resemblance but because of his MEGA STOKED TO BE HERE persona.
posted by a halcyon day at 6:42 PM on June 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Out of this World

oh dear god I used to watch this
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:46 PM on June 7, 2015


There was totally a sci fi short story that was similar to this, I want to say by Larry Nivin, maybe. Humans could take alien pills to give themselves abilities, one human does, and hijinx ensue. At the end, the alien forces the human to take a pill that removes all powers, and puts his hand around the throat to make sure it goes down, but human uses said powers to make the pill disappear below the alien hand and retains powers.

I can't find the story, and googling that description gives some pretty unique results... anyone remember that story? And I'd totally take the black one.
posted by Huck500 at 6:47 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I remember that story, Huck500. Telepathy maybe? I can almost remember the description of the alien's fingers around his neck and argh, gonna bother me now.

This story had me in stitches until it got to the last bit and aauuugh the creeping existential horrors
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:00 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Professor X is a jerk.
posted by Artw at 7:01 PM on June 7, 2015


I'd totally go for the blue pill, for pretty much the exact same reason as the woman in the story, plus the whole "perfect crime" thing. Though others may ostensibly be more useful, the blue pill is the one I'd make the best use of.
posted by brecc at 7:10 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I remember that story. It's a Draco Tavern story; he gets the ability to be a prophet, the ability to always know where he is, which a teleportation pill, although people aren't actually able to teleport. I think because he wants to stop getting lost. Possibly a pill for balance? There's a woman who takes a pill that helps her diet; but it turns her into a stereotypical 50s housewife, because it's intended as a slave pill. I checked, but it's not in the Draco Tavern collection.
posted by stoneegg21 at 7:26 PM on June 7, 2015


I used to watch "Out of This World", and the way I remember it, it would've been better as the way I initially read this:
a TV show about a girl who could freeze time, but only at 10am on weekdays
posted by cardioid at 7:28 PM on June 7, 2015 [20 favorites]


I would take the orange pill and then be the greatest musician, writer, artist, and filmmaker in the world. I'm assuming that by "master any sport, job, activity, etc." they mean that you're at the pinnacle of that field, and that it includes subjective talents like art. So I would truly self-actualize as an artist and produce the finest possible work in a variety of media, and achieve a sort of immortality that way. Change lives not just in my lifetime but for generations. Once I burn out a bit on that I'd muck around in labs and cure diseases and stuff. You could change courses with your life and make an impact in a thousand fields, that's what makes the orange pill the greatest.
posted by naju at 7:35 PM on June 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm on team Blue Pill too, just so I can explore the universe. I would of course wear the outfit of the 10th Doctor.
posted by numaner at 7:57 PM on June 7, 2015


The writer is overlooking the true power of the orange pill. It enables you to master any skill... and interpersonal communication is a skill. Persuasion is a skill. Teaching is a skill. Any talent you could master, you'd be able to convey to others-- perhaps not to your level, of course, but enough to build a passel of competent, like-minded aides and colleagues. Impatience with those less able? Why, surely introspection and self-improvement are skills. With a bit of self-analysis and meditation you'd find inner peace and acceptance of everyone, no matter how flawed. And you'd teach these skills as well, not universally because not everyone is capable, but at sufficient numbers. And your students would teach others, and their students would spread the teachings still further.

Give the orange pill to a kind, generous, thoughtful person, and you'd have a utopia within weeks.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:31 PM on June 7, 2015 [14 favorites]


Scott Alexander clearly hasn't read up on the Kavka toxin puzzle.
posted by kenko at 9:01 PM on June 7, 2015


Ha, but one of his commenters has!
posted by kenko at 9:01 PM on June 7, 2015


My theoretical superpower of choice has always been the ability to freeze and unfreeze time at will, and not to age in the meantime.

Just want to chime in and suggest the videogame Life Is Strange, which is an adventure game where you can rewind time at will. As far as teleportation goes it's just as good as freezing time;

VERY MINOR SPOILER
you actually get to use this to solve some puzzles in the game.
END SPOILER

It's cool to play a game where the superpower is actually interesting instead of just energy blasts.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:04 PM on June 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


The problem with the Orange pill is that it's limited to the limitations that a human can do.

Is this average human? Current peak human capabilities? Maximum human potential?

What if humanity's evolution allows it to achieve more than baseline-now humanity and your skills are superceded? Particularly true given the proposed timescale.

The choice of electing to be good at one any particular thing is really convenient. Being good at everything human includes being gullible or being an idiot.

As a generally competent person, I wholeheartedly agree with the article's caveat that taking the Orange pill will turn anyone into a curmudgeon.
posted by porpoise at 9:32 PM on June 7, 2015


Team Orange here. Who's with me?
posted by seawallrunner at 9:33 PM on June 7, 2015


porpoise, orange is explicitly the height of human potential. It is Ozymandias in Watchmen exactly. "Master" means the top. Unsure how to read it differently.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:43 PM on June 7, 2015


This really is just Watchmen taken to the extreme. Well written and awesome but not new. Read Watchmen if you haven't.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:45 PM on June 7, 2015


I'm thinking the orange pill's power would work best with the limitation that you can only be the best at one or two things at a time, which you could switch off by conscious choice whenever you want. Or perhaps you could be the best at as many things at a time as you want, but you're not forced to be the best at everything, all the time. But hey, you can't argue with the tumblr meme.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 10:04 PM on June 7, 2015


Amazing story! Well worth reading to the end.

I really don't know which pill I'd take.

Yellow (telepathy) seems like the most useful for humankind as a whole. In international negotiations you could assure parties that the other intends to keep their word, break down problems of trust, find out what deals are really acceptable and suggest them.

On the other hand Black (prescience) seems like the most personally advantageous. With one big lottery win and then stock market investments you could be as rich as you want to be. On the other hand seeing your death and those of your loved ones without being able to do anything about it could be a nightmare, unless you can switch it off once you've made your pile

Blue (flying and teleporting) might be safer. You could make a pretty good living as the fastest courier in the world. If you have the speed and capacity to launch small satellites you could make more. And it's the most fun.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:37 PM on June 7, 2015


porpoise, orange is explicitly the height of human potential. It is Ozymandias in Watchmen exactly. "Master" means the top. Unsure how to read it differently.

I think the question is more, what do you define as human? The most that you could theoretically do, given your genetics? The most any human alive now can do? The most that any human body could theoretically do? Do we account for further evolution within the Homo Sapiens species that enables things in the future, but not now? Maybe humans in the year 20,000 can read minds, can you do that now? It's a little uncertain.
posted by kafziel at 10:59 PM on June 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would attempt to take the orange pill but fumble it and watch with horror as it fell into the sewer. My experiences would later be made into a Twilight Zone episode, with extra drama added by the inclusion of a silver pill which grants the power not to drop things like a doofus. (The character corresponding to me refuses it out of pride.)

Some years later a hyperintelligent alligator would burst from the sewer in a hovering exoskeleton and demand an audience at the UN.
posted by No-sword at 12:46 AM on June 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


The ones that mother gives you don't do anything at all.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:51 AM on June 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


The interpretation of the powers irks me somewhat. I'd think that description of the pink pill -- "Can turn off the effect by retouching the person(s)" -- just indicates that (a) you can turn the effect off if you want to and (b) doing do requires touching the person, but the story perversely interprets the touch not just as a necessary condition for turning it off but a sufficient one. Also, it seems to think that love is the same as mind control.

Also, the business with sending a letter back in time by monthly transcription, while clever, is ripe for ironic twists that don't happen here. For one thing, it's essentially a game of Telephone played across centuries. There are going to be transcription errors, and they're going to build up. Alternately, I can imagine there coming a point where the fellow is so familiar with the letter's contents due to copying it out once a month that he doesn't bother looking forward any more -- at which point the backward causal chain is broken, and there can come a point where he looks forward to next month and is surprised to find that he doesn't see the letter any more, and realizes that the whole thing was just a senseless self-causing loop, seeing the letter he wrote because he saw it, and has no connection to anything that actually happens years in the future.
posted by baf at 1:00 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Red Pill guy's strength is clearly coming from the rest of the universe slowly being bled dry of energy, ie. he is the root cause of entropy. And since The Matrix taught us that life itself can be a valuable source of energy, the energy is often taken from anywhere burgeoning life is - this explains the lifeless universe.

Yellow Pill went nutso after reading God's mind, because He is not external, but exists within one's self, thus causing a feedback loop.

I got nuthin' on the rest.
posted by quinndexter at 3:37 AM on June 8, 2015


Blue (flying and teleporting) might be safer. You could make a pretty good living as the fastest courier in the world
Jumper got this right: that'd be fun up until the military tried to enlist or, failing that, kill you.
posted by adamsc at 5:54 AM on June 8, 2015


OK, Pills in reverse order of coolness

Green Pill: Come on really? Utterly lame compared to the alternatives. Also, how do you know to turn back once you're a tiger? Tigers are dumb.

Pink Pill: The perv pill? No thanks. It's also like a diluted version of orange. Seduction is a skill.

Blue Pill: So this is pretty cool, but will become quickly outstripped by the other pills over time. Orange + time can get you everything but the physically impossible stuff (inside event horizon of black hole, etc)

Grey Pill: This is nothing you can't get with a little time and applied Orange. Nerd.

Black Pill: This seems really cool, and you'll die rich, but you're still going to die. Even lamer if you can't change the fixed future you see.

Yellow Pill: You could probably pull off wealth and world peace with this one, but you're still limited to the skills and knowledge of existing folks in the world. Orange still trumps. You won't make it past 120.

Red Pill: So immortality is a hard thing to top. But with some time and applied Orange, you can probably get that plus all other benefits that Orange offers. World peace, etc.

Orange Pill: Obviously. It's so overpowered compared to the others I'm surprised it's even a question.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:58 AM on June 8, 2015


On my long daydream sessions during commutes to my previous job, I favored a phasing-based powerset. So I could move through objects, change how things related to each other spatially, invisibility, create portals, and so on. My general idea was that, assuming I'd operate in a world seeded with other empowered abilities, that I'd fill the role of "Serious Bad News" dude. So other heroes and villains could duke it out over robbed banks and so on, but the moment someone tried to take over the world, got too 'Man of Steel' in regards to watching out for bystanders, or otherwise did anything that ramped up the body count, I'd just appear behind them, invisible and phased out, and would reach into their chest, Mola Ram style, and separate their heart spatially from their body (it would still be all hooked up and pumping, just outside) as a warning to knock it the fuck off.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:03 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Robocop is bleeding - you might like Worm, have you read any of it?

OP link is fascinating. Sure lots of other ways it could turn out, but that was fun to read.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:28 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Have these been through FDA approval, or are they being sold as nutrition supplements? I'm hoping the former, because I'd like to see the clinical trial reports.

OTOH, if the placebo effect works here...
posted by Devonian at 6:36 AM on June 8, 2015


Eh, I took the black pill today and it was a waste of time. It was supposed to give me a month, but I'm only getting about two days. At that point, it goes all bright for a moment and then everything is just blank from then on, everywhere I look.

Stupid thing must be broken.
posted by kyrademon at 6:43 AM on June 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


I was on the fence between Blue and Orange and, after reading this, I still am. The problem with Orange though is not being able to ever really feel a sense of accomplishment when everything comes so easily. Probably still blue. It's very close to 13-year-old me's optimal three wishes:

1. Infinite natural lifespan
2. Healing factor that renders me immune to disease and able to quickly recover from physical harm
3. An indestructible faster than light space yacht

My three wishes now as an adult and father would probably look a little different.
posted by 256 at 6:44 AM on June 8, 2015


And yes, that is a pretty fine story.
posted by Devonian at 6:53 AM on June 8, 2015


My three wishes now as an adult and father would probably look a little different.

The space yacht has wood panels on the sides?
posted by box at 6:55 AM on June 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


The space yacht has wood panels on the sides?

Indeed, and the first two wishes would probably be used conferring benefits on my two future-co-galactic-empress daughters rather than on myself.
posted by 256 at 6:57 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd just appear behind them, invisible and phased out, and would reach into their chest, Mola Ram style, and separate their heart spatially from their body

A long time ago, I played a few campaigns of the deeply flawed anime-inspired RPG Big Eyes, Small Mouth. Like many other systems, it used a points-based procedure for customizing superpowers, whereby the more restrictions you applied to a given power, the cheaper it became.

One available power, of course, was telekinesis, which you could modify based on range and strength, and which could be made extremely cheap by limiting the types of substances it could affect. I realized that with only a couple of points, you could create a telekinetic power with very limited range (line of sight), very limited strength (a pound or less), and restricted only to work on flesh. Suddenly you're an assassin who can tweak a heart valve or brain artery from a hundred feet away, and you've disappeared into the crowd before anyone even realizes there's a problem.

Anyway, my preferred power would be humanoid shapeshifting, like Mystique. You could have a perfect physique with no effort, you'd get almost all the advantages of invisibility (turn into someone who's allowed to be wherever you want to go), and just think of the kinky sex potential!
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:09 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


OK, I only just now understood the pun behind "King William".
posted by baf at 8:15 AM on June 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Orange Pill: Obviously. It's so overpowered compared to the others I'm surprised it's even a question.

I was torn between orange and blue, but the problem with orange is, it would suck all the joy out of life pretty much immediately.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:02 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have always wanted blue, but all I dreamed of doing was visiting anyone I love anywhere in the world anytime I wanted, and coincidentally, avoid ever having to deal with winter again (other than maybe Christmas). I am clearly not cut out for the ubermensch thing.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:40 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was torn between orange and blue, but the problem with orange is, it would suck all the joy out of life pretty much immediately.

But if life gives you no joy, then you sacrifice nothing.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:42 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'd take the Orange pill and be unhappy about everyone's incompetence forever after. ("But how is this different from your current behavior?" Yeah, yeah, shut up, peanut gallery.)

Good story; really reminds me of the wonderful novella by (Mefi's own) cstross, Palimpsest. (Hugo award in 2010, and it is fantastic.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:42 AM on June 8, 2015


I used to fantasize about superpowers a lot (well, still do, but also used to). I used to think telepathy (Yellow Pill) would be pretty neat so long as you could control it enough to not be driven mad by the constant noise of other people's thoughts. However, nowadays, with Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and basically everything on the internet, we already have a view into other people's thoughts and, boy howdy, it's not that great, right?

Anyways, a different game to play with superpower fantasies is not just imagining which one you'd pick for yourself. Imagine picking which superpower to get with the stipulation that everyone else in the world would also get the same superpower. Invisibility? Telepathy? Maybe great for you. Maybe not so great if every creep in the world also had it.
posted by mhum at 9:44 AM on June 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'd probably take the blue pill, and spend the rest of my life taking "day trips" to every corner of the world I've ever wanted to see. Maybe I could even turn it into a lucrative photography career, meaning I could do it full time.

Yep, it's decided. Now, where's that pill?
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:48 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the orange pill would make life utterly grim. Anything you want to take up: playing guitar, learning to sail, would be interesting for maybe five minutes before your instant mastery makes it utterly tedious.

It doesn't even seem that useful or fun compared to the others. You have the same limits as a mere human. If you want to be rich you can be the World's Greatest Businessperson. But you've still got to go into your office and work at it, work that doesn't even offer you a challenge. You could be the World's Greatest Politician and rule the nation, but you'd still have to spend all day pressing the flesh and schmoozing donors.

The orange pill just seems to offer joyless labour. I'm going Blue!
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:25 PM on June 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


IDK I feel like there are activities for which even if you reached maximum human potential, it would still be quite rewarding. Maybe surfing, or anything else where you have to react to a really chaotic system. Effortlessly writing novels would be cool. Or any kind of art, really; you'd have no limitations but your own creativity.
posted by vogon_poet at 1:45 PM on June 8, 2015


pfft I'd be all about the epic Super Mario speed runs

or maybe that dude that jumped on eggs without breaking them. I'd really fix his wagon
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:01 PM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


stoneegg21: "I remember that story. It's a Draco Tavern story; he gets the ability to be a prophet, the ability to always know where he is, which a teleportation pill, although people aren't actually able to teleport. I think because he wants to stop getting lost. Possibly a pill for balance? There's a woman who takes a pill that helps her diet; but it turns her into a stereotypical 50s housewife, because it's intended as a slave pill. I checked, but it's not in the Draco Tavern collection."

It's Niven, but it's not a Draco Tavern story. It's "The Fourth Profession."
posted by Chrysostom at 9:01 AM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've always been fascinated by the time stop idea...which is why this episode of the Twilight Zone freaked the heck out of me as a kid.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:03 AM on June 9, 2015


Yeah, the orange pill would make life utterly grim. Anything you want to take up: playing guitar, learning to sail, would be interesting for maybe five minutes before your instant mastery makes it utterly tedious.

I dispute this. If I had mastery of writing, mastery of drawing, and mastery of inventing compelling story ideas, I could very happily draw comics for the rest of my life, endlessly entertained by the surprising things my characters do and say, constructing elaborate traps for them and then puzzling out how they're going to win, and so on. And selling enough copies to live comfortably while I do so.
posted by rifflesby at 2:00 PM on June 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


That said, Time Stop is a really good power, and I would probably take that one just so I could read forever. Provided it comes with anti-aging.
posted by rifflesby at 2:01 PM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, transcription errors from hand-copying a 400 word note would have to place effective limits on future-self communication. I'm sure there is research on the deterioration of relayed messages, but it hardly seems necessary to consult it here: the note in the story would have been copied some 12 quadrillion times, so the ultimately received message would almost certainly have morphed into something like a McDonald's menu or a sudoku puzzle.

This dilemma is insoluble, since transcription errors are actually necessary: language evolves, so strict fidelity to the letter would leave you with some totally incomprehensible alien language from the far future, but the necessary slight modifications in language over time would not be knowable to each monthly self. A shifted word-choice could act to preserve the meaning of a clause over time or change it, depending on unpredictable shifts in language. (Likewise, much as I can't read my own hand-writing, a letter from myself in one month is equivalent to two slightly different people communicating, and our interpretation of the word and sentence meanings will differ. Times 12 quadrillion.)

Seemingly more problematic though is that each future-self iteration is increasingly limited by his own foresight window, which must place a severe constraint on how far into the future your cooperative chain could communicate. Let's say your "one month" limit is exactly 30 days. That's 720 hours or 43,200 minutes into the future. You recently awoke and you sit down at your desk at 9 AM to write a letter for the you that's 704 (29 days, 8 hours) hours into the future. It will take you some 15-20 minutes to look ahead and hand-copy the 400 word note. Possibly much longer if you need to triple and quadruple check to avoid those fatal little transcription errors. So you're not done and ready to relay the message to your past self until 9:30 AM, and your future self likewise must have needed to start the process at 8:30 AM to prepare the message for you. And of course, his received message was written at 12:30 AM before bed, since your future selves also need to sleep, and there was no sooner time it could have been written.

Since there is no instantaneous telepathic transmission of the message between the temporal selves, each future iteration has to devote time to transcribing the message, which compresses and quickly limits the span between future selves. Without doing the math it's closer to decades than millennia, or whatever the trillion year version of that is called (trilennia?).
posted by dgaicun at 9:16 PM on June 9, 2015


Take the pink pill, go into politics

Isn't the point to choose one that would make you more happy? *shiver*
posted by phearlez at 8:59 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


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