Inside Batman: Mind, body, and soul

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Tonight at 7 p.m., UVic’s Farquhar Auditorium is hosting a panel discussion dedicated to the caped crusader himself, Batman. Yes, really.

An Evening with Batman’s Brain is the brain-child of UVic’s own Dr. Paul Zehr, Professor of Kinesiology and Neuroscience and Director of the Centre for Biomedical Research. The panel developed out of Zehr’s UVic class “The Science of Batman,” which explores human potential and physiology using the fictional feats of Gotham City billionaire Bruce Wayne.

Zehr has made extensive use of superheroes as a means of science communication: Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero (2008) explored the upper limits of what humans are naturally capable of, while Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine (2011) took the subject a step further, examining how to use modern-day technology to create a real-life Iron Man suit, along with the implications that might come with it. Zehr published a third book targeted at a younger audience, Project Superhero, in 2014, and has another slated for 2017.

For Zehr, a black belt in karate and lifelong comic book fan, these fictional characters are a means to explain scientific concepts to the general public. His novel and the panel aim to get more people interested in neuroscience, physiology, anatomy, philosophy, and psychology. His field specifically relates to how the nervous system controls movement, and how our understanding of the nervous system can help us learn new ways of neuromuscular rehabilitation — like helping a stroke victim regain strength and control in one of their arms by training the other arm, for instance.

Two other featured panelists broaden the scope of the discussion beyond physiology. Travis Langley is a professor of Psychology at Henderson State University, and Mark White is a professor of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island. Both have written about Batman in their respective fields, Langley in Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Night (2012) and White in Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul (2008). Zehr and Langley became acquainted at San Diego Comic Con in 2009 when they were each invited to speak at a panel. This meeting also served as the initial inspiration for An Evening with Batman’s Brain. Zehr envisioned it as a panel-style event in which the three of them would explain their approaches and reasons for using Batman in their areas of study to which the audience could then ask questions.

While UVic’s Farquhar Auditorium seats 1200 people, the event has been completely reserved. It’s no surprise: besides the awesome premise, the show is free to attend for all those with reservations, as Zehr wanted to ensure that anyone who wanted to could attend. These three doctors might just be the heroes we deserve.

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