Daredevil #32 – A sensory revisit

Okay, let’s take that second look at Daredevil #32, shall we? Specifically, at the “sensory aspects” I mentioned in my review. You see, I found the scene of Matt entering the Jester’s house and finding the fake Foggy to be so well done from a senses perspective that I wanted to revisit the scene and tell you what I found so impressive about it.

Let’s start off with this first couple of panels that shows Matt face to face with fake Foggy. His reaction is clearly not what the Jester expects…

Matt in the Jester's house, as seen in Daredevil #32 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

“The Jester’s lured me into a trap. That’s obvious. I’m not stupid. But no whirring machinery, no sniper’s heartbeat, no whiff go knockout gas… what does he expect me to find? Wait…”

Now, what is interesting about this scene is that not only that Matt doesn’t quite recognize what it is he’s “looking” at, he doesn’t even fully register that he’s looking at anything at all, or at least not anything interesting or attention-grabbing. Not at first.

I can see some readers potentially reacting to this, wondering what Daredevil’s senses are good for if he can’t “see” something that’s right in front of him. I will get back to why and how this makes sense (at least to me) in my treatment of the following panels, but for now I will say this: The “delayed reaction” interpretation of the radar sense has actually been quite common throughout Daredevil history. The list of scenes in which Matt assesses a situation by sort of peeling back the layers, and finally commenting to himself that “now, my radar sense is picking it up!” is definitely a long one, and it spans every decade of Daredevil publication.

One of the more recent cases of this phenomenon that come to mind is a scene that is somewhat similar to this one, from Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s run. In Daredevil #104 (vol. 2), Matt comes home to find that his wife Milla (driven insane by Mister Fear) has left her nurse beaten on the stairs in front of him.. When Matt enters, he at first doesn’t notice the unconscious woman. It is only after he smells the blood and focuses his attention in that direction that all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

This example is relatively recent, but as mentioned, it has been common for Matt to pay more (and more immediate) attention to information gained from his other senses. This is evident in these panels from Daredevil #32 as well. Matt is clearly listening and smelling for threats before doing anything else.

Matt walks into the Jester's trap, Daredevil #32 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

“And what is this? A Jaycees haunted house? Who are you supposed to represent? Real dead bodies have a distinct odor, Jester. This smells like foam rubber and latex.”

Only after Matt has dismissed any immediate threats coming through his heightened senses of hearing and smell, does he appear to pay much attention to the dangling body shape in front of him. This may seem odd, but it need not be. The fact is that all of us generally “sense” more than we “perceive” and are able to consciously pay attention to even less. More and more research supports the idea that our own sense of feeling as if we see, hear and take in almost everything around us is largely an illusion. Just google “inattentional blindness” and “change blindness,” or better yet, look them up on YouTube, and you’ll be amazed at how much all of us actually miss without even knowing it.

When you look at Matt Murdock’s senses (and lack thereof), there is the further complication that many of the things that usually grab our visual attention, such as colors, details, the distinctive features of things we recognize, are not available to him. More than likely, his idea of Foggy probably includes an expectation of a certain “Foggyesque” shape, but far more distinctive are things like scent, his voice and other bodily sounds (heartbeat, breath sounds, the intestines moving around), footsteps, a general movement pattern. All of those characteristics that scream Foggy to him, as opposed to someone who may just be of the same general body type, have been removed from this lifeless dummy who, to Matt, could be anybody.

Of course, even just any body hanging from the ceiling, might be expected to grab someone’s attention, but again, that’s if we assume the same hierarchical ordering of the senses that exist in people with the usual five. The radar sense (regardless of what it is, for these purposes just thinking of it as an ability will suffice), is absolutely necessary in order to explain how Daredevil can do the things he does as a superhero, no doubt about it. However, in the larger scheme of things, the radar sense, when seen as a vision analogue, isn’t really a very good source of high-resolution information for him the way his other senses are.

The radar sense lets him navigate safely through the world, and makes it possible for him to recognize objects with distinctive enough shapes, but I find it highly doubtful that Matt expects to “visually” be able to make sense of everything he encounters, especially right away. A stationary scene like the one in Daredevil #32 likely requires some active sampling of it before the pieces that make it up can be properly categorized and understood. He also reaches out to touch the dummy, which is obviously another way to gather more information about objects in the absence of 20/20 color vision. In this kind of context, a body (or other object) hanging from the ceiling might seem to gradually reveal itself. Matt recognizes what it is, to an extent, but not in the immediate way that the Jester expected.

Chris Samnee and Daredevil’s evolving radar

Daredevil against the mob, as seen in Daredevil #19, art by Chris Samnee

I wrestled a bit with the name of this post. First, I was going to call it “Chris Samnee under the radar.” You know, like the term “under the microscope” but with a radar instead (hey, they’re both optical devices, sort of). But then that would suggest someone flying under the radar, so I couldn’t have that. Then I thought maybe I should call it “Chris Samnee on Daredevil’s radar.” Which works, but that would suggest he’d made some kind of statement. Which he does all the time, through the art on the page, but that’s not what people would read into it. So, I landed on the title above, which is kind of boring, but apt, I think. Daredevil’s radar, as it’s appeared for the last year, is based on the the revamped radar that Paolo Rivera introduced in Daredevil #1, but Samnee has succeeded in putting his own spin on it as well. It has, in a word, evolved. And, a great deal of the evolution is seen in the coloring of the radar sense as well, so major kudos to colorist Javier Rodríguez!

Before reading on, I suggest you check out the post I wrote a little over a year ago on Paolo Rivera’s radar. My initial reason for writing it was to answer a question from a commenter regarding an apparent conflict between the art and the writing. I started by offering my two cents on the limits of any two-dimensional rendition of the radar sense in showing us what Daredevil “sees.” (I suspect that if Matt Murdock were real and we could inject ourselves into his brain for a day, not much would actually “look” like anything we’d recognize.) Then, I went on to talk about certain aspects we would expect from a radar sense and how those compare to what we see in the comic.

Now that we are more than a year into Chris Samnee’s stint as Daredevil artist, I figured this would be a good time to check back in with the radar and see if there are any trends that might be fun to comment on. At the very bottom of this post is a gallery featuring twenty-five Chris Samnee radar panels (all colored by Javier Rodríguez, of course), in chronological order. Just click them to zoom in, and click anywhere on the screen to pop them back down (this works for all in-post images on this site, if you didn’t know). Some of them, I’ll use as examples too.

Faceless faces

Matt confronts the office staff, as seen in Daredevil #16, art by Chris Samnee

The question that spurred last year’s post had to do with Daredevil and his impression of faces (specifically, Mole Man’s). Since Samnee took over, however, the faces have become much less distinct. This may just be a natural consequence of a difference in art style, but I have to say that I really like the subtle change. The most prominent feature of any face seems to be the nose, which makes sense, but aside from that faces appear indistinct.

One of the reasons I prefer less distinct faces is not just that I think it’s slightly more realistic, but because it forces the reader to shift from their normal way of thinking about things. One constant in Daredevil history has been the natural inclination on behalf of creators to overestimate Matt’s visual nature while underestimating just how much he could do with his other senses. The sense of smell was all but neglected more or less until Frank Miller came along. As “microsmatic” primates with very good vision, we naturally have a hard time imagining a different ordering of the senses where things like faces just aren’t that important, and other impressions take priority.

People versus backgrounds

Daredevil against the mob, as seen in Daredevil #19, art by Chris Samnee

One thing that has caught my attention lately is that people are colored a little differently than the background. As seen above, and in many other panels, the people in the panel seem a little brighter than the background, and the radar lines are a little more blurred. This is pretty neat from an artistic angle since it makes people, often in motion, stand out a little better. I don’t have anything interesting to say about this from a science perspective though. 😉

Near and far

Daredevil versus Superior Spider Man, from Daredevil #22, art by Chris Samnee

Like i mentioned in last year’s post, one thing to keep in mind with the radar is that it behaves differently close up than it does for things that are far away, which may appear much more faint. Normal vision, on the other hand, doesn’t really have any such restraints. As long as there’s a light source, we can see things that are very far away, even when they obviously appear much smaller.

In all three panels I’ve used as examples so far, we see that the radar lines fade away into completely black areas of the panels or (as seen above) that the buildings in the background are just hinted at. This may be because it saves time or because it gives the radar panels a nice amount of added depth and texture, but it also has the distinct advantage of making sense. Isn’t it nice when that happens?

Dialing down the details

Radar fades out, as seen in Daredevil #14, art by Chris Samnee

In the last year, we’ve seen a lot of interesting things happen to Daredevil’s senses. In Daredevil #14 (above), Matt loses his radar sense, which Samnee illustrates by making the radar lines thinner and farther apart, to suggest that it’s fading out. In a scene from Daredevil #16, we instead see the radar come into focus, in a flashback sequence of sorts showing young Matt in the hospital. I really dig that whole scene. One of the nice things about the whole wireframe radar model is that there are so many paramaters to play with: spacing, line width, intensity and so on. Another great example of this are the radar panels from Daredevil’s big fight with Ikari.

Final thoughts

Not much to say except that I’m really digging what the art team is currently doing, and their take on the radar is certainly no exception. The only property I haven’t seen explored yet is the transparency setting! (Which might be a another cool way of fading things out.) I’m looking forward to seeing what else might appear on Daredevil’s radar in the coming months!

Radar panel of a crowd, from Daredevil #12, art by Chris Samnee
Radar panel of a crowd, from Daredevil #12
Radar shot of Latverian street, from Daredevil #14, art by Chris Samnee
Radar shot of Latverian street, from Daredevil #14
Radar fades out, as seen in Daredevil #14, art by Chris Samnee
Radar fades out, as seen in Daredevil #14
Hank Pym versus nanobots, from Daredevil #16, art by Chris Samnee
Hank Pym versus nanobots, from Daredevil #16
Young Matt's radar comes into focus, as seen in Daredevil #16, art by Chris Samnee
Young Matt’s radar comes into focus, as seen in Daredevil #16
Matt confronts the office staff, as seen in Daredevil #16, art by Chris Samnee
Matt confronts the office staff, as seen in Daredevil #16
Matt finds Milla in his bed, as seen in Daredevil #18, art by Chris Samnee
Matt finds Milla in his bed, as seen in Daredevil #18
Daredevil sees Coyote shoot a mobster, as seen in Daredevil #19, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil sees Coyote shoot a mobster, as seen in Daredevil #19
Radar image of the street below, as seen in Daredevil #19, art by Chris Samnee
Radar image of the street below, as seen in Daredevil #19
Daredevil against the mob, as seen in Daredevil #19, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil against the mob, as seen in Daredevil #19
Daredevil facing his own headless body, as seen in Daredevil #19, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil facing his own headless body, as seen in Daredevil #19
Radar image of Coyote, from Daredevil #20, art by Chris Samnee
Radar image of Coyote, from Daredevil #20
The Spot strung up, from Daredevil #21, art by Chris Samnee
The Spot strung up, from Daredevil #21
Daredevil versus Superior Spider Man, from Daredevil #22, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil versus Superior Spider Man, from Daredevil #22
Superior Spider-Man, as seen in Daredevil #22, art by Chris Samnee
Superior Spider-Man, as seen in Daredevil #22
Daredevil faces chaos, as seen in Daredevil #23, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil faces chaos, as seen in Daredevil #23
Matt inspects Larry, from Daredevil #25, art by Chris Samnee
Matt inspects Larry, from Daredevil #25
Sensory split screen, from Daredevil #25, art by Chris Samnee
Sensory split screen, from Daredevil #25
Blurred panel of Ikari, as seen in Daredevil #25, art by Chris Samnee
Blurred panel of Ikari, as seen in Daredevil #25
Daredevil's radar is dampened by the water from the sprinklers, as seen in Daredevil #25, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil’s radar is dampened by the water from the sprinklers, as seen in Daredevil #25
Matt interviews a sweaty Mr. Benson, from Daredevil #26, art by Chris Samnee
Matt interviews a sweaty Mr. Benson, from Daredevil #26
Matt in a subway tunnel, from Daredevil #26, art by Chris Samnee
Matt in a subway tunnel, from Daredevil #26
Matt on the ground, from Daredevil #26, art by Chris Samnee
Matt on the ground, from Daredevil #26
Daredevil versus the two Bullseyes, as seen in Daredevil #27, art by Chris Samnee
Daredevil versus the two Bullseyes, as seen in Daredevil #27
Static radar, Daredevil #27, art by Chris Samnee
Static radar, Daredevil #27

Ikari: Sight meets radar

Ikari reveals his secret, as seen in Daredevil #25 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Off-topic for this post, but I’d like to officially congratulate Chris Samnee for winning the Best Penciller/Inker Award at the Eisners last week! He and David Aja shared the award and I couldn’t be happier for both of them! This is such a well-deserved win for Samnee, and I hope it has the added bonus of maybe getting some of the people who are still resisting Daredevil to give it a chance!

If you haven’t checked those out yet, I also recommend CBR’s coverage of the Mark Waid-moderated Spotlight on Chris Samnee panel at SDCC, and the preview to Daredevil #29!

Okay, now to the topic at hand: Regular commenters Bee Clayton and Daniel have both asked me what my take is on Ikari having both sight and a radar sense. Is it even possible to have both? If so, would that be like double-vision? What gives?

First of all, I’ve gotta tell you guys that whenever you want to ask me a question in the “Daredevil science” vein, go right ahead! Not only do I love tackling them, but it’s always interesting to get a sense of what has you guys scratching your heads. It might very well be something I missed completely.

When it comes to the question of whether you can combine sight with a radar sense, I assume we’re all in agreement that this is a highly theoretical scenario. I’ll offer my two cents (and present my “case”), but there isn’t going to be a testable hypothesis here.

When we first learned that Ikari was sighted, back in Daredevil #25, it didn’t seem at all implausible to me that his sight might be intact in parallel with his radar. I mean, a great many things in superhero comics – including a relatively down to Earth title like Daredevil – don’t make perfect sense. This just didn’t register as anything out of the “comic book ordinary” to me in the way other things sometimes do.

Daredevil hides from Ikari, as seen in Daredevil #25 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Regardless of what the radar sense really is, for this discussion it makes practical sense to regard it as a separate entity. Even if we hypothesize that the radar is really an advanced form of echolocation (my personal preference), Daredevil’s brain would be expected to handle the echoic input differently than sounds which don’t carry the same kind of spatial information. There is actually real world evidence to support this notion, in the form of a 2011 study comparing the brain activity of two expert blind echolocators (one of them none other than Daniel Kish) to that of two sighted controls.

What the researchers discovered was that while all subjects showed the same pattern of activation in the auditory cortex of the brain, the sound samples which had an echo sound component mixed in, also activated an additional part of the brain in the echolocators. This additional activation was concentrated to the so-called calcarine sulcus which also happens to be the location of the primary visual cortex. While echolocation is not vision in any traditional sense, the brains of these echolocators are clearly treating echoes as “vision-like” in important ways. It seems pretty clear to me that if Matt Murdock were a real person, his visual cortex would similarly be involved in processing his radar sense whether the sense is based on sound or some other signal that his brain can detect.

If you’re following along so far, you might be asking one very relevant question: What if the visual cortex is occupied with actual seeing, as it would be in a sighted person such as Ikari? That is a good question, but I’m not sure this complication is necessarily all that problematic. Let’s go back to the real world example of echolocation since it provides the closest thing we have to a real-life model of the radar sense. While no known sighted “echolocation experts” exist that exhibit the same level of skill as the blind subjects in the study mentioned, there is no evidence to suggest that this would be impossible. Several studies have shown that basic echolocation skills are something most people, sighted or not, can master with surprisingly little effort. However, putting in the countless hours of daily practice that Kish and others have done hardly seems worthwhile if you actually can see.

If a sighted person were to put in the work though, would he or she eventually show the same pattern of brain activation as blind echolocation experts? Possibly. There are several brain areas which handle input from more than one sense, and it seems that in many respects the brain “cares” more about what kind of information can be extracted than through which sensory channel the information was delivered. In this specific case, there’s simply no data. Going back to the comic, Ikari could have reached the same level of skill as Daredevil, but his brain might handle the task differently.

Ikari reveals his secret, as seen in Daredevil #25 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Having said that, I don’t think that Ikari would necessarily experience his radar sense the same way Daredevil does. For Ikari, the radar sense would obviously be most useful outside of his field of vision, or in pitch black environments. Straight ahead, in a sufficiently lit environments, sight obviously beats radar (which was frustratingly clear to Daredevil toward the end of his fight with Ikari). But what purpose might the radar serve in the portion of the visual field where input from both senses overlap? My hunch is Ikari might experience a kind of enhanced vision that would give him better depth perception. This is speculative, of course, but there is one intriguing real-life experiment that I think backs this up.

There has been an ongoing project for several years at the University of Osnabrück in Germany that aims to study the human ability to adapt to a novel sense, in this case the physical perception of orientation in space in relation to the Earth’s magnetic field. Subjects are fitted with a belt that contains a series of magnets that vibrate depending on their orientation. A small preliminary study (four people who wore the device, and four controls) looking at how people’s perceptual experiences changed with the device were inconclusive in that the subjects involved had very different subjective reactions to wearing the device. Two of the subjects continued to find the device to be annoying throughout the study, and it never registered to them as something other than vibration. The other two subjects had some pretty interesting experiences though:

In great contrast, the other two subjects reported profound changes in their subjective experiences. Yet they did not perceive a local magnetic field. Instead, these subjects described that the input from the belt reflected properties of the environment rather than being simply tactile stimulation: ‘It was different from mere tactile stimulation because the belt mediated a spatial feeling.’ This feeling was present in everyday situations: ‘I was intuitively aware of the direction of my home or of my office. For example, I would wait in line in the cafeteria and spontaneously think: I’m living over there.’ These subjects also showed improved orientation performance and higher awareness of the spatial relations between different locations while wearing the belt. They had a feeling of an ordered environment, which was guided by the subjective experience of the space in which ‘reference points are intuitively present and help a lot in navigating around and understanding relations between places’. Unexpectedly, magnetic north had no special status, but spatial perception related always to landmarks. The actual spatial context was felt as being massively enlarged, and spatial relationships could be memorized effortlessly. Both subjects report effects on memory of places, landmarks and orientation.

What these two subjects seemed to experience was an enhancement of their sense of space. Had they been equipped with something resembling Daredevil’s radar sense instead, the effects would obviously be quite different, but I would argue that the “layering effect” of Ikari’s sight and radar would not lead to double-vision so much as enhance the combined experience of the two.

Ha! I think this was probably the most speculative science post I’ve ever written, but I hope my line of reasoning makes some amount of sense. In conclusion: Having both sight and a radar sense isn’t as much of a contradiction as it might seem! Exactly how this would work out though, is yet another Marvel Universe mystery. 😉

Wacky Power #22 – “Birdlike emanations”

Daredevil talks of birdlike emanations, from Daredevil #22 by Stan Lee and Gene Colan

Here’s a quick post to get back into the groove of things! Remember how Daredevil has shown the ability to sense a villainous aura? This is how he apparently recognized the evil behind The Owl, Purple Man and one of the many Misters Fear. And, in a recent issue of New Avengers, the aura concept was back again.

In the example below, however, from Daredevil #22 (volume 1), by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, Daredevil’s “evil sense” seems both oddly powerful and oddly specific. Daredevil claims to be able to determine that The Owl is not anywhere near New York. This is apparently because he can’t sense any “birdlike emanations.” Wu-huh? I don’t know what those are. I can’t even begin to guess. A very particular kind of aura? One that you can sense halfway across the city? And he does this with his radar sense? I guess only Stan Lee knows…

Daredevil talks of birdlike emanations, from Daredevil #22 by Stan Lee and Gene Colan

Daredevil versus the common cold

Daredevil swings and misses, punching a wall, as seen in the 2007 Daredevil annual

I’m just getting back on my feet after being knocked down by a nasty bug that had me do nothing but lie in bed for four days. It may be the case that I’m ill in more ways than one though, because at the height of my fever, I was thinking: “Hey, I should write a post on Matt Murdock battling a cold!” While I assure you that I do have interests other than Daredevil (quite a few of them too), I clearly spend way too much time thinking about the Man Without Fear.

While the timing was the result of the circumstances described above, the original idea for this post is not new. Because, according to the one instance I can think of that depicts Matt having a cold in the comics, it really messes up his senses, and that alone makes it worthy a brief mention. Below are some panels from the 2007 Daredevil Annual, by Ed Brubaker, Ande Parks and Leandro Fernandez, in which Matt being sick with the flu is a major plot point. Have a look at these, and let’s reconvene at end. 😉

Daredevil has the flu, Daredevil Annual (2007)
Daredevil complains about radar congestion, Daredevil Annual (2007)
Daredevil swings and misses, punching a wall, as seen in the 2007 Daredevil annual
Daredevil complains about his hearing, as seen in the 2007 Daredevil annual
Panel from the Daredevil Annual (2007), by Ed Brubaker, Ande Parks and Leandro Fernandez
Daredevil's radar fails him, as seen in the 2007 Daredevil annual

So, Daredevil complains of radar congestion (!) and diminshed hearing because of the flu. Anyone who has ever had a cold (and that would be everyone) can empathize with Daredevil in this situation. Being sick doesn’t just drain us of energy – the kind you need to successfully survive a fist fight – but gives rise to that distinctive stuffy feeling.

The reason we can’t smell normally when we have a cold is that the increased build-up of mucus in the nasal cavity prevents odor molecules from reaching the odor receptors and signaling their presence to the brain. This would affect someone like Matt Murdock the same as anyone else. He would likely still be more sensitive to scents than someone without a heightened sense of smell that also has the flu (my thinking being that he either has more sensitive receptors or more of them), but the effects of a cold can be pretty dramatic, as we all know.

What about hearing? Well, a bad cold or flu causes swelling around the eustachian tubes which connect the middle ear to the nasal cavity. This disturbs the air pressure in the ear and dampens the movements of the tympanic membrane and the ossicles which relay sound to the inner ear. Simply put, when you notice your hearing worsening during a cold, you’re experiencing the equivalent of a temporary conductive hearing loss. Faint sounds become harder to hear.

Given the ways real life colds affects the senses (I almost didn’t eat for four days because my sense of smell was so bad everything tasted like sawdust), it makes senses that Daredevil – who probably needs that extra edge more than the rest of us – would be wise to stay off the streets. Exactly how a cold would affect the radar sense, however, depends on our understanding of what the radar sense is. If it is indeed a separate sense, anything goes. Nothing in the real world has anything to offer when it comes to understanding how a completely novel sense is affected by the common cold. If the radar sense is based on hearing and/or a more advanced combination of senses then it’s easy to imagine why a cold would constitute a minor disaster.

The cold scenario also reminds us that throughout Daredevil history, Daredevil’s power set has been written as relatively fragile. Matt’s senses – or his ability to use them to their full extent – have been shown to be affected by everything from excessive noise and strong odors to fatigue and blood loss. An infection clearly fits this overall picture, with the added bonus of making sense in terms of the specific symptoms.

Daredevil and the physiology of Superior Spider-Man

Daredevil has been in the news a little bit more than usual lately, due in large part to his title featuring the first ever appearance of the new Superior Spider-Man, as seen in Daredevil #21 (see below). The two will face off for real in next week’s Daredevil #22 and an unlettered preview of the event has already made the rounds on various websites. It has also generated some comments that are – believe or not – of a science nature. Sort of. Of course, I had to take a stab at trying to make sense of it all. 😉

Kirsten meets Superior Spider-Man, from Daredevil #21 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee
Kirsten vs Superior Spidey, from Daredevil #21 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

In the post Will Daredevil be the first to discover Spider-Man’s new identity?, movie and television blog Flickering Myth suggest the following:

“Since Otto is now Spider-Man, his heartbeat is different to the one Daredevil is used to, so in theory he should become the first person in the Marvel Universe to learn of Peter’s demise and Doctor Octopus’ victory.”

The same thing has been suggested elsewhere. When the extended preview for Daredevil #22 was posted on CBR’s Robot 6, someone had this to say in the comments:

“Are you guys really that daft as to not realize that Daredevil knows because of his heartbeat? Just because its Pete’s body, that doesnt mean his heartbeat will be the same…his voice would be off a lil bit too. I hope Daredevil figures it out right away.”

At the risk of coming off as, well, daft, I would argue that not only should Daredevil be no better equipped than anyone else to figure out the nature of Spider-Man’s change of character. If he actually were able to do it the way the proponents of this theory suggest, his ability to identify people generally would really be much worse than it is.

Part of what makes Matt’s ability to recognize people through his senses of hearing (heartbeats, voices, breathsounds) and smell is that it is, to a great extent, immune to most attempts to conceal these features. He can recognize someone through a layer of perfume or cigarette smoke and he can identify a person’s heartbeat whether they just got out of bed in the morning or came straight from running a marathon. He doesn’t recognize people by how fast their heart is pumping (his lie-detecting abilities, on the other hand, are tied to the actual speed and pattern of the beating heart), but by the unique “voice” of the heart as it is molded by that particular person’s physiology.

Even though Doc Ock’s consciousness is in Peter Parker’s body, the body will not automatically change in response to being inhabited by a new personality (though it’s conceivable that whatever new habits this personality brings with it might lead to gradual changes over time). The “voice” of Peter’s heart should be the same, even underneath a potentially uncharacteristic hyped-up-on-adrenalin frequency pattern. By the same token, the vocal chords of Peter Parker’s body will remain the same. The speech pattern will be different with Doc Ock at the helm, but Matt is more likely to think: “Why is Spider-Man trying to do a Doc Ock impersonation?” than “Ah, Doc Ock has taken over Spider-Man’s body!” If it were easy for people to override the paramaters set by the physical body, in terms of voice quality, body sounds and body chemistry, fooling Daredevil’s senses would be much easier as well.

The most relevant real-world comparison to the Doc Ock situation is probably Dissociative Identity Disorder (also known as Multiple Personality Disorder). While DID remains controversial to this day, it has been suggested by some that each personality may represent a discrete physiological state. However, even in that kind of scenario – and the available evidence is inconclusive – we’re likely talking about the kind of differences that come from different emotional states (where personality A may be fearful and defensive and personality B an adrenalin-driven adventure junkie). At the end of the day, the so-called alters are still inhabiting the same body.

Since the Daredevil #22 preview is unlettered – though we can probably expect a lettered version on Friday – there’s no way of knowing whether Mark Waid has decided for Daredevil to start suspecting a body switch/demon possession scenario (hey, it is the Marvel Universe and there was that Shadowland situation…), but this should be for reasons obvious to everyone who knows Spider-Man: The guy looks/smells/sounds like Spidey, but he’s acting out of character. One way you could have Daredevil’s senses play a major role in deciphering the truth is if he were to catch the good doctor in a lie. Other than that, his new body should give very little away that wouldn’t also be clear to other people through changes in body language, mannerisms and behavior.

Does that make sense? Do you disagree? If so, plead your case in the comments! 😉

Why believing isn’t seeing

Daredevil hears a lock opening, from Daredevil #19 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

Note! At nearly 3,000 words, this is an essay more than a blog post. I hope you’ll find it interesting and thought-provoking, but you may want to wait to read it until you have 15-20 minutes of peace and quiet to spare. You might also need a cup of coffee!

A while back, I wrote a post called The radar simulation. As far as posts go, it turned out to be a pretty big dud. While I knew that far from everyone is able to get anything from auto-stereograms, I thought the number was in the 10-15 percent range. Judging from the comments, several of my regular commenters couldn’t see anything, so I guess that was a fairly pointless exercise. 😉

On a more positive note, one of the comments, left by Gus Davis, did raise some issues that I wanted to get back to. Gus’s suggestion was basically that Matt’s radar sense experience would be more vivid than what I suggested with my black on black auto-stereograms since he was once sighted and could imagine things based on input collected from his other senses combined with visual memories of things. Gus compares this with the way our mind’s eye fills things in for us when we hear a familiar sound.

Perception versus the “mind’s eye”

My response to Gus would be that we are really talking about two different things. What I tried to illustrate with the auto-stereogram post was the raw sensory experience of what having a colorless, three-dimensional spatial ability might be like. Using one of the examples Gus mentions – the sound of someone knocking on the door conjuring up an (internal) image of a person knocking – this would be analogous to trying to describe what it is like to hear knocking, or to hear anything at all for that matter, rather than what the brain does with that information further down the processing stream.

Daredevil hears a lock opening, from Daredevil #19 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

It would make perfect sense for Matt to put together an “image” or basic understanding of things he perceives, because this kind of mental imagery is something everyone is capable of, whether they have a full set of senses or not. In fact, I thought the panel above, from Daredevil #19, was a very good example of mental imagery. Here, Chris Samnee draws Daredevil listening to the sound of a lock opening in the distance, alongside an image of said lock. This is obviously meant to show the reader what he is hearing while avoiding unnecessary exposition or overly complicated sound effects. But, the use of a contrasting color and the way the panel is laid out doesn’t just show the particular event taking place, it also shows Daredevil becoming aware of what’s happening. But is this the same as actually seeing it happen? And, does imagery even have to be visual? I’ll get to that below, but first, let’s cover one more thing.

What is the essence of “redness”?

We all make inferences – more or less automatically – about the world based on past experiences and associations. However, that doesn’t explain the essence of the sensory experience that prompts the association. These unique “experiential” properties of our senses is what philosophers refer to as qualia. The difficulty in talking about sensory qualia becomes evident the second you start thinking about how you would explain what Mozart sounds like to someone born deaf. Or even how you would explain what red looks like to the substantial proportion of the (mostly male) population who has some kind of color vision defect. This even raises the question of whether everyone experiences red the same way. You and I may both agree that a Coke can is red, but does our sense of red overlap? Is your red the same as my red? Provided that we both have normal vision, the odds are pretty good that they do (we are members of the same species, after all), but this is the kind of thing that is quite frankly impossible to know for sure.

Philosophical conundrums aside, there is clearly something it is like to experience red that is different from simply knowing about colors on an intellectual level. An imaginary colorblind physicist could learn everything there is to know about the color red – that it is a property ascribed to objects which reflect light with a wavelength between 700 and 635 nm – and develop tools which tell him which objects fall into this category. However, this doesn’t give him the experience of “redness.” What I was trying to do with the auto-sterogram post was to try to approximate my own idea of “radarness,” the qualia of a spatial pseudo-visual sense devoid of color.

The limits of imagery

The name of this post is “why believing isn’t seeing.” What I mean by that is that the link between an external stimulus and mental imagery is of a very different nature than the association between that stimulus and our immediate perception of it, through the relevant sense(s).

Imagine that we have two test subjects – we’ll call them Bill and Bob – and let us expose them to an experimental stimulus. If we let both Bill and Bob listen to a sound of rustling leaves coming from behind a partition, what’s going to happen in their minds?

Bill might start thinking of playing in the leaves every fall as a child, and may even remember how his mom made him hot cocoa when he came back in the house. He might see an entire scene play out in his mind’s eye, and might even connect it to the taste of the cocoa or the smell of burning leaves. On the other hand, he might just get a rapidly fading image of a pile of leaves, especially if he is only given a brief moment to listen to the sound before something else commands his attention. Bill’s “snapshot leaves” may be maple leaves, and he may return to pretty much the same image in his head every time he hears the sound of rustling leaves.

Bob’s leaves, on the other hand, might be aspen. He may have grown up in a completely different part of the country. He may not have the strong personal memories of playing in the leaves as Bills does. Maybe the sound doesn’t even remind him of leaves at all, but of his grandmother who often used to play a new age-inspired “sounds of the rainforest” CD when he visited her house. My point is that even though Bill and Bob are listening to the exact same sound, which activates the same group of hair cells in their respective cochelae, their responses to what they are hearing is different. They are similar, absolutely. In both men, the sound evokes “leafiness” and stimulates their brains’ “leaf category,” but there is no 1:1 relationship between what they are hearing and what their mind’s eye is doing.

As we pull away the partition separating the two men from the source of the sound, we may be surprised to se a pile of birch leaves dancing in front of a fan. However, we might find that there are no leaves at all, but a stereo playing a recording of leaves blowing. The two men’s idea of what’s behind the magic curtain could be 100% wrong. The imagery they experienced, having access to only one aspect of the whole scene (sound in this case) would still be completely rational, and part of an essential ability of the human mind to categorize and draw logical conclusions, but it clearly couldn’t replace the missing information.

Mental imagery in the blind

First of all, I think we can all agree that these connections we make between the things we pick up through our senses and our internal representations involve all of our senses. The sound of coffee brewing can elicit a strong sense of being able to smell the coffee before the scent even reaches us. Seeing a painting of the ocean may remind us of the sounds of waves breaking against the shore and the taste of salt. In fact, more and more research is showing just how intertwined our senses are. Even the best wine experts in the world can be fooled by something as simple as white wine dyed to appear red. The way the lips move when someone is speaking actually influences what we hear (this is known as the McGurk effect and is demonstrated here) to the point where even knowing about this phenomenon can’t undo it. It’s increasingly clear that our senses combine to create a unified experience of our world.

Still, we often talk about thinking in pictures and, as highly visual primates, it’s no wonder that we think of images as being central to imagery. For people born blind, visual images are obviously not a part of their experience of the world. But what about people who lose their sight later in life? To what extent does visual imagery remain a part of their internal worlds? The answer to that question is apparently a very big “it depends.”

In his book The Mind’s Eye, my very favorite neurologist Oliver Sacks mentions several different cases. One is that of John Hull, who details the loss of his sight in middle age in the book Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness. Hull describes experiencing something he refers to as “deep blindness.” Shortly after losing his sight, he started losing his ability for visual imagery and was distressed to discover that he could no longer visualize the faces of his loved ones. Within two years, this progressed to the point where he could no longer even remember what seeing was like. However, his experience is far from typical.

In stark contrast to Hull’s experience, Sacks also mentions the case of Zoltan Torey, an Australian psychologist who had lost his sight in an accident at age twenty-one. Torey’s coping mechanism in response to total blindness was to develop his inner eye to the best of his ability. Sacks writes:

“In this, he said, he had been extremely successful, developing a remarkable power of generating, holding, and manipulating images in his mind, so much so that he had been able to construct a virtual visual world that seemed as real and intense to him as the perceptual one he had lost – indeed, sometimes more real, more intense. This imagery, moreover, enabled him to do things that might have seemed scarcely possible for a blind man.
‘I replaced the entire roof guttering of my multi-gabled home single-handed,’ he wrote, ‘and solely on the strength of the accurate and well-focused manipulation of my now totally pliable and responsive mental space.’ Torey later expanded on this episode, mentioning the great alarm of his neighbors at seeing a blind man alone on the roof of his house – at night (even though, of course, darkness made no difference to him).
And he felt that his newly strengthened visual imagery enabled him to think in ways that had not been available to him before, allowed him to project himself inside machines and other systems, to envisage solutions, models, and designs.”

If we want to try to imagine what Matt Murdock’s inner world looks like, it’s important to remember that his radar sense, whatever it is, supports an accurate sense of space. He doesn’t need to work as hard as the average blind person at creating a spatial map in his head, even though his inability to “see” color and detail (and signage!) puts a higher demand on his other senses to fill in as much missing information as possible. Still, the question becomes to what extent he would be actively trying to enrich this pseudo-visual experience with visual imagery.

Matt explains his radar, from Daredevil #1 by Mark Waid and Marcos Martín

As I hope we’ve already established, constructing a full image of what something might be like from a limited amount of information is not always reliable (remember Bill and Bob…) and may have little to do with external reality. There is no denying that Zoltan Toreys’ brand of mind-mapping is useful to him or that a blind person who was previously sighted can get a very rich experience from having a painting or scene described to her. But in many cases, there is no way for a blind person to actually verify the accuracy of his or her visual imagery and in no way does imagery replace either the experience or function of eye sight.

In Matt’s case, he’s free to imagine Foggy wearing a polka dot suit to work every day if he wants to, but the question is whether this is at all useful for him. The information revealing the true state of affairs is unavailable to him through his remaining senses and no amount of imagery can make up for it. Trying to use all of his available senses to reach the best possible understanding of his surroundings is one thing, and is no different from what you and I do, but my own take on the character is more in line with what Mark Waid described in Daredevil #1 (with art by Marcos Martín, seen above). Many descriptive categories that sighted people use to make sense of the world are of no practical value to him. And, to get back Gus’s original comment, the knowledge and memory of sight should have limited bearing on the immediate experience (qualia) of his non-visual senses, including radar.

The problem with Bendis

So, I’m going to have to get a little rough on Brian Bendis again (even though I’m sort of going to let him off the hook for this one). Don’t blame me, it’s all Gus’s fault for mentioning Bendis’s writing as an example of Matt consciously filling in missing information. 😉 Gus is absolutely right, though. I can think of at least two cases where Bendis has Matt actively create a scene in his mind while we as readers follow along by looking at the art. The one that will be most familiar to readers is probably this page from Daredevil #43 (vol 2) where Matt studies Milla, who has come to visit him in his office, and we see her gradually come into focus (art by Alex Maleev).

A longer and more detailed example of this “filling in” process comes from Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #7, by Bendis and Bill Sienkiewicz, and can be seen below in two pages worth of panels.

Scene from Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #7 by Brian Bendis and Bill Sienkiewicz

In both of these examples, Bendis – through Matt’s internal monologue – takes us on a little tour of what kind of information it is that Matt is paying attention to as be builds his image. While this is happening, the artist’s rendering of the scene becomes gradually sharper. Focusing mostly on the art, one might easily be lead to believe that Bendis intends for us to take the image appearing before Matt’s senses literally. There is a strong suggestion that the image Matt is building in his mind and the one you or I would see before our eyes is virtually one and the same.

Personally, I think this is a unfortunate, especially as that conclusion doesn’t actually line up with the writing. Bendis himself puts disclaimers in there, such as “So, even though I will never see him the way you do…” Add to this the fact that all the things that Matt is picking up on as he narrates the scene are things that are very non-visual. The fact that the man above is a sweaty smoker whose positions Matt can pinpoint from the heat of his body would really tell him nothing about what he looks like. He can probably pull up a stereotypical image of someone who fits that description and used to live in his neighborhood as a kid, for reference, but that can never be a literal representation of the man in front of him.

In my mind, this kind of storytelling technique, interesting and beautiful as it may be, greatly exaggerates the visual properties of Matt’s understanding of the world. We are lead to believe that he is in a position to make educated inferences about appearances that his senses really shouldn’t allow for.


This was a long one! My goal here was to 1) explain my intentions with the radar simulation (auto-stereogram) post, i.e. to capture the qualia of the radar experience, and 2) try to make the distinction between the primary physical experience of our senses – and their relationship to the external world – on the one hand, and our internally generated mental images on the other. I want to thank Gus for leaving the comment that inspired this post.

I also want to take the opportunity to point out that my intention with this and other Daredevil science posts is not necessarily to get anyone to conform to my own view of how Daredevil should be interpreted. Every reader, and writer for that matter, should feel free to imagine for themselves what being inside Daredevil’s body is like. What I try to bring to the table is whatever information I might have come across over the years to try to explain things in Daredevil’s world as they pertain to real world phenomena.

So, feel free to disagree with me! And, I would love it if you did so in the comment section. Who knows, it might inspire a whole new post? 😉

Wacky Power #21 – The aura sensing is back!

So yes, I’ve been giving Brian Bendis a hard time lately. Some day soon, I’ll make up for it by posting my top ten moments from the Bendis/Maleev run. Before I get to that though, there was a moment in last week’s New Avengers #33 that I can’t just let slide without poking a little harmless fun. 😉

If you’ve been following this series of posts, you may remember that Matt once had the ability to sense people’s “auras.” We’re not talking about purple, sparkling halos or anything (as far as I know), but whatever it is villains radiate to make them come across as villainous. Apparently it’s like a gaydar for sniffing out criminal masterminds or random psychos.

However, judging by New Avengers #33, with art by Michael Avon Oeming, the aura sensing is back! And, it’s been extended to cover general instances of “wrongness.” According to Matt:

There’s something wrong. There’s an aura.

Daredevil gets an aura, from New Avengers #33, by Brian Bendis and Michael Oeming

I don’t know what this aura is supposed to be. Maybe it’s the same kind of energy that Spider-Man’s spider sense taps into. Maybe Bendis is just making this up as he goes along. Maybe Matt feels he has to impress his fellow Avengers. Either way, I do find the contrast between what Bendis says the radar sense is (a combination of Daredevil’s four remaining heightened senses, making it – in theory – the most naturlistic option available to any Daredevil creator), and what Daredevil actually ends up doing on the page to be pretty extreme.

Speaking of New Avengers #33 more generally though, I have to say that I found Oeming’s art here to be pretty darn intriguing. I can’t decide if I hate it or love it. Maybe both? It’s highly stylized and somewhat crazy-looking, yet really cool at the same time. And, you’ve got to love the below panel of Daredevil falling on his ass as the team goes into action. 😉

Daredevil falls on his ass, from New Avengers #33 by Brian Bendis and Michael Oeming

Check back Monday for The Other Murdock Papers Podcast #4, which features a very special guest in the form of none other than Chris Samnne! It’s part interview with the guy who – holy crap! – draws Daredevil every month and part just geeking out with a fellow fan. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

The radar simulation

Radar show object near, but nothing from far away, from Daredevil #1, by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera

I know, the title of this post sounds a little bit like an episode of The Big Bang Theory, but you’re just going to have to live with that. Yes, you guessed it, it’s time to talk a little bit about Daredevil’s radar sense – for the umpteenth time – but this isn’t your typical “Daredevil Science” post. It has more to do with philosophy than the natural sciences, and represents my own take on what I think might be the closest you can get to rendering the radar sense in two dimensions. Actually, make that three dimensions; this little thought experiment actually involves stereograms.

Before we get to the actual images I want you to look at, I’ll just briefly explain why I thought this was a neat idea. You see, the way I personally picture what Matt’s radar sense looks like, from his point of view, is as world of black on black shapes. The reason I arrive at that conclusion is because I can’t fathom what else it could be. There is no color, but there is a three-dimensional awareness of where things are and how far object extend in these dimension (i.e. their shape).

Of course, you might ask (and some of you have), why I think of the radar experience as visual-like at all. Isn’t it supposed to be like “touching everything at once”? On the one hand, this is a compelling idea, which has the added bonus of really bringing home the point that Daredevil, for all his powers, truly is blind. It also makes sense from a real-world perspective in terms of how human echolocation is often described. The phenomenon of object perception among the blind used to be known as “facial vision,” and it wasn’t until 1944 that a study proved definitively that it depended on sound, not some other mechanism. However, the experience is often described as tactile, as feeling like pressure on the skin. In fact, one of the original subjects of the 1944 study, found the idea that his ability was sound-based to be so absurd that it took several failed trials with his ears plugged to convince him that the perception of sound echoes alone accounted for his experience.

However, a recent study of two highly skilled echolocators, has shown that their visual cortex is activated in echolocation tasks whereas such activation is completely absent in sighted controls. This in no way proves that echolocation is experientially “vision-like” in these experts. After all, the visual cortex in the blind is activated in everything from braille reading to the understanding of ultra-fast synthetic speech (it represents vast available neural real estate, after all). Still, it makes sense to me that the more refined the ability becomes, the more difficult it would be for a tactile experience to encompass it, if that makes sense. Vision, on the other hand, is unique in its ability to let us process an entire scene simultaneously. In order for the radar sense (be it sound-based or something more exotic) to be useful for the more complex object identification tasks that Matt Murdock apparently uses it for, it makes more sense to me that it’s processed in a way that mimics some of the properties of sight.

Anyway, let’s get to the simulation portion of this post. In order to get anything out of this at all, you have to be able to generate a 3D image from an autostereogram. Not everyone can do this, but most people should be able to. I have a very easy time with stereograms, and find them pretty fascinating. The trick for me is to look at the image as if you’re looking through it into infinity. These images were made using the online service easystereogrambuilder.com. I then altered the images on my computer to get them as dark as possible without losing the image. Remember that you can enlarge the images by clicking on the once (click again to close), this will make the task much easier. For an answer key to what you’re looking at, just hover over the image and the image’s title text will appear after a second or two. Have fun and don’t forget to comment! 😉

Stereogram image of a cup
Stereogram image of a cup
Stereogram image of a car collision
Stereogram image of a tunnel
Stereogram image of a cup
Stereogram image of a chair, table and lamp

Daredevil science and proprioception

This post contains spoilers for Daredevil #14, so read the issue first! And you should, it was great!

Recently, one reader left the below comment on my old post Daredevil Science and the sense of touch (it’s so old, in fact, that I’ve since had time to write an additional post on touch):

“By the way, do you ever plan on giving us the promised “balance and proprioception” post? If it’s on the site, I can’t find it. I’ve used both search and the categories, as well as just going post by post for at least 10 times.”

My first reaction to this comment was “Wow, some people sure do seem to like reading the science posts as much as I like writing them,” followed by “Hm, I never did get to that post on proprioception, did I?” I was going to just let it wait until I start working on the Daredevil Science ebook I’ve been planning to write over the summer, but a particular panel from last week’s Daredevil #14 gave me the reason I needed to get to it right away.

Daredevil is losing his sense of proprioception, from Daredevil #14 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee

So, what’s so special about this panel? Well as anyone who has read Daredevil #14 will know, Matt was infected with a very nasty strain of Latverian nanobots, programmed to completely take away his senses, and he ends the issue in a state of being more or less outpowered by Helen Keller (who, incidentally, was born exactly 122 years ago today).

In the panel above, we see Matt make a comment about losing his sense of touch, something he had also alluded to a few pages earlier. This panel is also a good reminder of the fact that while we often think of touch as being the tactile recognition of the outside world, we are also dependent on a form of “inner touch” to give us a sense of our general position and where the parts of our body are, relative each other. In this case, it is clear that our intrepid hero doesn’t feel the horse’s body pressing against his legs, nor does he have the sensation of his legs moving.

This sense of our own bodies is what is meant by the term proprioception, which originally comes from the Latin words proprius (“one’s own”) and capere (“to take).” The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines proprioception as “The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself.”

How is proprioception mediated?

While I won’t go into the sense of balance specifically (that will have to wait until the ebook), the vestibular system of the inner ear is a part of proprioception in a broader sense since it gives us information on how we are positioned relative to the planet we live on, as well as things like rotation, and acceleration.

Our sense of our movement, however, comes from nerve receptors in the muscles, tendons and joints. These are the muscle spindle, the Golgi tendon organ, and the Pascinian corpuscle. The latter is also present in the skin and in various internal organs. The muscle spindle is embedded in the muscle fiber and detects the length of the muscle. It’s also responsible for the stretch reflex. Golgi tendon organs are found in tendons, where the muscle attaches to the bone and senses muscle tension.

What happens when proprioception is lost?

It’s a well known phenomenon that spinal cord injuries lead to (varying degrees of) paralysis and loss of sensation below the level of injury. For this reason, it may seem natural to see motor function and touch sensation (including proprioception) as inextricably linked. However, there are scenarios in which a person may be unable to move, but have spared sensation (as is seen in people with ALS), or have normal motor function but lack normal sensation. Yes, cases such as Daredevil’s current predicament have been recorded, though it’s safe to say that nanobots have never previously been implicated in the process.

With or without nanobots, extreme cases of loss of touch and proprioception are exceedingly rare. One well-documented case, however, is that of Ian Waterman who, after contracting a virus as a young adult, found himself suddenly “without a body.” In order to move about and interact with the world he uses his vision and an enormous amount of concentration to monitor all of his movements.

Super-powered proprioception

I’ve said many times that I find Daredevil to be a very believable superhero, despite his lack of natural vision. One of my main arguments for this is that if we are to believe that his other senses are dramatically heightened, then that would include such things as his senses of balance and proprioception. His athleticism may be mostly practice and hard work, but having an unusually good body awareness would certainly help.

If a little alcohol can cause the average person’s proprioceptive acuity to drop dramatically (remember the test where people are instructed to touch their noses with their eyes closed?), it’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to imagine a that some perfectly administered Silver Age radiation can have the opposite effect. 😉