The Science of Super Powers


Davy: Putting the “umph” into Humphry

Man, in what is called a state of nature, is a creature of almost pure sensation. Called into activity only by positive wants, his life is passed either in satisfying the cravings of the common appetites, or in apathy, or in slumber. Living only in moments, he calculates but little on futurity. He has no vivid feelings of hope, or thoughts of permanent and powerful action. And, unable to discover causes, he is either harassed by superstitious dreams, or quietly and passively submitted to the mercy of nature and the elements. How different is man informed through the beneficence of the Deity, by science, and the arts! Knowing his wants, and being able to provide for them, he is capable of anticipating future enjoyments, and of connecting hope with an infinite variety of ideas. He is in some measure independent of chance or accident for his pleasures. Science has given to him an acquaintance with the different relations of the parts of the external world; and more than that, it has bestowed upon him powers which may be almost called creative; which have enabled him to change and modify the beings surrounding him, and by his experiments to interrogate nature with power, not simply as a scholar, passive and seeking only to understand her operations, but rather as a master, active with his own instruments.

Sir Humphry Davy
Discourse, Introduction to a Course of Lectures on Chemistry (1802)

Apocaholics Anonymous



As the average age of a country’s population rises, so people get more and more neophobic and gloomy. There is immense vested interest in pessimism, too. No charity ever raised money for its cause by saying things are getting better. No journalist ever got the front page by telling his editor that he wanted to write a story about how disaster was now less likely. Good news is no news, so the media megaphone is at the disposal of any politician, journalist or activist who can plausibly warn of a coming disaster. As a result, pressure groups and their customers in the media go to great lengths to search even the most cheerful of statistics for glimmers of doom […] Apocaholics (the word is Gary Alexander’s – he calls himself a recovering apocaholic) exploit and profit from the natural pessimism of human nature, the innate reactionary in every person. For 200 years pessimists have had all the headlines, even though optimists have far more often been right. Archpessimists are feted, showered with honours and rarely challenged, let alone confronted with their past mistakes.

Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist