“A man who moves so fast that his life is an endless gallery of statues…”
Let’s say for a moment that you could potentially run at a velocity of 23,759,449,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 x 300,000,000 meters per second (the speed of light). Or that by using the Heisenberg uncertainty principle you’ve mastered the skill of quantum tunneling where you could vibrate your body to the point of being able to phase through matter, like a brick wall for instance.
What would the world, or the universe for that matter, look like to you? How would you perceive time and space in a relative situation? Imagine every conversation you had, ever, or every movement you made or every breath you took required an enormous amount of stored energy just to regulate it to a digestible state simply to appease those around you?
Thought is a process involving neurons in the brain, and is thus subject to the speed at which impulses can travel along nerves. Depending on which nerves are involved, transmission speed can vary; but nerve conduction averages about 100 m/s. Now, if you had the ability to move faster than the material universe allows (speed of light), you would have to have a change in state, because there is no way your mental capacity would have the ability to keep up with speeds in a super speed type state. Simply put, you would have the ability to move faster than your electrically-charged brain could send messages.
And since there are only four observable states of matter in everyday life to the human eye, someone who can run as fast or faster than the speed of light and create conditions of extreme cold, density and high energy can theoretically change their state to what’s referred to as quark-gluon plasma. On a side note, a characteristic of this type of plasma, or lightning, is a color shift at higher energies Sound familiar? Blue lightning anyone?
Therefore, a speedster is somehow manipulating either their thought process, changing the rate of information transfer in their brain, accelerating it until they are able to think as fast as they can move or manipulating their interaction with the flow of time, appearing to be moving at superhuman speeds. A change of state.
It would seem more likely though that they may be achieving a change in state because they are able to defy gravity, pass through matter like electromagnetic radiation and achieve speeds only achievable by electromagnetic phenomena like light. If they are indeed faster than light then they are moving as fast as only a theoretical particle, the tachyon can move.
So all of this science jargon is highly theoretical and abstract from a practical, real world standpoint. But what about the comics? What about fiction? Is there a character capable of actually doing these seemingly impossible things?
You bet there is…
Welcome to the life of Barry Allen, aka The Flash, Detective Comics resident purveyor of the speed force and the fastest man alive. When you have the ability to accomplish an incredible amount of things in a time not relative to the average person, life would get frustrating and lonely and such a perceptual state would leave the world, from his point of view, a world of immobile objects, frozen in time, like statues for example.
It’s an incredibly difficult concept to grasp for our misspent minds, not having the ability to alter one’s perception to the passage of time, slowing or speeding it up in relationship to yourself. Sounds like an excruciatingly frustrating way to live in spite of the obvious upsides.
What’s key is that Barry’s perception of space and time is highly fluid. While he is often shown speeding up his perceptions, it should be theoretically possible for him to slow down his perception of any particular moment in the same fashion. It is hard to imagine why he would want to slow down his perception of the flow of time, but it should be within his ability to do so, since he can instantly decide in a split second how he wants to maneuver himself through space-time.
Messing around with space and time is a highly precarious and unpredictable endeavour even for The Flash. But luckily here on earth, there’s plenty of actual, not theoretical, physical dangers that Barry also has to concern himself with should he tap into the speed force or just nominal speeds, relative to his velocity scale of course, not ours.
One of the many consequences of light speed travel living on planet earth is that you’d become the most dangerous thing imaginable since your mass is positive and infinite speed implies that your momentum is infinite. Hence, if you crashed into anything it would get hurtled at insane speeds since it would absorb some of your inertia. Of course, you’d also be dead pretty much instantly as you collided with object after object, each traveling at the speed of light with respect to you. And no, armor wouldn’t help, painted red or not.
And in highly densely populated areas, Barry becomes essentially the world’s scariest human projectile capable of wiping out the human race, and himself in seconds, literally. Even at just the speed of light, and he can go much faster, he could circle the globe in 0.13 seconds so it wouldn’t take long for him to blast through everybody on the planet. Not to mention the aftershocks he could create globally by disturbing enough electromagnetic energy, likely causing earthquakes and changing weather patterns.
So what would happen if Barry fell asleep at the wheel so to speak? The collateral damage to the earth from him just for a second of brain cramp could be alarming and the death toll could be high. If Barry truly did isolate himself from society as much as possible, remember he has to eat, and only intervened when necessary he would be doing the people of earth a great service, showing great sacrifice. A lonely sacrifice.
In the Justice League trailer, Barry says to Bruce Wayne, “I need, friends”…this is more the likely state of existence for Barry rather than the TV show version where he’s seen grappling with consequence rather than states of being. Much like a young Kal-El on earth would have struggled to breath, hear and see, Barry, with the type of ability he has shown to have, would certainly struggle in day to day ordinary life. Isolation and loneliness would play key parts in his life, the man can alter his “state”, imagine the weight of that immense power?
Literally being tapped into the universe’s electromagnetic energy would carry with it an altered state likely too much for the human body or mind to ever feel at ease. But that’s what comics have been doing for a hundred years now, helping you believe the impossible.
Also, he has the added responsibility of being able to affect time and space and alter current reality as we know it. Being one of only a few people who can negate the anti-life equation and time travel at will comes with added pressure. You don’t simply have those abilities and not expect to be tempted by everyone else on earth to use them. It’s an appropriate reaction then to shut yourself off from the world in general just to stop the white noise from happening. Everyone in the real world, both the righteous and the immoral, would want a piece of Barry Allen.
The Flash isn’t Barry’s alter ego, its simply a protectionist preoccupation, it doesn’t reveal a different person so much as it facilitates his more ambitious side. Whether he dressed in red tights or jeans and a t-shirt, Barry is Barry. Other super heroes wear a mask to cover up insecurities or protect their non-hero assets, Barry really only does it so he’s not naked after a day of “speeding”.
While most superheroes may feel the weight of the world on their shoulders, imagine the collective weight on a infinite universe that’s expanding at the speed of light? That’s quite a weight to bear for a human being, and let’s not forget that, Barry is human after all. Another thing to remember is that he didn’t choose to be like this, it was a one in a million lightning strike combined with the exact mixture of chemicals needed and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you’re able to get over that fact alone, bad timing, a lifetime of potential isolation and loneliness awaits.
So, for all his meta-human abilities, Barry Allen is indeed a tragic figure, albeit a heroic one. He’s destined to watch time go by at the slowest quantum levels imaginable and watching the people he loves and cares about die years ahead of him…relatively speaking.
Do you think you could imagine anything so lonely?
Till next time…