The Speculist: Seinfeld, Superman, and the Singularity

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Seinfeld, Superman, and the Singularity

Barry Mahfood runs a neat blog that provides "bite-size" reflections on the Singularity. His most recent post has to do with how useful a superintelligence would be for solving problems that we're grappling with in today's world. A good point, and what I like most about it is how he gets us there -- via a chat between George and Jerry on an old Seinfeld episode about whether or not Superman should have a super sense of humor. This raises the broader question of whether Superman acquired a super brain to match his super brawn when coming to earth.

I won't attempt to add to Barry's thoughts on why superintelligence would be a good thing for us, but I can shed some light on the equally important question of whether Superman is super-smart in addition to being super-strong, super-fast, etc. The question was answered indirectly in one of the greatest "imaginary" Superman stories of the silver age (imaginary stories being stories that weren't part of the normal DC comics continuity): The Amazing Story of Superman Red and Superman Blue. In the story, Superman is confronted by leaders of the survivors of Krypton (living in a bottle in his arctic fortress) who point out that he has failed to solve the major problems that he's been charged with, including that pesky business about crime and evil.

In an attempt to get a better handle on the problem, our hero hooks himself up to a brain evolution machine which he hopes will give him the requisite super-smarts:

singularityman.jpg

A side effect of the machine is that it splits him into two Supermen (color-coded per the title) who proceed to figure out solutions to all the world's problems and pretty much bring an end to not only Superman's career, but the career of all superheroes and other crime-fighters. So you can see why this story was never made part of the regular continuity! However, even though the story itself never took place, it's premise was based in the normal continuity. So therefore I think we can conclude that Superman is not superintelligent.

Thanks for your attention.


UPDATE FROM STEPHEN:

I have a great counter-example of a story where Superman did claim superintelligence:

radioshack5.jpg

Now I guess that since Superman was being shamelessly used to shill for Radio Shack, most comic fan-boys would probably call this story "imaginary" too.

radioshackcover.jpg

I'd beg to differ. I was one of those kids who got a free copy of this comic, and I loved it. Here's why...

radioshack9.jpg

Superman temporarily loses his superintelligence and he had to get help from normal kids (like me!) armed with TRS-80's. Man, that just geeked me out! Whenever the subject of Superman came up - which was quite often with ten-year-old boys in 1980 - I'd always ask the other guys if they knew that Superman was supersmart too.

For me, this was canon.


H/T to Ye Olde Comick Booke Blogge (which, oddly enough, is not safe for work or family).


UPDATE FROM PHIL:

Okay, I stand corrected. The brain intelligence machine must have worked to push Superman beyond super-smart into some level of, like, way ultra smart.

The important thing is that we're finally dealing with substantial issues on this blog!


YET ANOTHER UPDATE FROM PHIL:

Come to think of it, both Superman and the Flash consistently display one variation of superintelligence -- the ability to think very fast. Superman can have an entire internal monologue going on while chasing down a speeding bullet; the Flash frequently does the same kind of thing. Since I don't think Stephen has an old Flash comic ready to prove me wrong, I'm going to assert that the Flash was never declared to be super intelligent. (Although the silver age Flash, Barry Allen, was a very smart guy.) However, by being able to think much faster than normal human beings, the Flash was doing what we expect a simulated brain in a silicon substrate to be able to do -- think at the same speed we do, subjectively speaking, but with that subjective time taking a lot less actual time.

So the Flash can solve any complex problem that can be solved by trial and error in the blink of an eye -- not because he's thinking "better" than the rest of us, but merely because he's thinking faster.

Super-fast = super-intelligent.

Comments

Superman is an alien form another planet. A freakazoid that his human creators could have given or attrobuted any power. He's a girl's superhero.

Batman, however, is just Bruce Wayne. A guy with issues and wealth- but just a guy.

I always liked that Bruce Wayne/Batman was generally only interested in science as a means to an end. I suppose Superman was similar- but he's not human so comparisons about human qualities don't make that much sense.

Reed Richards- Mr Fantastic - is a scientist so naturally he's always at least as interested in the science of how and why things happen- especially how bad guys function and evil superpowers can be neutralized.
But all the superheroes birthed by mysterious and unrepeateable science experiments are inferior to Batman....just a guy trying to do right.

Vision is smarter than Superman, but he's not human.

Sheesh- from a human perspective, Mr X is smarter than Superman, even when Superman is in the fortress on mind altering substances and therefore Ultra smart.

He's a girl's superhero.

Oh, brother. Take it to the other thread.

I think Luthor would probably score higher than Clark on an IQ test, but Clark always wins. I'm starting to think that Superman wins not just because he's smarter, but because he's faster. Hypothesis: a really fast guy of average intelligence is smarter than a smart guy operating at normal speed. That's why Superman would win in a fight with Batman (not that they should be fighting; I'm from the silver age -- they should be buddies). No matter how ingenious Batman's plan, Superman is faster, ergo smarter, thus he kicks Batman's bat-butt.



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