Superpowers: Flight vs. Invisibility

This morning I was listening to This American Life, and the episode was an old one, from way back in February 2001, called Superpowers.  The intro segment featured very famous cartoonist, Chris Ware talking about his awkward childhood, but the first real segment was a very young John Hodgman discussing the idea of Flight vs. Invisibility.

The idea was, at parties, dinners, wherever, instead of asking about your job or other small talk, he'd ask "if you could have a superpower, would you rather have flight or invisibility?" Those powers don't come with any other enhancements, and there's no one else who has it.  Based on your choice, what would you do?  The segment is really interesting, and I highly recommend a listen, but why not give it a spin?

So, the question I put to you is, which would you choose, and what would you do?  Would any of you actually begin to fight crime?  Could you think of something altruistic to actually do with the powers, or would you immediately start with things that make you happy? Is there anything wrong with that?  What are the limitations of a power like that?  Presumably flight includes no extra protection against the elements, and invisibility doesn't extend to the things you're wearing or holding.

What's your call?


  1. Invisibility.  No question.  I would get access to so much more information with this power.

  2. The problem with invisibility is if you were to go completely invisible, you wouldn’t be able to see since your eyesight relies on the opaque properties of the eyes. Best case scenerio, things would appear upside-down and blurry.

    So I’m going with flight.

  3. Flight would be more fun, but invisibility’s more practical. Even if you can’t turn stuff you’re carrying invisible, people are going to be too freaked out by the floating object moving of its own accord to stop you. Plus, info, ladies’ locker rooms, free movies/concerts/plays… I guess if you were going to continue to be a mostly moral person you’d have to go with flight, since there’s not much you can get up to with invisibility that isn’t against some rule or other. And it would be nice to fly. So…flight.

  4. Invisibility.  I walk around naked anyway, so the cloths not being invisible thing isn’t an issue for me.

    I don’t know that I’d fight crime.  I’d like to think I would, but if I’m being honest with myself I’d likely do a few selfish things first.  

    If I’m going to fight crime, I’d start at the top.  I’d walk into the White House and/or a Congressman’s (or Congresswoman’s) office and record a few conversations during meetings.  I’d then head to a few corporate board rooms.  

    I’m not sure how effective my invisibility would be for street level crime fighting.  Being invisible would give me an advantage, but I’m certainly not trained in any fighting styles.

  5. @stulach – Of the two, we’d all be better off with you crime-fighting the former. 

  6. @stuclach-But would you couple your white collar crime fighting with personal gain?  And I am certainly not saying that there is anything wrong with that.  Look at Invincible as a perfect example.  You can force them into making more responsible decisions AND get them to hook you up in the process.

    Win-win I say!

  7. @OttoBott – I’ll do what I can.

    @MisterJ – I would probably commit some white collar crime while stopping some.  I’d like to think I’m better than that, but I’d probably be fooling myself (I’ve got to pay for my ChrisCave).  For example, if I happen to record some evidence that indicates that GE has been illegally dumping waste into a local lake, I’d probably buy a huge stack of put options on margin.

  8. I think I might enjoy flight, but only if I can fly significantly longer/faster than I can run. And with somewhat less physical effort. If I could fly to work, that would be pretty sweet.


    @stuclach This would explain wikileaks lol

  9. If you choose invisibility, you are an perv and/or a thief.

    I choose invisibility.

  10. I’ll take flying please!

  11. I’d take flying for purely selfish reasons. I’m sure invisibility could accomplish more good, but, yeah,  high velocity or no, I’d still love to fly.

  12. Are you kidding? Flight all the way, with all of the hassle of going on the plane, if I could fly I would be in the air all of the time & save thousands upon thousands of dollars on flights. So flying is the most economical.

  13. You could only fly with what you could carry. You have no extra strength, and no one said anything about how fast you could fly.  There are lots of questions to be answered.

  14. can you turn the invisibility on and off? or are you stuck invisble forever, like the Invisible Man?

  15. Flight no question

  16. Building on @WonderAli’s question: assuming the invisibility can be turned on and off I would take that simply for the ability to get out of all of those things that I never want to do.  No more getting pulled into weird conversations, no more being asked to do crap and being put on the spot.  If only…

    Plus with flight it would be too easy for the Government to track you down and dissect you, it’s a lot harder to find something that’s invisible. 

  17. @Malecema – I just don’t want to pick a power I don’t have control over. inherently, you can choose whether you’d like to fly and when.

  18. That’s easily one of my favorite TAL stories. It turned me onto John Hodgman when I first heard it.

    I’d choose flight and almost immediately start using it for selfish purposes. It’s not like flight alone would make someone a crime fighter, after all. Perhaps I’d do something akin to Spider-Man, where I’d use it to get attention on TV. If done improperly, I’d probably become a crappy YouTube meme that’d last a few days. I’d want a little more notoriety than that. Perhaps I’d create some sort of religion around ‘The Flying Man’ and bilk my followers for money.

    Yup. I suppose I’d become a super villain.

  19. Glad you posted this, Josh. I heard this the other day on This American Life and was instantly fascinated.

    I was fascinated because so much of what I heard was people picking invisibility and then feeling like that’s the lowly, cowardly choice. And then I believe it ends on a note where a woman is saying everyone would pick invisibility, they’re just not being honest with you. And that’s funny to me because I’ve ALWAYS picked flight. Even just out of "you can have ONE superpower" questions. Those are my favorite dreams — the ones where I fly. I love that feeling of complete freedom. Totally flight.

     And if that, as the TAL piece seems to indicate, means that I’m letting it all hang out, have no secrets and no guile — then so be it. 🙂 

  20. I choose Wonder Woman’s invisible jet.

  21. For the flying, do you have wings? Because…wings are kind of a turn-off for me, and I’d have to change my answer.

  22. First, I just want to thank all you have posted for not bringing up Dane Cook’s superpower skit. your classyness is why i keep coming back.

    Secondly, it’s gotta be flight! i quote a very famous doctor, dr. emmit brown, "Roads? where we’re going, we don’t need roads!"

    Thirdly, for those of you choosing flight, what would be your method of flying? wings? superman style? I’d go with superman style.

  23. Invisibility.  I would patrol the streets and use the advantage of surprise to stop bad guys from hurting people or animals.  I have to imagine that even a relatively small person like me could be pretty effective in a fight if no one can see you coming or know exactly where to strike.

    In my fantasy life I am the protector of kitties like Dexter just before he got his red ring.  I would have killed the hell out of those two thugs.

  24. I have a friend who plays this game, but he does a lot more ultra nerdy things with it.  It starts out as "Would you rather have Flight or Invisiibility"  Then he starts to sweeten the pot for the other side or diminish the coolness of the one I chose until I change my mind.  Then he’ll pick another superpower.  The conversations can go on for hours.

    "Flight or invisibility?"  Flight. "What if it was just ballistic flight, like a rocket, with no ability to hover and difficulty landing?" Flight. "What if that flight required you to have large, cumbersome wings?"  Um, flight still.  "What if it was invisibility and the ability to create indestructible invisible objects?"  Um, invisibility.  

  25. Flight,easy answer. I can save on gas and no traffic,lol. Not to mention just the feeling of being up there looking down on everything,it would be a nice place to think. AND depending on how fast I can fly I could go so fast that I would appear invisible:)   or at least a blur of some kind.

  26. I would rather have Super Speed like the Flash, but if i had to choose one of those two, i would take flight. No traffic jams for me!

  27. It’s all about flight. I’ll concede that invisibility would be useful, but who could turn down the (I’m assuming) euphorea of taking to the sky under your own power. It is the very heart of mankind’s advancements in science and travel, and we all dream about it. Nothing would ever be as cool as that, ever.

  28. I genuinely love when simple questions like this go off into ‘rules’. How fast can you fly? Do the things you wear or carry become invisible?

    For me it’s flight. Invisibility might have better practical applications (or nefarious ones) but for as long as I can remember I have wanted to be able to fly. I have a really vivid image in my head of zipping down a gridlocked road just above the line of the cars.

    As to a flying rules list, I’d love it to be supersonic because that’d make traveling a lot easier. Having said that I’d have to pack light because I don’t think I’ll be able to carry a full suit case across the Pacific. 

  29. Flight = bugs

    Invisibility = cold

    You can wear a bug shield, you can’t heat up without extarnel help which would compromise the invisibility. Not in Canada.

    I say flight. Or move to the tropics and pick invisibility.

  30. @JumpingJuptiter I was just going to write *exactly* that post.  Bugs.  Ugh.  Frankly, if I could fly I’d want to be invisible, at least until I took a shower. Also, remember that flight = cold, because it’s chilly up there.  You’d have to wear a thermal outfit, because of the, well, thermals.  Either Hawkman has the world’s worst case of nipple-frostbite, or the Nth metal keeps him warm.  Finally, I have enough trouble walking down the street without falling on my ass.  If I had another dimension to think in?  Fuggitaboutit. 

    Speaking of having trouble walking down the street: I can’t do it if I can’t see my own feet.  And, as everyone knows, invisible doesn’t mean silent.  Feet still make noise.  Invisible people still cough.  No, in this match-up I choose a bowl of popcorn and a lawn chair, so that I can listen to all the invisible people tripping over each other and watch all the flying people get bugs in their eyes.

  31. Flight. I want to fly

  32. It costs too much too fly these days and I don’t trust pilots.  I choose to be able to fly.

  33. Definitely invisibility. I can catch a plane anywhere in the world, but the things invisibility opens up a lot more practical uses.

  34. I’d go flight if it was a good fast speed and Superman style.

    I’d have to get a Rocketeer Jacket and nice helmet. 

  35. I have to go with invisibility. Think of all the insider trading info you can get from standing in a big company meeting. Than once I make like 10 million dollars I donate to the needly.

  36. I’d take flight. I’d also find a way to leverage it to make some money and celebrity for myself. Not a lot of paying gigs for superheroes out there. 

    I think someone with invisibility would just become pure evil after a while.  

  37. I’d now take flight, since I ride a motorcycle if I want to be invisible I’ll just ride my motorcycle :-p 

  38. Flying would be cool but invisibility is just too tempting. Invisibility would test peoples morality and I think few people could resist taking advantage of that. @tmvking1-that’s very altruistic of you but don’t tell me you didn’t slap your dick across somebody’s face at that meeting.

  39. Flight, because it’s always been in my dreams & I have done some prep work – skydiving & gliding. Besides, no-one ever looks up so you’ld be practically invisible. 😉

  40. @3rdRedBird guess it was too much to ask to read the first sentence of the article? 🙂

    I go with flight. Any benefits you’d get from invisibility would get old and make you feel guilty. 




  41. Flight easy

  42. Flight.

    Invisibility just brings many more problems. Expecially the cold.

    As people have said, it gets very cold you’re high, but there’s nothing saying you HAVE to fly that high, plus you can wear warm clothes. If you’re invisible you’re just plain naked!

  43. Invulnerability.

  44. disqualified!

  45. Let’s see I can be invisible but naked, or I can fly but not too fast or I die from friction heat, not too high or I die from extreme cold, and basically never take the stairs again. So flight.