Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why are we so fascinated with invisibility?

Cloaking devices are standard fare in science fiction stories, most notably, Star Trek. Harry Potter has a cloak of invisibility, although he is not the first fictional character to have one.

There is also serious scientific research into invisibility. Imagine the military uses -- you would not need a Trojan Horse to infiltrate enemy territory.

I got started on this train of thought because of my mother. She recently retired, and I suggested that she write down stories of her life. Her story on invisibility had me laughing hard. When she was about 12, a cousin who was her constant playmate said he heard that holding a dog bone would make you invisible. His dog had died the year before, so they dug up its bones. He held up the bones one at a time, asking her, "Can you see me now?" They were so angry after checking out all the bones and finding out it wasn't true.

But there is a flip-side to this issue. Some societies use shunning or ostracism to punish non-conforming members, rendering the punished one "invisible" because no one acknowledges his or her existence. This can be very painful and unsettling for the "invisible" one.

Fiction also deals with the unwanted side of invisibility (see The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells, for example).

Bottom line- invisibility is cool only if it is under our control.

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