It’s, well, possible, but not sustainable, says University of Victoria, British Columbia movement researcher, neuroscientist, and martial arts practitioner E. Paul Zehr, author of the forthcoming Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero (Johns Hopkins University Press [!]). The most plausible thing about Bruce Wayne, the comics-savvy Zehr told Scientific American:
You could train somebody to be a tremendous athlete and to have a significant martial arts background, and also to use some of the gear that he has, which requires a lot of physical prowess. Most of what you see there is feasible to the extent that somebody could be trained to that extreme. We’re seeing that kind of thing in less than a month in the Olympics.
Most of the time, in the comics and in the movies, even when he wins, he usually winds up taking a pretty good beating. There’s a real failure to show the cumulative effect of that.
If you’re thinking of superheroing, stay off the steroids.
There is one comic where he did go on steroids. He went a little crazy and he went off them again.
U. of Chicago researchers used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans to study the responses of 17 children ages 7-12 to images of pain in others.
When children see an image of a person in pain, portions of their brain register that pain on a fMRI scan. When the children see a person intentionally hurt, portions of the brain associated with moral reasoning are also activated.
The scans showed the kids’ brains light up just like those of adults in previous research: Empathy activates the insula, somatosensory cortex, anterior midcigulate cortex, periaqueductal gray, and supplementary motor area; a moral reaction seems to turn on the temporo-parietal junction, the paracigulate, orital medial frontal cortices, and the amygdala.
Psychologist-psychiatrist Jean Decety suggests that empathy is not entirely the product of nurture, and that future studies could shed light on how children learn right from wrong, and give insights into the roots of violence and bullying. (Science-fiction writers, of course, are assigned to write about how this knowledge can be abused by marketing and propaganda.)
[Image: U. Chicago]
Researchers working out of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have identified an enzyme, Cdk5, that can inhibit in rats to prevent learned fear responses. The research has practical applications in the areas of phobia and post traumatic stress treatment. This is just the latest in a series of research in the neurosciences that are leading to a near-complete mastery of how we feel and even what we think. A future is possible in which our descendants will look back at us in amazement that we ever felt an emotion that we didn’t wish to feel.