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March 01, 2006

Useless superpowers

What separates superheroes from the rest of us isn't necessarily that they have superpowers and we don't. Maybe the rest of us have our own powers, but our superpowers are useless. For example, I have the power of undesirable slogans. I can think up a motto or slogan for just about anything, but I'd never make a penny for most of them: "K-mart: now with fewer rat droppings." "Labatt's Blue. When you don't want to wait for the hangover."

I have the power of automatically getting into the checkout line where the person ahead of me wants the cigarettes which the cashier can only get from the very back corner of the store, and the person ahead of that wants to buy a cartload of groceries and pay with pennies, and the person ahead of that spends 10 minutes insisting that she found the item on the clearance rack, even though it's marked and rings up at full price.

I have one power which is useless but might have some potential, though. I have the ability to remember useless details: to picture where I was when I heard something. The other day I listened to a CD on the way to work. On the way home it played again, and as each song began I could remember the exact point on the highway where I had heard it in the morning.

That's nothing. It works for languages too. Last year I listened to the second half of Pimsleur Japanese while walking the dog, and I can still remember the exact conditions when I first heard many of the words and phrases. One winter day I learned atsui while walking up to Walgreen's on the corner. I was approaching the corner of our street. The sky was cloudy and the wind was very cold and from the northwest. A few minutes later I first heard nan to iimasuka? while walking through the parking lot and trying to avoid the icy patches. I first heard nanika otetsudai shimashouka? while walking the dog on a sunny spring morning, cool weather, approaching the bottom of the hill and about to turn the corner, and Amerika ni itta koto ga arimasuka? was a warmer day, approaching the far south end of our route, on a day when we were walking the route opposite the usual direction.

Books too: one day I looked at the frame for hito in "Essential Kanji." I can clearly remember the sun shining on the page, but naturally can't remember most of the readings for that kanji.

There must be a way to exploit this superpower to produce super learning. On the other hand, then it wouldn't be useless.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at March 1, 2006 04:36 PM


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