Why You Don’t Want Invisibility

Why You Don’t Want Invisibility

– This episode of Because Science is sponsored by LightStream. You don’t actually want
the power of invisibility. What would you do if you
could turn invisible? Most of the responses I’ve heard to that question are less than heroic. Many of them come down
to sneaking into places you shouldn’t be or borrowing
stuff without asking. Of course, you could use the power of invisibility for good. It is one of the fundamental hero powers. But thinking about the scientific
reality of this ability, I don’t think invisibility
is something you’d even want. Like super strength and super speed, humans have fantasized about the power of invisibility for a long time. Suddenly disappearing is the subject of great novels like The
Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, the 1933 movie of the same name, and of course the masterpiece Hollow Man starring Kevin Bacon. Many of these stories have considered the consequences of turning invisible, but I think that science
has even more to say. So why wouldn’t you want
this classic superpower? First, what is invisibility? Well, whether the source of the power is magical or sciencey, to make something invisible
you have to change the way that something
interacts with light. Everything that you can
see interacts with photons, elementary particles that
are the basic units of light and electromagnetic radiation. Those photons of light are
flying around the universe, and they enter our eyes
and give our brains visual information based on the
properties of those photons, like frequency and phase. Now, everything that you can see, then, therefore is either emitting
light that reaches your eyes or is bouncing photons off
of itself and to your eyes. So to make yourself invisible, then, you have to change these paths. However your powers worked, they would have to redirect photons so that they would either go around you or an object so that those
didn’t bounce off of you or an object and make it into your eyes, or the photons would
have to go through you, kind of like you were transparent. Or a third option is
that you could project what is behind you in front
of you and into people’s eyes, kind of like how Predator’s
camouflage might work and look. But I don’t think that this is what we consider classic invisibility. Yeah, sorry, dude. Yeah, I don’t know. Oh, heads up! How invisibility might actually work is the first real problem with this power. The easiest way to make yourself invisible would be to reroute
photons around yourself so that they didn’t bounce off of you and into other people’s eyes, but if you were doing this successfully, no photons would be entering your eyes to give your brain visual information, and you would be blind. You might be invisible to
other people like Kevin Bacon, but they would be invisible to you too. Now, there is a solution
to this, but it is weird. The human eye is an incredibly
sensitive photon detector. Experiments have shown
that we can register the impact of a single photon
at the backs of our eyes. But that doesn’t mean we see
an image when that happens. Reportedly, it’s like a
feeling of seeing something without actually seeing it. So to see an image, we
need many, many photons hitting the backs of our eyes, especially considering that
upwards of 90% of photons that enter the front don’t make
it to the back of our eyes. They just bounce around
all over the place. So to be both invisible and able to see, you would not only have to
reroute photons around your body, you would have to route a lot
of photons into your eyes. Which would illuminate them. Apparently this is what
Marvel’s Invisible Woman does, but if you did this, your eyes would be visible
while your body was invisible, and that is weird. And gross. And doesn’t really fit with
our conception of invisibility and it would give you away pretty quickly. Get outta here, Kevin! Cut loose, man! Even if you weren’t blind, even if you weren’t just a
pair of disembodied eyes, another reason you wouldn’t want the power of invisibility is that you
wouldn’t be truly invisible. If you can make yourself invisible by rerouting photons around yourself, you’d probably want to do
this right above your skin or, better yet, at your skin,
because if you were making a large volume around you invisible, you might start to make objects around you look weird enough to give you away. But if just your physical
form was invisible, you also wouldn’t want any
objects or the environment interacting with it to
give away your shape. This would immediately limit your powers by making it impossible
to sneak through a world when it was either snowing or raining, and you wouldn’t be able to
stand in one spot for too long, because the dust and debris
that you would gather would also give away your shape. And in this conception of invisibility, you would have to be naked. So to be truly invisible, if you wanted to sneak around anywhere, you would have to be cold
and naked and uncomfortable. But at least you’d be invisible, right? Well, that depends on
what is trying to see you. Every second, the average human radiates 100 joules worth of heat energy out into the universe in all directions. Anything with a temperature does this. And so you are always emitting
light, but infrared light. Now, I know we don’t
think of infrared light like we do visible light, but
consider the term red hot. When something is red hot, it is radiating enough heat energy that its wavelengths of infrared light are being pushed up into red light. Visible light. It’s all on the same spectrum. And so even if you were invisible to people looking for
you with visible light, anyone that was looking
for your heat signature could see you just as easily as if you were not invisible at all. Heads up! Ha ha, missed me by six degrees. Kevin! No! So while classic invisibility
would hide your visible light, anyone with something as simple as a thermal camera
could pick you up easily. This wasn’t a problem back in 1933, when The Invisible Man movie came out, but today we have the
technology which would make it almost impossible to sneak
undetected through most of the places that you would
want to be undetected in. Anyone with a motion or thermal camera, the most common security
measure in homes and banks, could pick you up easily. Which would be good, because
I know what you would do if you were invisible,
you bunch of creepos. I know. You don’t have to say it. We all know. Even if you weren’t blind, even if you didn’t have to be naked, even if you were somehow
completely undetectable, you still wouldn’t want invisibility, because of your own brain. I want you to try something with me, okay? Close your eyes, it’ll be fine. Close your eyes, and
extend one of your arms. Now extend the pointer finger on that arm, and now bring the tip of your finger to touch the tip of your nose. Okay, now open your eyes. Easy, right? Most people can get within 20 millimeters of their nose first try, no problem. But how can we do this? How are we able to position something accurately in space that we cannot see? Well, it is thanks to a sense that we have but you may not have heard
of called proprioception. It is our body’s movement sense. It’s how our brains know how our limbs are positioned in space
without visual input. Without proprioception, we
wouldn’t be able to drive without looking where our
feet are on the pedals. We wouldn’t be able to type
without looking at our fingers. And we wouldn’t even be able to walk without watching our feet on the ground. We wouldn’t be able to dance either. I’m sorry. Proprioception relies on information that your body is constantly generating. Your inner ear tells your brain how your body is moving
and its orientation. Your muscles and your ligaments tell your brain how your
limbs are positioned in space relative to the rest of your body. All of this information
combines in the brain with visual information
to give you an idea of where you are and how you are moving. Or not. Incredibly smart boy and
neuroscientist Oliver Sacks once told a story of just how
important proprioception is to our everyday lives
in his fantastic book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, which I highly recommend. In it, he describes a patient, Christina, who actually lost her movement sense, thanks to a viral infection in her spine. After that, she wasn’t able to walk, she wasn’t able to control
the volume of her voice, and she couldn’t manipulate
or grasp objects correctly. Now, Christina made a partial recovery, but only because she
learned to rely entirely on visual information and
not her movement sense. For example, she was able to
grasp a fork again to eat, but when she did so, she
had to grab the fork so hard that it hurt her hands
and they turned white. As Oliver Sacks put it, Christina was able to
have a possible life, just not a normal one. The sense of your own body, combined with visual information, is critical to normal functioning. So now imagine what it
would really be like to be classically invisible. That is invisible but
unable to see your own body. It would be the other version
of what happened to Christina. Think of how hard it would be to walk down a flight of stairs if you
couldn’t see your own feet. You could only feel where they were. Imagine how hard it would be to manipulate and grasp objects with zero visual input. There we go. It’s not impossible, but
it’s not very super either. Being invisible would
be an incredible hassle. Just walking down the
street would be so hard. No, people wouldn’t be able
to see your naked, weird body, but you wouldn’t be able to see where your body was in space either. And so you’d be stumbling down the street, bumping into other people and obstacles, cold and confused all the while. It would be miserable. So why wouldn’t you want the classic superpower of invisibility? Well, it wouldn’t make you
feel very superpowered at all. Quite the contrary. You would either be blind or
a weird pair of floating eyes. You would be cold and naked. You would be completely visible to anyone with widely available thermal tech. And without the visual
information that your brain needs, along with your movement sense to make movement through life
possible and bearable, doing anything while invisible would be, at best, frustrating and,
at worst, impossible. If you really could go out of sight, it would drive you out of your mind. Because science. Ow! Dang it, Kevin, you kicked
off your Sunday shoes, and I tripped over them! Basically, to make invisibility work, you have to do a lot of weird stuff. You could route photons into your eyes and then out of your eyes after they bounced off of your eyes, or you could make yourself
completely disconnected from the electromagnetic spectrum, but then you’d fall through the earth and stuff. So you’d have to jump
through a lot of hoops. Regardless, classic
invisibility, I don’t think, is as cool, or nearly as cool, if you think about it scientifically. Although some have thought
about its consequences, like Hollow Man, where he
sees through his eyelids so it’s hard to sleep, but why can’t we see his eyeballs then? See? Same problem. That’s… That’s new. Hm. Hey, when do you want to start paying less interest on
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100 Replies to “Why You Don’t Want Invisibility”

  1. The "Kyle is Wrong!" FAQ
    Hey! Thanks for watching. The vlog this week doesn't cover this video, so here are some answers to your corrections:
    1. I am of course aware that blind individuals can navigate the world and live normal lives! But I think you'd have a hard time arguing that their experience is a "superpowered" one, as we understand it.
    2. Many people are misunderstanding my proprioception argument. I believe that we underestimate just how much visual information adds to our "movement sense." Knowing how to grasp objects, walk among obstacles, etc. (think of how hard it would be if you couldn't see where your body was) involves visual cues you don't even notice.
    3. Yes, you can type without looking at your fingers, but that's not what I said. Without being able to FEEL where your fingers are — with proprioception — you would have to look at them.
    4. The WHOLE POINT isn't that invisibility is impossible or impossible to live with, the point is that it has enough drawbacks that I wouldn't consider many versions of it "super," in that it wouldn't make you a superhero in the way you think. — KH

  2. If you were to turn "invisible" wouldn't your body have to be able to bend light? When somebody says the words 'bend light' don't you think black hole? Would you have to be a black hole just without the enourmous amounts of mass and the whole sucking in every subatomic-particle and spectrums of light and all that fun stuff? If you were to become invisible you would have to take in light and bend the light to become invisible.
    I understand that this is scientificly impossible, but if I were to have this power I would much rather use it for an act of self defense of heroism, I would rather keep it a secret because of all that fun stuff possibly involving tests on me and government stuff, though it would be hard to keep it a secret I would use it for sometimes incase of need.
    Also, there are particlas that pass through you everyday. If you were to have this super power you would of to "turn off" the way that light bounces off of you tather the light going through you instead therefore the viewr seeing a scenery without you in the picture. I also noticed that you mentioned the fact that without photons bouncing off of your eyes you would be blind. I just wanna that point out the funny fact that of you wouldnt want to be blind your eyes and possibly your brain would have to be visible if you woud like to see. Would your other sennses not if if they were invisible also?
    Btw I am 13 and I just found it amazing that I wrote this entire thing. Feel free to critisize me of you like. "I'm all ears"!

  3. I like vampire the masquerade invisibility, it more mind trick then true invisibility, people sort of put you on ignore and dont see you.

  4. The floating eye problem. You could just use your powers to reflect photons away from THEIR eyes. Once the photons bounce off of your eyes, use your power to not let those photons hit their eyes.


  5. "To be truly invisible, if you wanted to sneak around anywhere, you would have to be cold and naked and uncomfortable."

    Breaking News: The Caribbean Thief Strikes Again!

  6. well it'd still be sick because if you wanna be invisible just close your eyes, plus the disembodied eyes, you'd have at least 3 inches around you invisible as well which would make your clothes invisible too. You'd be invisible you just shouldn't get to close to objects it would still work fine. and not being invisible to infrared is fine. and NO you'd be able to easily walk and grab things, that just doesn't make any sense, you walk and grab things without actually looking at your own body all the time so that point doesn't make any damn sense.

  7. if I was Invisible I would fight crime and beat up criminals and laughing like a maniac to freak out the criminals

  8. picking things up without making a sound if you can't see your hands
    dogs can't see you but they can smell you
    what about the food you eat or when you go Pee
    when you walk into traffic you get yourself ran over your there dead and what a mess stinking up the road people be falling over your dead body

  9. What would happen if I were to let photons hit me, but bounce all the photons that did into my own eyes? Would I be able to see myself? Would I be visible to others?

  10. The leage of extrodanary gentlemen, i hope i spelled that right, did a really good job of this invisibility. The invisible man talks about being cold and he gathers snow on him at on point.

  11. To be fair, no one dreams of being invisible ALWAYS. They dream of being able to make themselves selectively invisible for a few minutes to either rob a bank, or beat the shit out of Mitch McConnell.

  12. Kyle, I just love your shirt! And I like your um…Chest. Can I touch it? Or are you invisible, so I can't even see you? Ergo: Invisibility works in my 6-part novel series. I can't tell you how just yet until Part VII comes out. So until then, you're just going to have to be patient…Cheers!

  13. What about translucent from amazon prime the boys he claims his skin is a kinda metal that reflects light to look invisible

  14. I disagree with this tho, of course you want the power of invisibility, the trick is to be invisible to others not to yourself

  15. Before I watch this, I will say realistically I would want to sit in a chair and wait til it was over and never want to do it again, because I would be blind. No light could strike my retina because its invisible.

  16. As far as the whole "proprioception" objection to invisibility, that seems like something you can master with a moderate amount of practice. Great video and channel, though.

  17. That would be why the Predator works actually, he doesn't turn entirely invisible. Light refracts off of him, and he can see through multiple different filters using his mask.

  18. There's a great novel about this kind of stuff called Memoirs of an Invisible Man (Ignore the Chevy Chase movie adaption, which not only sucks but also throws the book's plot out the window). The author, H.F. Saint, did a lot of thinking about the pros and cons of invisibility. He came up with a lot of the same ideas as Kyle, but had some other interesting ones as well:
    1) If your eyelids are invisible, then closing your eyes makes no difference in what you can see.
    2) Food isn't invisible, so when you eat, you're going to look like a floating, churning bag of vomit until your invisible body processes it.
    3) The protagonist got a lucky break on the "going around naked" thing because the clothes he was wearing when he got turned invisible also turned invisible. Of course, that means he only has one pair of clothes to wear for the rest of his life.
    4) The biggest problem is public places with lots of people milling around randomly. If they can't see you, they could easily bump into you. You'd have to be on your guard all the time.
    5) How do you evade Secret Evil Government Agency (TM) who knows you're invisible, has all the tech and training you don't, and is specifically trying to hunt you down?

    It's a good book, though definitely a product of its time (1987).

  19. Invisibility is based on not reflecting photons or letting them go trough you, but imagine if you were litteraly absorbing photons, then you would look like a human formed hole in reality, a black hole !
    This is useless, but that would look cool lmao

  20. Also, don't forget how dangerous it would be to go outside. You could be hit by someone on a bicycle, car, jogger, someone could shut a door to your face etc.

  21. This is how Mirio Togata's power works, I'm surprised they got this scientifically right. He says he can't hear or see anything when he phases through things, but he doesn't turn invisible. Can you explain more?

  22. I can think of a type of "invisibility" that would be very useful and cool. It would be the ability to blend in. You'd just become "one of the guys" and nobody would notice or pay attention to you. Somebody could look directly at you and you wouldn't really register to them as anybody worth remembering or investigating. You wouldn't get hit by cars since drivers would notice you but not really see you. Know what I mean?

    "Did anybody come though here"?

    "Uh…yeah…some guy I guess. Maybe it was a woman. I dunno".

    "Can you describe who you saw"?

    "Not really".

    It would be great for robbing banks. All the Teller could say to the cops would be "He looked like a man".

    That way if you got into trouble you could yell and make people pay attention to you but if you stayed quiet nobody would bother "seeing" you. It could work with security cameras too. All the camera would see is some blurry non-descript person that could easily be anybody.

  23. Invisibility in the classic sense would suck. But what about cloaking. In the DC universe, there's a creature that can alter it's appearance to effectively project the background onto it's skin. This would protect you from being spotted from a distance, or up close, if it's dark enough.

  24. Well….so far..there's remote viewing(spectate anywhere without interacting with the physical)and Out of Body exp which no type of camera can pick up. So yeah a somewhat useless ability yet helpful. And you would have to be an interdimensional being to interact with the physical undetected. Think about telekinesis or psychokinesis those the camera cannot pick up. This is me thinking outside the box, you're welcome science.

  25. What if you painted yourself a color humans can't see on a suit that masked your thermalness and wore glasses that make it possible for your eyes to see yourself

  26. So… best form of invisibility would be technomancy? Radially hack all electronic sensors in the vicinity and erase their picking-up of you as it's coming in, plus other techy mumbo jumbo to make that not a smoking gun in and of itself too? Closer we get to cyberpunk settings the stronger such a power would be.

  27. There is a work-around, though!
    If you have a psychic power that can selectively prevent people from processing the visual input from their eyes. They see you, but their brains don't!
    With this power, you don't even have to be naked. (Though I would be!)
    You would still be visible on video and photos, but still!

  28. Mabey the invisible woman has hairs on her body that are so sensitive, then they detect the most minute changes in air pressure? Did you ever think of that, Kyle?

  29. So as long as you liveed near the equator in a poor country without thermal tech and had a highly developed spatial awareness you'd be fine.

  30. I got a question about propioception, blind people can´t see their movements, but they do pretty well to me, maybe it not depends entirely of the hability to see, or maybe y need to read more about this, in any case love you channel, keep up!

  31. One simple solution. You use magic. It is a form of telepathy which makes anyone who could see you automatically ignore you as if you were indeed invisible. You wear a disguise/super hero costume so that devices only record your persona and operate in your secret identity when not using your power of invisibility. Problem solved. Psionics for the win. OH!!!! Wait! What if your invisible due to quantum manipulation that is projected outward. No person or device could see you because to them all of the photons that could be hitting you wouldn't because science. You would not be effected by this power and could operate normally and visible to yourself. How about THOSE apples?

  32. Hello. I like your videos. I'm french so excuse my english, but I was wondering…could the cloak of invisibility in Harry Potter be possible without being blinded ? Fabric is full of holes, right ? That's why we can see through thin fabric. I suppose enough photons can get through. And they can reach our eyes if they are close enough to the fabric. So…if from the outside, the fabric can reroute photons around us (except those who get through the holes because…well…they don't technically touch the fabric), is it safe to say that we can be invisible ? At least from a certain distance. Of course if we are really close to someone else, they will see through the fabric also. But I'm wondering that because we CAN see without being seen when we hide under a sheet for example.
    I'm not a nerd science at all, maybe I'm really wrong, but that's why I ask^^

    Thank you

  33. You don't have to be naked though? You are not making your skin invisible but rather bending photons around it after all, so just bent them around your clothes instead. Though since Proprioception obviously doesn't work on clothes you won't know exactly where they are located (If they are tight to your skin or kinda loose with a bit of space). So sometimes you may make a mistake and bent the photons too close to you so a piece of clothing would be visible.

  34. I like the invisibility of Charles Xavier, making him his own presence disappear, but only in the mind of other people.

  35. So basicaly if a blind person could be made invisible how would they know they were invisible. Where is that 1980s hidden camera show now

  36. Putting aside the impossibility of it all, losing the visual part of things in terms of your body in space is not nearly as bad as losing your spacial sense. I can walk up stairs without ever looking down and I was temperarily blinded for a month and a half and had no problems walking around, was even pretty good at not bumping into stuff right off the bat. I have no doubt some finesse would be lost but you know where your body is even if you can't see it. But how about selective invisibility? Being able to turn it on and off? I think that would be better in some ways worse in others. You would have less time spent developing skills that way.

  37. If I could turn invisible AND still see somehow, I'd use it to hide away because I don't like being around people. I'd also use it to hide if my place was broken into. If I couldn't see (the realistic way), I'd still hide away, but I'd have music playing so I can drop into a more immersive daydream

  38. If you lower the density of your body enough theoretically you could become translucent the light could pass thru you and you could still see because the light is still passing through your retina

  39. If you could have this power, you would just turn invisible with no reason. You wouldn’t be a “friend” to science or logic: you would just turn invisible

  40. Watching this has reminded me of a question I have had in the past. Why is anything visible at all? I mean things are basically visible to us because photons bounce off an object and these photons enter our eyes and we "see" them. My problem with this is that we or anything (a wall or rock) may appear solid but are in reality they are very large group of atoms. Atoms are mostly just empty space (so everything "solid" is really mostly empty space). Photons are very very small and should pass straight through the empty space of atoms and never bounce off anything, so why isn't everything invisible?

  41. Why not be able to allow photons and other things to pass through you then no problems like the ghost’s powers but also being able to see yourself and only invisible things can see invisible things

  42. Dammmmn. Ruined my High School fantasies!!!
    Well, back to the drawing board—just like Because Science!
    You guys are awesome!

  43. As long as you route photons into your eyes and don't let them escape to interact with other people's eyes you would be invisible

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