Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles -Daredevil is a really interesting character-- a hero who is blinded at a young age by radioactive chemicals that peaked his other senses to superhuman levels, as well as granting him a radar sense. The question is how much can Daredevil "see" despite his blindness [MUSIC] Welcome to Comic Misconceptions. I'm Scott. And the Daredevil Netflix series has definitely been drawing more attention to the Man Without Fear. I, for one, am glad about that. Daredevil is a great character and not just because he definitely created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as I've talked about before, but because his powers raise some interesting questions about the ideas of human perception. But first, a little background on the character. When Daredevil debuted in "Daredevil Number 1" from 1964, we see the accident that blinded him. A young Matt Murdock was saving an old blind man who was crossing the street from being hit by a runaway truck carrying containers of radioactive materials. A container fell out of the truck, and the radioactive chemicals washed into his eyes, leaving Matt blinded. But the story doesn't end there. As Matt grows up, he starts to realize that his other senses have become very sensitive. And that allows him to perceive and navigate the world in a different way than those who can see. And he uses these new abilities to fight crime as Daredevil. He can hear faint sounds, including people's heartbeats, and to tell if they're lying. His fingers have become so sensitive that he can read newspapers just by feeling the impressions of the ink on the page. And his sense of smell and taste have also been heightened, as well. And if we look at real life cases, this sort of thing is not too far off. Radiation aside, studies have shown that people missing one sense, like sight or hearing, actually do compensate with their remaining senses. Blind people, like Matt Murdock, can learn to process other information from hearing, touch, and smell in ways that seeing people can't. The reason for this isn't that blind people's ears and noses go through a physical change that allows them to hear and smell better. They're still working with the same hardware. They just haven't upgraded software in their brains. You're born with a part of your brain called the visual cortex that is responsible for processing all the visual information you take in. So if you are blind, what happens to your visual cortex? Does it just simply sit there, taking up room, not really doing anything valuable? Interestingly, no. Your brain will actually rewire itself to make use of the visual processing center in different ways. For example, studies have shown that blind people can recruit their visual cortex for other processes, like hearing, touch, and even vocabulary, which could come in handy with Daredevil's day job as a lawyer-- needing to throw around lots of big words. Essentially, the brain will restructure itself to further augment the remaining senses. And this phenomenon is known as cross-modal neuralplasticity. How's that for big words? Before I go any further, I feel the need to point out a few things. Number one, I am far from an expert in any of this, but I put links to where I've gotten this information from in the description. And number two, the research for this is still going on. So anything I say in this video could change as new studies are done and new information is discovered. But OK, back to how Daredevil can "see." So the part of his brain used for seeing is now being taken over to process other sorts of information through hearing and touch. And that's helping Matt Murdock navigate the world around him in a different way, but still a pretty effective one. There are a few caveats here, though. Firstly, for this sort of thing to happen to its fullest ability, you would need to be blinded young while the brain is way more plastic and still able to reorganize itself. With Daredevil, this is definitely the case since the accident that blinded him happened when he was a youngster. Another issue is that cross-modal reorganization could cause problems if Daredevil ever got his sight back. If this happened, he probably wouldn't know what to do with all that new visual information that's coming into his brain. He'd have to stop fighting crime and learn how to process it all-- and relearn how to fight crime differently than he has been doing for years, which could be frustrating. He would likely be worse off since his brain is so used to his blindness. Matt getting his sight back has happened a few times in the comics, but usually through magic so I guess we could just assume that magic also rewired his brain to that of a seeing person, as well. I don't know. Now, interestingly, cross-modal plasticity can also be a link to acquiring synesthesia. Synesthesia literally means joined perception and comes in all kinds of different flavors. Sometimes, literally. It's when two or more senses are perceived simultaneously, like hearing a sound and then instantly and involuntarily sensing a smell or taste or color or a physical feeling that goes along with it. Essentially, input from one sense triggers another automatically. For the most part, synesthesia is genetic. And you can't acquire it if you don't already have it. However, there is research to suggest that blind people do start to acquire a kind of synesthesia as their brain restructures itself due to the loss of sight. Some blind people say that they see flashes of light when they listen to music, for example. Daredevil definitely seems to be a synesthi. This one panel in "Daredevil Number 9" from 1999 shows him playing on the piano and sensing the sounds from the different chords as colors, smells, and tastes, saying things like how C major smells like old boxing gloves, E major is a coppery taste, and E minor is the glow of neon in the dark. Whether he was born with it or acquired it due to his brain reorganizing itself, or maybe even that comic book magic that is the radioactive material he absorbed. It is unknown. But it's another little tidbit about the character that I find neat. So we've covered Daredevil's heightened senses that allow him to "see" the world around him in a different way and his apparent synesthesia that allows him to "see" sounds. But what about his most important power? His radar sense. The radar sense is possibly the most confusing part about Daredevil, in my opinion. Over the years, there have been many different interpretations of it in the comics that range vastly. And there has yet to be a truly standardized description and explanation for this power. In fact, there's a great seven part article I'll link to you below on theothermurdockpapers.com that chronicles the changes made to Daredevil's radar sense over the years-- things like how it works, what exactly is it capable of, and even different artists' renditions of it in action. I will give you the "Cliff's Notes" version, because it is incredibly inconsistent. Sometimes, it can see through walls and other solid objects. Other times, it gets obstructed by plants and gas clouds. Sometimes he sees extreme details, and other times it's more like basic outlines and shapes. Sometimes it's linked to his sense of hearing, like a form of echolocation. In "Daredevil Number 167," we see it described like that of a bat. It says, quote, "He emits probing, high frequency waves." Waves, which break against any solid object and breaking send back signals audible only to Daredevil. From these signals, his brain instantly forms silhouette images of everything around him. In this manner, he "sees" in every direction. Lots of air quotes today. Other times, he describes his radar sense like touch with a, quote, "sort of tactile facet to it." There have been a few instances where he relates it to feeling objects around him, saying that it's like reaching out and touching everything at once. And still other times, it's described as a completely new, independent sense that isn't affected at all by sounds or smells or touch. He once said that his radar sense allows him to be aware of his surroundings when all of his other senses fail. Now because of these and many other seemingly inconsistent qualities, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what is going on here with the radar sense. Though, it is probably safe to assume that it's not literally radar, but rather that's simply a metaphor that helps us seeing people understand it better. In fact, maybe that's the problem. Maybe the writers and artists and readers like us will always have a hard time determining precisely what the radar sense is like, because we don't have one. So we're left trying to make sense of it with vocabulary that doesn't exist. In his book, "Through the Language Glass," author Guy Deutscher talks about the fascinating connections between language, culture, and thought. It's really interesting, and there's also a Radio Lab episode I'll put in the description if you want to listen to it. In it, they talk about how just having a word for something kind of unlocks your ability to notice or consciously perceive that thing. The example they give is the color blue. So most cultures throughout history didn't have a word for the color blue until very late in the game. And some cultures still don't have a word for it. So they aren't able to determine the difference between blue and green. Their eyes can still physically register the color blue, but their minds aren't aware that it's any different than green, because they haven't categorized their colors in the same way that we have. Homer, for example, never used the color blue when writing "The Iliad." Instead, he would describe this sea as, for instance, "wine dark." There simply wasn't a word for blue at the time he was writing. So describing it as wine dark is something that made perfect sense to the culture at the time. Now how this applies to Daredevil, I think, is that Matt Murdock-- and, therefore, the writers and artists telling the story-- have to try and explain the radar sense in terms that we understand it, even though it might not be entirely correct or even satisfying. So Daredevil relates his sense to sounds and touch, and radar, obviously, so that we can try to understand it at least a little bit better. Think of it like an infrared camera. We can't see infrared with the naked eye, so special cameras have to take the data and turn it into visible light that we can see. In a similar way, the images that we see in Daredevil comics that show how the world looks to him might not be accurate, but is instead just an artist's interpretation of what it might be like. Interestingly, Stick, a blind master martial artist who trained Daredevil, explains that all humans have this radar sense naturally built into our brains, but we rely too heavily on vision and end up pushing it aside, never fully being able to access it without intense training.