5630 Can Batman and Iron Man Teach Neuroscience?

Saturday, February 18, 2012: 1:00 PM
Room 110 (VCC West Building)
E. Paul Zehr , University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada
One avenue for popularizing science is to link scientific concepts to images and concepts in popular culture. Currently, comic book superhero movies and TV shows are extremely popular and Batman and Iron Man have been used as vehicles for popularizing neuroscience and physiology. Through his years of rigorous training the fictional human Bruce Wayne pulled himself to near-superhuman status as Batman. This part of the Batman mythology makes him attractive because it seems well-grounded in the reality of hard-work and achievement—but is it really scientifically possible to train to become Batman? This is the central question of the book “Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008). As for Iron Man, through years of rigorous experimentation and training the fictional genius inventor Tony Stark created the fully articulated and animated anthropomorphic robotic suit of armor that defines Iron Man. Assuming that such a suit existed, would it actually be possible to don the suit and use it without altering the human inside? What would happen if the suit was connected directly to the nervous system? These are questions central to the book “Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011). As such, Batman and Iron Man have been used to address neuroscience concepts including: the hierarchical organization of the nervous system; supraspinal and spinal reflex control of movement; neural adaptations to skill training and motor learning; the neuropsychology of martial arts training and combat; pathophysiology of concussion; neural plasticity associated with injury and training; cortical somatosensory and motor maps and phantom limbs; and the concept of neuroprosthetics including brain-machine interface. These books attempt to bring scientific understanding to the broader public by using well-understood icons and then connecting science to those icons. The objective here is to share with other scientists the process and outcomes of using such an approach.
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