Daredevil Season 3 Poster Cropped

Science Behind the Fiction: The science behind Daredevil and Bullseye's amazing, very real abilities

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Oct 24, 2018

For fans of Netflix's live-action Marvel series, recent days have been a parade of bad news with a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel. In the middle of a cancellation storm in which the streaming service announced the closure of first Iron Fist and then Luke Cage, Daredevil Season 3 premiered to rave reviews and cries of a return to form.

**This story contains mild spoilers for Marvel's Daredevil Season 3.**

Marvel's Daredevil Season 3 finds Charlie Cox's Matt Murdock reeling in the wake of The Defenders and finally pits the titular hero against his most well-known nemesis: Bullseye, portrayed by Wilson Bethel.

A hallmark among Marvel's characters, both on the page and screen, has always been their relatability. The great thing about most of Marvel's characters is that any kid (or kid at heart) can imagine themselves in their heroes' shoes. There's real (if sometimes stretched) science and instances of human ability behind many of their "powers."

Take Daredevil for instance. Matt Murdock was a normal kid, raised in a single-parent home in a lower-class setting before he encountered a truck full of radioactive isotopes that blinded him. His powers, while enhanced by a pseudoscientific stew, are ultimately the result of enhanced senses at the cost of his sight. Likewise, Bullseye boasts no known enhancements aside from a particular talent for spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination.

That is, perhaps, what has made Netflix's Daredevil series so beloved: its gritty realness. Each of us can imagine ourselves living alongside these characters. And who among us doesn't want to be special? To use our talents, whatever they may be, to set the world to rights, either by virtue or villainy.

SO YOU WANT TO BE A HERO?

The Daredevil character plays on a commonly accepted trope that those who have lost one sense or another are imbued with the enhancement of their remaining senses. Marvel has, in the past, played fast and loose with science, but in this case, they are more or less right on the mark — almost.

There is considerable evidence that those who lose one essential sense, particularly early in life, enjoy the enhancement of their remaining senses.

The human brain, it turns out, is surprisingly elastic. While previous generations believed that those without the use of sight or sound were at a severe cognitive disadvantage, modern research reveals that those areas of the brain regularly responsible for dealing with major senses are able to rewire for other functions.

In relation to individuals experiencing congenital (at-birth) or early-onset blindness, those areas of the brain usually set aside for the processing of visual stimuli are rewired to take in stimuli from other senses, primarily sound and touch.

In many individuals, those areas of the brain specialized for determining spatial patterns continue to do their job, only without the use of visual data.

According to a January 2010 issue of the Journal Nature, cross modal neuroplastic changes in the brain are common among those living with a loss of one or more major sensory inputs, such that visual or auditory stimuli are subsidized by other sensory inputs. Specifically, the loss of visual input can result in a reformatting of the brain that allows for auditory stimulus to build a visual picture.

Which explains a lot about Matt Murdock.

The occipital lobe, one of the four major lobes within the cerebral cortex, is responsible for visual processing. Among individuals living with visual impairment, this region of the brain can be co-opted to process other external data. Spatial navigation, as measured by MRI, has been seen to be stimulated by non-visual stimuli (auditory or tactile) and engaging those parts of the brain usually reserved for the processing of visual data.

These results were confirmed by attempts to impair the visual centers of the brain in blind participants. Using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and focused on the vision centers of the brain, blind participants experienced reductions in their ability to perform tactile functions, like reading braille, supporting the hypothesis that visual centers in the brain had been co-opted for other functions.

In short, blind individuals are sometimes able to use the visual centers of the brain to perform other functions, like reading braille, and inhibition of those brain centers impacted the ability to perform those functions.

There are extreme examples, anecdotal as they may be, of blind individuals able to create complex visual pictures using only auditory stimuli, as seen in the below video.

Research shows, however, that plasticity of the brain reduces over time. The most well-known example of this relates to language acquisition, which declines after about the age of four. Sensory plasticity has a larger window, with some researchers marking it at age fourteen while others believe it continues into early adulthood.

In any event, Matt Murdock would have lost his sight within the window needed to developed enhanced auditory abilities, especially when assisted by a radioactive isotope. Those of us in the real world hoping to follow in his footsteps should hope to have lost our sight as early as possible — or find another way to fight the forces of evil.

SO YOU WANT TO BE A VILLAIN?

Maybe you're fed up with the status quo. Maybe you've decided the best way to reshape the world in your image is through brute force. Whatever the reason, you've decided to be a villain and move the Earth toward your ultimate vision by shooting it through its center.

If you're hoping to accomplish your goal, it's going to require incredible aim.

Though, in the grand scheme of all things earthly, that isn't an impossible goal. Human beings, among all complex life, have ridiculously impressive throwing abilities.

Neil Roach, who received his Ph.D. from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences led a study looking into the human ability to throw objects and found not only that humans were singular in this ability but that it was crucial in our early survival.

Roach found that, when compared with other living animals, our ability to accurately project objects was unmatched. While the psychological software needed to understand the movement of objects is present in other primates, the physiological requirements were not.

Only humans have both the mental and physical ability to process the necessary information to accurately move an object through space. Researchers believe this ability developed as a result of inherent biological ability coupled with the need to effectively hunt using rudimentary tools.

While the cognitive ability to process spatial information might have come down from our primate ancestors, our unique physiology and propensity for hunting resulted in an ability to throw objects with an accuracy not seen in any other animal. Our ability to project objects in space was a result of a specific evolutionary track, one that even our closest living relatives cannot duplicate.

So far as we can tell, aiming ability is something innate among all humans. Though the degree is a matter of practice. Should you desire to fight Hell's Kitchen's most beloved hero, you might want to spend some time at a dartboard honing your abilities.

Whichever side of the super-hero battle you choose to settle upon, rest assured that the abilities you desire are well within your grasp... if you're only willing to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve them.

Marvel's Daredevil Season 3 is now available to stream on Netflix.

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