March 5, 2007

Would You Rather?

Would You Rather…

  • Have X-Ray vision or
  • The ability to hear any conversation taking place anywhere?

and why, and what would you do with it?

Posted by James at March 5, 2007 7:56 AM
Create Social Bookmark Links

No interest in the conversation thing so I guess I'll pick x-ray vision.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at March 5, 2007 8:15 AM

The ability to hear any conversation taking place ANYWHERE ... and I'd use it to save the planet from evil Republithugs ...

Posted by: Keri at March 5, 2007 8:48 AM

LOL, Keri. The problem is, could you *record* it? Maybe you could just freak people out by repeating their words back to them.

I think the conversation listening would be really useful. I would really like to understand what makes people tick, particularly people like our president, the better to defeat them. It's not quite as cool as mind-reading, but I think it's better than x-ray vision. I'm not sure what I'd do with that. X-ray vision plus the ability to see viruses and bacteria might be nice (as long as x-ray means able to see through what I want, to what I want), but x-ray vision alone doesn't interest me too much.

Posted by: Maggie at March 5, 2007 9:41 AM

Keri, I'm imagining you saying "an anonymous White House source" over a conversation you've heard, LOL.

Posted by: Maggie at March 5, 2007 9:46 AM

I'm assuming that both options are active only when desired, and to the level desired.

The former assumption applies to both... if you could only see with xray vision, you are essentially losing the ability to see as we understand it. Likewise if every converstion in the world constantly filled your head with endless chatter you'd probably go mad, and at the very least would no longer be able to hear the world around you as you normally would. So I am assuming that each is active at your option, and selective (I want to hear THAT conversation, or look through THAT cabinet door.)

The latter assumption (to the level desired) applies pretty much to the x-ray vision only. If it only turned the people around you into walking skeletons, it would be great for looking at bone fractures or for hidden weapons, but not much else. Likewise if it was so weak it could only see faintly through paper or cardboard, it would be good for peeking into envelopes or cheating at cards, but not much else. Heck if it was super strong, it would make just about everything disappear... what would the use be in that? So I am going to assume that a person gifted with this sort of vision would have the ability to control its strength--look through 1 sheet of paper first, and through a wall next, and through flesh next, etc.

As near as I can tell, both abilities are about spying.

X-Ray vision could have practical applications such as looking underground for faults and mineral deposits, or inspecting bones and tissue for various types of injury. But both of these disciplines would require knowledge I don't possess... I'm no geologist or physician.

For espionage purposes I could find out if the president of Iran was actively supporting the Iraq insurgency by listening to his conversations... if only I understood Arabic.

So it seems to me that without special knowledge that would tell one how to interpret what one was hearing/seeing, the practical and legitimate uses for such abilities are somewhat limited.

I readily admit that both abilities have practical law-enforcement/lifesaving applications (like finding out about a terrorist attack plan by eavesdropping, or looking through a wall to see someone overdosing on sleeping pills), but there's a reason why spying for law enforcement is supposed to require judicial oversight. There is great risk that such power could be abused.

If I had the ability to hear conversations or see through things, there would be a great and constant temptation to misuse that power.

So if I had to choose which power I might potentially misuse, I'd choose x-ray vision, for the simple reason that there is less personal injury involved on both sides should I have a weak moment and give in to temptation.

I say this because listening to a private conversation between two people is an invasion of their thoughts, as opposed to an invasion of say, their desk or closet. The latter strikes me as the lesser of two evils. There's also less of a chance of personal injury I think, in choosing x-ray vision. If you can get a window into someone's private thoughts, there's a much greater risk of leaarning something you would rather not know than there is by peeking into their cupboards or looking through their clothes.

With respect to legitimate uses of such power, it seems to me that x-ray vision at least has some practical applications that wouldn't require domain knowledge, such as helping a construction worker find buried pipes and cables, or helping Auntie Sue find where she left her car keys in record time, or finding lost coins on the beach, etc.

I can't see any legitimate use possible for eavesdropping on conversations, so I guess it's x-ray vision for me.

Posted by: Chuck S. at March 5, 2007 9:55 AM

That was very interesting, Chuck! I agree, you would have to be able to control either ability the way you describe.

They both offer a great learning opportunity that you didn't mention. Maybe you don't speak Arabic, but you might be able to learn it by listening in on conversations. I'm not sure how you focus your listening, though. If you can't see what's going on, then it would be harder to learn, but I think you could learn another language under the right circumstances, or learn how different businesses conduct their business, listen in on whatever college lecture interested you, etc. (I actually think the latter is one of the least intersting examples of learning, but at least it's designed for that purpose.)

As far as vision, I think you'd learn pretty quickly the variation in human tissue, for example, and what is healthy and what isn't, in the same way we can recognize a scar on the exterior of somebody's body. I would love to have that knowledge! I would love to be able to see human systems working and diagnose incorrectly working ones.

But, of course, there's the Gilligan's Island problem, the ethics problem that you raise. I wasn't thinking of being terribly ethical, I was thinking of having fun. It gets a lot less fun when you drag ethics into it. :-P

Posted by: Maggie at March 5, 2007 10:04 AM

Oh, the conversation thing,as long as I could switch it off. I'd use it to do legal 'insider' trading. Or not- I don't know how to crochet like Martha. But still - I'd love to know a few days ahead of time who will buy Chrysler!

Posted by: Cindy at March 5, 2007 10:13 AM

I was thinking I'd prefer the listening ablity, until I read Chuck's post. Being able to see things that are out of sight would be a great help for a slob like me who is always putting things on top of other things.

Posted by: Julie at March 5, 2007 11:02 AM

I could nearly do both with x-ray vision if I learned how to lip read.

Posted by: Mike at March 5, 2007 11:26 AM

I would say x-ray vision. I probably wouldn't be listening to conversations at the right time anyway. If I could record and fast forward - then maybe.

Funny, I was just talking with my brother and uncle about x-ray vision at breakfast yesterday. My uncle said when he was a kid he wanted x-ray vision for 2 reasons, 1) to see girls naked and 2) to find treasure. I asked him if anything has changed now that he's grown up - he said no.

Posted by: Sara at March 5, 2007 11:37 AM

To partly answer some of Chuck's musings, X-ray vision would give you the ability to turn on and off vision in the X-ray part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Let's say, you could see as far as X-rays could penetrate, and you'd see with the quality of a backscatter device, depending on how you concentrated. You'd have only limited ability to control how much you can see through, since X-rays are X-rays.

Assume you emit no harmful radiation.

The conversation thing would be turning on and off at will, and you choose either the location or the person. That one seems more like a psychic ability, since it's not limited by distance and we're talking about conversations, not sounds.

Posted by: James at March 5, 2007 11:49 AM

Sara, I was wondering when someone was going to comment on that elephant in the room.

Posted by: Mike at March 5, 2007 12:12 PM

The treasure elephant, Mike? ;-) Maybe that's why Chuck's post was so thoughtful. He needed to think up a really good (ethical) reason why he'd rather look through women's skirts than hear the thoughts coming out of their heads.

(Half-kidding, Chuck!)

Posted by: Maggie at March 5, 2007 12:20 PM

This is basically what you'd see with the x-ray ability:

Backscatter security image

I guess that image might be NSFW to some, so be warned. But that's what the security folk are going to see now when you get on an airplane.

Posted by: James at March 5, 2007 12:41 PM

:-) No offense taken, because it's half-true. I, like Sara's Uncle, would undoubtedly use this ability to see people naked.

On the upside, though, it would likely be therapeutic for me. Nothing kills curiousity like answers effortlessly obtained. If I could see everyone naked whenever I wanted, I would rapidly lose the desire to see everyone naked. And this would be a wonderful thing, because it would be like lifting an onerous curse and would make my personal interactions much easier and freer of distraction.

That said, it's not that I don't want to hear "the thoughts coming out of their heads"--I only want to hear the thoughts they want me to hear. That was the half that's not true, but I suspect you already know that. :-)

Posted by: Chuck S. at March 5, 2007 12:48 PM

I'm assuming the x-ray vision is not equivalent to "seeing in the x-ray spectrum" as (educated guess here) there probably aren't enough x-rays in the natural environment to provide a clear image.

Which would mean that if I was seeing in x-rays and could actually resolve images, I would have to be emitting x-rays or have the ability to cause x-rays to be emitted from other locations around whatever I wanted to look at. Since this would be dangerous to the people around me, I'd then have to choose the "hear any conversation" ability.

Therefore I'm assuming the x-ray vision is as magical and unscientific as the "hear any conversation" option, and I only interpretted it as "the ability to see through things".

Posted by: Chuck S. at March 5, 2007 12:59 PM

I know, poor Chuck. But, by your logic, I would have long ago gotten over my addiction for chocolate. It seems like the more I eat, the more I want. So I'm not so sure x-ray vision would be a good thing for you.

Posted by: Maggie at March 5, 2007 1:04 PM

I find that interesting Maggie. I love chocolate too, but after a relatively small amount, I become sick of it and don't want any more.

Pat bought me a bunch of Lindt chocolate truffles and put them in my bedside table. Every couple days I have one or maybe two and then I don't want any more.

I got saturated with birdwatching, and now I don't watch birds. I got saturated with genealogy, and I haven't pursued it in years.

Maybe I'm just weird, but perhaps you're right. I've not to my knowledge ever faced a real personal addiction. But maybe I have and haven't recognized it.

Posted by: Chuck S. at March 5, 2007 1:12 PM

Have you ever returned to something you thought you were saturated with?

A box of Lindt truffles wouldn't last a day if it were mine. Every day I walk into the pantry and look at the chocolate I gave James for Christmas and I can't believe he hasn't eaten it yet. But I don't dare hope that he would never notice if it went missing...

Posted by: Maggie at March 5, 2007 1:23 PM

Someone I knew told me she found some chocolate in a cabinet that she'd forgotten about. I don't know how something like that would be possible. :)

Posted by: Julie at March 5, 2007 1:35 PM

Hmm. That's a good question. No I can't really think of coming back to something I was "saturated" with.

I mean I might on rare occasions go birdwatching, but it's not like before. I came back to playing Magic: the Gathering, but I don't collect like I used to. It's part of the weirdness of me, I devote large sections of my life to the pursuit of an interest, get saturated and then move on.

But maybe none of those things qualify as "addictions".

Posted by: Chuck S. at March 5, 2007 7:09 PM

Have you seen 'Adaptation' or read The Orchid Thief? That reminds me of the character John Laroche.

Posted by: Sara at March 6, 2007 9:47 AM

I'd choose the listening to conversations. As a person with a hearing problem I often find myself frustrated because I am often asking people to repeat themselves.

I agree the temptation to listen to someone talking pretty much anywhere in teh world would be neat. But I would most likely use it to hear conversations I am participating in :P

Posted by: Jay at March 6, 2007 10:29 AM

Chuck, if you get saturated and then move on, then that is probably the opposite of an addiction.

I wish I could do like my father: he would take up a hobby - just one hobby - which absorbed all of his free time. Then, one day, I would come home from school, all of that hobby stuff was gone, replaced with a whole new hobby. Model airplanes; ham radio; computers; computer games; woodworking; now back to model airplanes.

But I go for cheaper hobbies, and then instead of clearing one hobby out to make room for the new one, I tend to accumulate lots of things because I know that someday (probably not soon) I will want to come back to some old hobby.

As for hearing vs. x-ray vision, while I supposedly don't technically have a hearing problem, I'm with Jay - the temptation to eavesdrop might become a problem for me, but it'd be really nice not to have to ask people to repeat themselves all the time.

Posted by: Julie at March 6, 2007 10:43 AM

I'm party to too many conversations I want no part of now (hello Mr cell phone asshole). I can't think of any good non-eavesdropping use for the conversation skill. Plus you have to know when a conversation you might want to listen too is going to take place.

The X-ray thing might be on rare occasion useful (finding lost stuff in couch, did I kick those shoes under the bed, answering Bilbo's last question in the riddle game "that's not a riddle you filthy hobbit and you have a ring in your pocket").

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at March 6, 2007 11:03 AM

I'd take the X-ray ability, and become a carnival performer.

Posted by: James at March 6, 2007 11:09 AM

LOL, Bob, you're right about cell phone conversations.

I still remember sitting in a pizza joint, and the woman in the booth behind us was having the loudest, most obnoxious conversation. The woman screamed, "I'm at pizza hut! Pizza hut!"

And little M's eyes got wide. "Mommy, this is Papa Gino's."

We just watched the woman go outside to wait for the guy and didn't say a thing.

It's true -- I really don't care if you did your laundry, or what he needs to pick up at the store, or "what she said" this morning. I can't stand to listen to most radio and TV talk shows, never mind people's personal and uninteresting business, shouted over a cell phone.

But it seems like the ability, as long as you can turn it off and on, would be worth it for the few conversations you really want to hear. I'd sit and listen to the White House for a day. I'd listen to Bush walk around and hear what people say to him and what he says back. There are a lot of places I'd devote some time to listening to, until I got the rhythm of when it's best to listen, and whether there's anything to learn.

Posted by: Maggie at March 6, 2007 11:26 AM

I'd listen to my coworkers having a conversation in another cube about some work-related topic that they should have included me in, but it didn't occur to them that the writer/tester might want to know about changes they are considering making to the software.

Posted by: Julie at March 6, 2007 11:29 AM

Conversation listener. There's far too much secrecy and obfuscation at my office. I'd use it to find out what was really going on and get some advance notice of when I should look for another job.

Posted by: briwei at March 6, 2007 7:06 PM

Copyright © 1999-2007 James P. Burke. All Rights Reserved