Posts Tagged ‘probability’

Probability Control

April 27, 2010 4 comments

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?  I’ve long debated between time control, teleporting, and flying.  When the TV show Heroes came out, I decided I’d cheat a little like they did with Hiro and combine time and space control into one.  It’s like a buy-one, get-one free.

Hiro, from Heroes

I’ve put a lot of thought into this, perhaps too much.  I even wrote a story when I was younger about a world with powers.  At 3 or 4 key points in your life (13, 25, and 40, I think) you would get a super power, assuming you’d lived your life well.  Some sort of supernatural being would appear in front of you when you were alone on your birthday and offer you three choices for powers.  They suited your personality, your lifestyle, your character, and your position in life.  And you would lose them if used improperly.

But that’s not what this post is about.

About a month back in physics class, I realized that you could combine science and super powers and come up with the ultimate super power.  (No, this isn’t Ross’ comic book, Science Boy: The boy with a supernatural thirst for knowledge from Friends.)  This is honest to goodness real, powerful stuff.  And it will blow your mind.

Physics is crazy stuff.  Since the time of Isaac Newton, it’s always dazzled people.  You could pinpoint exactly the position of a rock that you launch from a slingshot and where it will land.  You can do the same with a missile, or even determine where the Earth is in the galaxy.  The possibilities seemed endless.

But they were wrong…sort of.

Turns out, with the birth of quantum mechanics in the 20th Century, things aren’t quite as clear cut as we thought they were.  All matter is made of molecules, which are made of atoms, which are made of protons and neutrons and electrons, which are made of quarks, not to mention the whole slew of other things that fly in from outer space.  When scientists try and measure these tiny, tiny particles, they find it gets, quite literally, impossible.  It seems that everything, from tiny quarks to full sized bowling balls, aren’t fixed in place exactly.  They bounce around, constantly moving, and not really set or sure where they’re going next.  A particle here could instantly appear 10 feet from where is was the second before without missing a beat.  Though not common, it does occur.

The problem here lies in probability.  While there is a tiny probability of that tiny particle teleporting, chances are it’ll just stay right where it is (or, at least, move in a normal path).  In fact, even a large object, like a person, could theoretically teleport like this, but then it becomes very, very unlikely.  (For a 50 kg person to teleport just a short distance, the chances are about 1 in 10^(10^35) (which is the same as a 1 followed by enough zeros that, if typed out on normal paper, the paper would weigh the same as the sun and would circle the Universe 2500 times).)

Here’s what I’m trying to say: it’s possible to spontaneously teleport, but it is so incredibly unlikely that it will never, ever happen.

But what if you could control probability?  That is my proposed superpower: probability control.

If you could control probability, you could pretty much do anything.  Teleport by making all your atoms jump simultaneously, change your eye color by making all your genes mutate, or freeze time by making all of the atoms except yours just stop.  So many possibilities.

A few people have already (sort of) explored this possibility.  In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Infinite Probability drive runs sort of like this, teleporting the space ship instantly to another part of the galaxy.  And in Heroes, they briefly explored this in a minor character who could “see” probability and choose the best possible path (like the right moves to make during a fight or soccer match).

Wow, I’m a nerd.