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Holy science, Batman! UVic researcher hosts panel into Dark Knight’s brain

Trio of superhero academics hold panel discussion on the psychology, philosophy and even neuroscience of the Caped Crusader.

Ben Affleck, left, and Henry Cavill star in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice."

Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures/TNS

Ben Affleck, left, and Henry Cavill star in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice."

The Caped Crusader isn’t just a crime fighter.

Batman is also the perfect entry point for scientific debate and curiosity, according to a University of Victoria neuroscientist who is hosting “An Evening With Batman’s Brain” next month with some of the foremost superhero academics around.

Paul Zehr already teaches a course on the science of Batman and has published a book exploring whether the human body can sustain the training – and abuse – required to become a real-life superhero, but his March 16 panel with U.S. researchers Travis Langley and Mark White promises to deliver more real-world “POW” for pop culture and science fans.

“The cool angle around this stuff is that it’s from the perspective of Batman’s brain,” said Zehr. “We’ve got the psychological stuff coming from Travis Langley’s perspective. We’ve got the philosophy coming from Mark White’s perspective and other aspects of neuroscience coming from my perspective.”

The trio of scientists, who have all published Batman-related books in their respective fields of study, will talk about subjects like post-traumatic stress disorder, concussions and the motivations and philosophical bent of Gotham’s protector.

The fact Batman is fictional and that his stories are often completely unrealistic matters not, according to Zehr.

“There’s a guy who wrote a book called The Physics of Superheroes called James Kakalio, at the University of Minnesota. He talks about how it doesn’t matter in the comic books whether the science is right or wrong,” said Zehr.

More importantly, the enduring popularity of Batman provides an accessible springboard for experts to talk about real science with a large audience.

“By doing that, we’re talking about something that’s unrealistic and bring it back to what is real,” said Zehr. “So I’m going to be talking about the way injuries are shown is not at all accurate. That’s a place where the comic books and the movies really do mislead us considerably about what human beings are actually capable of getting through. What can people recover from? What really does happen? It becomes a very useful access point.”

A popular one, too.

Zehr said half of the seats for the just-announced panel at UVic’s 1,200-seat Farquhar auditorium have already sold out.

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