Why Would Daredevil Say Sight is Overrated?

In Marvel's The Defenders on Netflix, Matt Murdock scoffs at his own blindness.

Posted Oct 21, 2017

Travis Langley/original capture from The Defenders episode 1-4, "Royal Dragon."
Source: Travis Langley/original capture from The Defenders episode 1-4, "Royal Dragon."

Danny Rand (Iron Fist): It just doesn't make any sense. What do you mean, you're Daredevil?

Matt Murdock (Daredevil): It's a long story, one I'd rather not tell. More importantly, it's a secret I keep not just for the sake of protecting myself, also for the people that I love.

Luke Cage (Power Man): Okay, I get that.

Matt: Good.

Danny: I don't. You're blind!

Matt: Yeah, well, sight is overrated.

How often do you close your eyes to focus your attention on other senses, trying to identify a sound or retrieve a memory that has been stirred by a scent? Why does anyone need to do that? It produces no changes on the external stimuli, so what goes on inside us that makes this happen?

On numerous occasions in the comic book series, Matt Murdock worries that if he regains his eyesight, he might lose his special abilities and therefore his edge as the superhero Daredevil. Helping others matters more to Matt than the chance to see again. For one thing, opponents cannot sneak up on Daredevil from behind. Vision is not 360-degrees. It is limited both horizontally and vertically, and at the periphery (outside the part of the visual field where the two eyes' vision overlaps) not binocular. Matt Murdock refers to his hearing giving him a 360-degree range of perception, but that's a 2-dimensional description. It actually does better than that because we live in a 3-dimensional world. Daredevil swings up and down through his city on all axes, x, y, and z. Admittedly, Daredevil enjoys a superhuman form of radar through his heightened senses and the comic book writers vary on whether they treat this as an extension of his hearing or as an extra sense entirely; however, blind individuals in real life can learn to recognize environments through echolocation, their own sort of radar. Some even use it to do things like a ride a bike.

We tend to be a visually-oriented species, more easily influenced and even manipulated by information presented to us by visual means. That's why prosecutors like to show brutal crime scenes to juries and why many judges restrict how much the prosecutors may show—because the vividness effect is prejudicial, evoking emotions that can get in the way of logic by making juries eager to convict someone for such a horrible crime regardless of other evidence that make indicate guilt or innocence.

One sense may alter our perception of another (sensory interaction), such as when smell changes how we perceive flavor or when watching video shot from a rollercoaster makes us feel we're lurching forward even while sitting still. Interaction can mean interference. Attention to a sight can intrude upon interpretation of a feeling, taste, smell, or sound. It can even throw off our sense of balance because the effect is not limited to the rest of the traditional five senses. As in the rollercoaster example, it can interact with our kinesthetic, proprioceptive, and vestibular senses—respectively our senses of motion, body position, and balance (the first two of which could be argued to be the same thing).

Blindness could help Matt by removing some task-irrelevant stimuli (those cues that do not provide information on target to the task at hand). Easterbrook's cue utilization theory (1959) held that we each have a limited range of environmental details, cues, we can process in any given instant. While Easterbrook focused on the role that arousal plays in narrowing the number of cues bombarding our attention, his basic principle has broader implications through his assertion that limiting the number of irrelevant cues entering our attention can improve our attention to the relevant ones. While researchers have disagreed over how and when our nervous system filters out irrelevant cues (Broadbent, 1959, vs. Deutsch & Deutsch, 1963; Lavie, 1995), there is nonetheless considerable agreement that we do need to filter irrelevant stimuli.

Even aside from Matt's belief that changes to his brain were caused by the radioactive material that heightened his remaining senses, his brain would have also undergone the normal kinds of alterations that occur with any who lose eyesight during childhood. The brain of the blind person changes. In the last few decades, scientists have made surprising discoveries about the brain's degree of malleability (neuroplasticity), its ability to reorganize existing synaptic connections and form new ones in response to experience or injury. Even though going blind does not directly heighten the sensitivity of nerves for other senses, the brain still has its occipital lobe with complete visual cortex (unless the blindness was caused by injury to the occipital lobe itself). Living brain parts will find something to do. The blind person's occipital lobe begins to process information related to other senses, which therefore potentially augments that individual's ability to detect and discern distinct sounds, smells, and other sensations a sighted person might tend to miss. A portion of the visual cortex can even devote itself to comprehension of language (van Ackeren et al., 2017). 

Regardless of his other senses, blindness affords Matt Murdock certain advantages. Just as Daredevil is immune to villains who cast visual illusions or shine blinding lights in someone's eyes, he also remains unhindered when a foe makes the clever move of simply turning out the light.

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Broadbent, D. E. (1959). Perception and communication. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Deutsch, J. A., & Deutsch, D. (1963). Attention and some theoretical considerations. Psychological Review, 70(1), 80-90.

Easterbrook, J. A. (1959). The effect of emotion on cue utilization and the organization of behaviour. Psychological Review, 66(3), 183–201.

Lavie, N. (1995). Perceptual load as a necessary condition for selective attention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance, 21(3), 451-468.

Van Ackeren, M. J., Barbero, F. M., Mattioni, S., & Bottini, R. (2017, September 8). Neuronal populations in the occipital cortex of the blind synchronize to the temporal dynamics of speech. BioRxiv, p. 186338.

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