Book title image for Being Matt Murdock – One Fan's Journey Into the Science of Daredevil
Artwork by Monique Müge from the cover showing a pair of red-tinted sunglasses resting in a flat surface.
Mockup of the paperback version of Being Matt Murdock

Rated 5 out of 5*

Cover art by Monique Müge.
Cover design by Phyllis Sa.

From the Introduction to “Being Matt Murdock
– One Fan’s Journey Into the Science of Daredevil”

“[It] is not a coincidence that I have chosen to give this book the title Being Matt Murdock. While Marvel has long excelled at featuring the people behind the masks as prominently as their costumed alter egos, I cannot help but feel that this is especially true for Matt Murdock. His civilian persona has been at the center of some of the most interesting Daredevil stories ever told, and his unique combination of sensory enhancements and deficits is guaranteed to affect every aspect of Matt Murdock’s life, whether he is in costume or not.

During my many years of blogging at The Other Murdock Papers, a blog devoted specifically to Daredevil that I launched in 2007, I have been fortunate enough to connect with other fans who share much of my appreciation for the character, as well as my occasional frustrations. When I gradually turned to writing more frequently on the topic of Daredevil’s senses and how they relate to real-world science, I was worried that it might turn some people off. Perhaps the subject would be too technical, or my takes too… well, “nit-picky” is a word that comes to mind. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my science posts consistently ranked among the most popular – and the most commented on.

I think this has been partly due to the lack of information on this topic elsewhere. Aside from the occasional mention in the popular science press, usually when a writer wants to make a culturally relevant point about echolocation, there has been little written about Daredevil from this perspective. I also like to think that my regular readers have enjoyed my science posts because they have conveyed at least some of the enjoyment of writing them. If I’m having fun, the odds are good that my readers are too. I have brought that same passion, and more than occasional irreverence, to the writing of this book.”

*) Based on 13 ratings (Amazon + GoodReads)

Chapter Subheadings

The One-Note Language of the Nervous System • Patterns in the Brain • The Metamodal Brain • The Brain Without Sight  • Sensory Substitution

Chapter 4: Senses, Meet Brain

How do the matter and energy of sensation interact with out bodies? And, how do our sensory organs, and the cells and proteins they consist of, detect this stuff of sensation. How would you go about making the senses better, and what are their physical limits? We also look at the impossibility of using temperature to sense remote object, as seen on the Daredevil television show.

Chapter Excerpt: “We spent the last couple of chapters focusing on what sorts of stimuli are available for us to sense, and how they interact with our sensory organs through dedicated sensory receptors endowed with specialized protein micro-machinery. This first step, during which a proximal stimulus is detected and converted into a chemically mediated electrical signal, is called transduction. The signal, or neural impulse, which travels along the nerve fiber to the brain, is called the action potential and is at once one of the most banal and fascinating phenomena in nature.
The action potential is common to all the senses – all neural activity, in fact – regardless of which sensory pathway gave rise to it. Nothing about the nature of the particular stimulus from the outside world is preserved in this spike of activity. In fact, the action potential is so basic that we can liken it to a kind of morse code, but instead of having short pulses and long pulses, there is just one sort of pulse. The action potential is all or nothing. A more intense stimulus causes more signals to be sent, and through more nerve fibers, but the magnitude of the individual spike doesn’t change.”

Part Two – Super Senses

Chapter Subheadings

The Ear – An Audible Crash Course • The Things We Can(not) Hear • What Daredevil Actually Hears (Maybe) 

Chapter 5: Super Hearing

Can you hear heartbeats? Or whispers from blocks away? How much extra mileage would “super hearing” afford Marvel’s famous blind superhero, and how much comes down to limitations set by the laws of  physics? This chapter takes a closer look at the functioning of the human ear, and the physics of sound, and what it all means for Daredevil.

Chapter Excerpt: “One feature of the auditory system that is helpful in this regard is one we’ve talked about already: The fact that we have one ear on each side of the head and an auditory system that is able to use the difference in information between the ears to locate sounds in three-dimensional space. As mentioned previously, a single ear can also perform some functions of spatial hearing, but not to the same degree.
Using spatial hearing would obviously be a good way for the brain to figure out which features of the soundscape belong together. And this is certainly a contributing factor. However, there are other cues as well. One is the difference in fundamental frequency between two sounds such that two sounds are easier to separate if the difference between them is large. Another factor is the temporal aspect; a group of frequencies that begin at the same time can be interpreted as belonging together. Ultimately, there is probably even more going on here.”

Chapter Subheadings

The Cornell Experiments • Edward Smallwood and the Super Echolocators • Your Brain on Echoes • Echolocation on Steroids

Chapter 6: A Sense of Space

Eyesight is not the only sense that can support the perception of the shape and presence of solid objects. The ability of some blind people to “see” with sound long remained a mystery, and has only recently come under serious scientific scrutiny. This chapter takes an ambitious look at the science of human echolocation, and the extremes of human sensory achievement.

Chapter Excerpt: “This also means that Smallwood, while obviously relying on sound without being aware of it, didn’t actively attempt to make any of his own sounds, such as by clicking his tongue or snapping his fingers, in the course of his daily life. Obviously, his own footsteps would have provided guidance, but it also seems reasonable to assume that he must have been well tuned in to the ambient sounds around him as well.
What makes Smallwood even more interesting though, is how exceptionally good he was at detecting the obstacles in the experiment. He not only vastly outperformed the sighted subjects, but he also crushed his blind “opponent” Michael Supa, making the difference in performance between the two much larger than the difference between Supa and the sighted subjects. This was particularly evident in terms of the measure of “first perception,” i.e. the distance at which the obstacle could first be detected. In fact, the experimenters initially seemed to have quite a bit of trouble even finding a distance from the obstacle where Smallwood couldn’t immediately detect it.”

Chapter Subheadings

The Radar According to Frank Miller • The Self-Sufficient Radar • A World Without a Radar Sense • Sound Waves Versus Radio Waves

Chapter 10: Making Sense of the Radar Sense

The Silver Age leaves us with a few different themes regarding the nature of the radar sense. Which became prominent, and how? And what did someone like Frank Miller have to say on this topic? Or the Daredevil movie and Netflix show (now on Disney+)? And, if we bring the science back into the picture, which understanding of the radar sense holds up best to scientific scrutiny?

Chapter Excerpt: “What makes Frank Miller’s take on the radar sense interesting enough to deserve its own section doesn’t just come down to the fact that his runs hold such a prominent place in Daredevil history, even though that’s certainly one reason. After all, his time on the book brought the character a brand new set of fans and significantly raised his profile. Even in our own decade, you will find few self-professed Daredevil fans who haven’t read Miller’s work while the earlier issues are not viewed as required reading to the same degree.
Another thing that makes Miller’s take on Daredevil’s senses particularly interesting is that he brought one idea of the radar sense to his early work, and then later changed his mind! In Born Again, Miller doesn’t noticeably reverse course so much as leave the radar sense out of the conversation entirely. However, another even later example of Miller’s work comes to us in the form of the five-issue Daredevil: Man Without Fear mini-series, which featured art by John Romita Jr. and came out in 1993. Set apart from the main book, Man Without Fear provides these creators with the chance to reimagine Daredevil’s origin, including the very nature of the radar sense. Here, there’s no mention of it at all, though Matt is still bestowed with an unnamed ability to sense objects in space.”

DisclaimerBeing Matt Murdock is an unofficial and unauthorized independent work of non-fiction and is not licensed or endorsed by, on in any way associated with, any person or entity affiliated with Marvel Entertainment LLC or its associates. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners and are used in this context solely for the purposes of commentary and critique.