Some real world human traits are super in their own way, but have benefits that are subjective and come with caveats and disadvantages. These remind me in a way, that requires treading carefully to explore as not to offend, of super-powers from shows like X-Men and Heroes.

I'd like to explore such traits as being powerful enough to have supernatural qualities, while not being entirly beneficial.

This concepts influences include:

Some recreational drugs, that give access to great insights or modes of thought while damaging the body.

Gradually turning into a zombie in a horror film, that can in theory live forever.

Conditions such as the one Stephen Hawking has.

Discworld "Borrowing", with the high levels of danger and insight from magically inhabiting the unfamiliar minds of non-human animals. These dangers include becoming so involved in their lives as to forget your human body, as well as becoming too physiologically affected by the experiences.

I envisage a fictional world, where such powers/abilities/inflictions:

  • would be supernatural in modern-day Earth, but are scientifically viable in this fictional world
  • are not limited to a single cause, or inheritable
  • are not limited by type to a single result (e.g., not everyone with telekinesis can move only spherical objects)
  • are reminiscent of real world disorders, illnesses, or recreational substance use, without being identifiable as being about any specific group, trait, disorder or substance
  • are considered more diminishing than worthwhile by most
  • require commitment to understand, grow, control, or make the most of

And as such:

  • types of ability either become associated with a group, or with personality traits from before or after having the power
  • are fascinating to some, including those not in a position culturally able to explore them
  • considered irrelevant to many, despite their apparent world impact
  • for some, have spiritual associations
  • become illegal, and/or gain an unofficial type of secrecy and confusion, through being "not talked about"

It's part of an idea I've had for a while. The question is: What examples of abilities would meet these goals?

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    $\begingroup$ Did you use Google translate? $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Jul 30, 2015 at 9:52
  • $\begingroup$ Can someone edit this? I would if I could understand it... $\endgroup$ Jul 30, 2015 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ I could sacrifise conciseness and simplify the language. I'd rather not though, the irony of your comments, are either of you native English speakers? $\endgroup$
    – alan2here
    Jul 30, 2015 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ Related article $\endgroup$
    – newton1212
    Jul 31, 2015 at 14:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @alan2here: I read extensively and voraciously at a decently high level, and I had trouble with the original question. The issue to me was organizational (wasn't immediately obvious from the title what was being asked, and it wasn't presented in the text until the end) combined with a few key spelling errors that complicated things and some non-standard sentence structures. None of those were too bad on their own, but all combined they made it pretty rough. $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2015 at 15:57

3 Answers 3


There are a collection of "super power" that exist in the real world that fit this description. They are generally categorised as "learning disorders".

Most forms of Autistic Spectrum "disorders" come with significant artistic and mental processing advantages at some significant cost in social awareness and/or physical coping ability.

Taking myself as an example: Dyslexia and dyspraxia (at the very least) means that while my mind lends itself very well to learning stuff, computer code and story telling I also am an atrocious speller, a shockingly bad dancer and tend to drop things for no real reason. Additionally large social situations are draining and hard work and I miss subtle social cues that others take for granted. Furthermore I am excessively wordy and tend to write questions and answers here that I need to be careful are not too long (I am still working on not getting that many down votes for being full of waffle).

For another example (also me) my immune system is like that of a super man. It is massively aggressive and will shake things off in a much shorter time than the average human being. On the down side it takes more anesthetic for dental work and it does not last as long but worse my immune system spends its spare time attacking my bones so in order to have minimal pain I have to inject with drugs that suppress my immune system back down to a normal level. That's no fun. End result curved spine and walking stick as the price for getting over colds a few days before everyone else.

Taking this answer into the realm of imagined superpowers the ability commonly called "empath" in most good scifi TV shows would probably be crippling. The ability to feel what everyone else arround you was feeling would be a permanent form of crippling depression not unlike bipolar disorder. The emotional noise would be very much like quite extreme autism - the information overload would leave the "gifted" person unable to process meaning from the flood of data and they would appear to be emotionally insensitive and social unaware (if they could function at all). With training in carefully controlled laboratory conditions they might be useful in police interrogations.

In fact any "power" that allowed for the gathering of information from outside the person (everything that was said in a room in the last week) would leave them permanently overwhelmed with information. With the everything that was said where that person was over a period of time example it would not be that different to schizophrenia as distinguishing "now" from "then" would leave the person locked out of normal objective reality and cut off from normal human interaction. The same effect would happen if your person could see all the possible future events for the next ten minutes - outside of some very remote places they would be effectively crippled mentally.

As it is we ignore almost all of our sensory input at any given moment so we can make sense of the information we do pay attention to. So any ability that piles in a bunch more data and... dysfunctional human is the result.

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    $\begingroup$ That immune system disorder you describe is both fascinating and horrifying. Thanks for sharing it in this context, and my sympathies. $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2015 at 20:09

After reading your post I have come to several conclusions about possible examples.

  • Abilities should (almost) always be more harmful than helpful so that, from an entirely objective perspective, the optimal choice is to avoid them.

  • Abilities should be closely tied to something 'inner' and hard to access originally so that one must spend time refining its use.

  • The harmful effects of abilities should influence other traits as to not cancel out the positive ones.

Almost all well explored abilities can, with a little creativity, have semi-believable disadvantages just slapped on. Unfortunately, most of the more flamboyant abilities (various kinesis types, shape-shifting), have very powerful advantages and would require even more devastating measures for balance. For most, throwing fireballs is totally worth it for lethargy afterwards. For example:

The good: Light telepathy, allowing only for generalized mind reading (like sensing aggravation or lie detection) but nothing as complex as stealing specific thoughts or memories.

The bad: Reading someones mind (as described above) takes focus and short range (5-10m) line of sight. Further, all stress, anxiety and likewise conditions of others nearby accumulate on the reader, obviously causing mental instability on most users.

And as such:

  • types of ability either become associated with a group, or with personality traits from before or after having the power
  • are fascinating to some, including those not in a position culturally able to explore them
  • considered irrelevant to many, despite their apparent world impact for some, have spiritual associations
  • become illegal, and/or gain an unofficial type of secrecy and confusion, through being "not talked about"

I see these happening automatically given the wide range of opinions on nearly everything, except the last one. Unless abilities are one-in-a-million and relatively new, they will just be a common part of culture. Heritability would stimulate group associations, and stereotyping would further that, however, the most surefire way to implement associations is most likely geographic ability distribution. Some kind of landmark or location bestows abilities in a small radius around itself, whether it covers a town or a country, leads settlers to gradually become affected by -insert ability here-.

The fast way:

Take a stock super-power, but then add in a caveat that (usually) blows the helping half out of the water. More examples:

Subject can quickly understand anything read, but is plagued with short term memory loss, rendering new knowledge generally useless.

Shape-shifting normally causes death in the infant stage as it transforms users into their mental images (including non-sentient ones). Some, usually mentally damaged to impair visualization, can eventually grasp the ability, but the risk still remains.

  • $\begingroup$ It's hard to decide which answer to mark as correct, both are great :) $\endgroup$
    – alan2here
    Aug 1, 2015 at 22:00

A good source for something like this might be the abilities displayed in the show Alphas: superhuman, but still usually limited to the realm of realism.

Examples include: overloading the body to mimic super strength, but it wrecks damage on the body's immune systems.

Possessing the ability to immediately learn any action the individual sees, but has long term memory loss, so 6 months ago is a mystery to them.

A sixth sense that works to such an extent that it is activated when someone approaches with malicious intent 2 blocks away.

Examples based on drug usage or other similar events might be something along the lines of:

An individual whose released perspiration or pheromones contain THC, affecting all those around them unconsciously, but they themselves unable to experience the same feeling.

An individual whose emotions are infectious: if they are happy, those around them are happy. If they are feeling suicidal...

Someone whose touch can impart sensory deprivation to another: numbness, reduced sight, deafness, etc. Technically useful as a doctor for anesthetic or other similar situations, but in general not very useful unless specifically applied.

Blind person who can see through the eyes of those around them, but not direct where they are looking at psychically.

Examples based on personality disorders might be:

  • Forces another individual to perform compulsive behavior, such as checking a doorknob repeatedly, even at the risk of their personal health.

  • Unable to focus on a single source of news, but when faced with a monitor of 1000 different televisions, able to comprehend and repeat the information.

  • Overloaded digestive system paired with dental implants allow for the digestion of any form of matter at the cost of an insatiable appetite.

  • Able to physically morph body to appear as any other person, but has identity issues based on the fact they cannot return to their normal appearance.

  • Uncontrolled invisibility

  • an illegal power might be something like being able to overwrite another person's personality with your own through prolonged physical contact.

These are just some ideas, hope they are what you were asking for.

  • $\begingroup$ Some very nice ideas :) most apreceated. $\endgroup$
    – alan2here
    Aug 22, 2015 at 18:52

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