Randall Munroe’s What If?
Previous post in this series: Planet of the Apes
Q: If people had wheels and could fly, how would we differentiate them from airplanes?
Randall’s response: No response.
My response: Umm…let’s ask the Internet. Here are some samples from the first page of Google results.
“If people had wheels and could fly, why would we even have airplanes?”
“Because the pilots inside them would be really weirded out.”
Okay, let’s take a closer look at that first one. Why do we have airplanes? It’s because people can’t fly, but it’s also because people can’t move at 600 miles per hour under their own power. Even if people had wheels and could fly, they probably couldn’t do that easily, much less for an extended period. We would want a machine that people could ride in that could transport them faster and more comfortably than they could go under their own power.
Wow, that sounds an awful lot like an airplane. So in this philosophical experiment, we would distinguish people from airplanes because airplanes would be things people ride in. Although since we never would have bothered with land vehicles in this scenario, we might just call them “cars”.