ISLM #12 | Dr. Paul Zehr | The Superhero In All of Us

Author and professor E. Paul Zehr prior to "Bigger, Faster, Stronger, Stranger: The Science of Hollywood Superheroes" presented by the Science and Technology Council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, CA on Wednesday August 15, 2012.

“Everyone's got a bit of Batman inside of them.”
– Dr. Paul Zehr

How many of us, at one time or another, have dreamed about having a super power—to fly like a bird or possess X-ray vision or even have the slings and arrows of ordinary life harmlessly bounce off of us?

Or admire those among us who seem to have superhuman powers like the basketball player who leaps in ways that seem to defy gravity, or gymnasts that contort their bodies into impossible positions, or moms of newborns who survive on seemingly no sleep?

The question that lingers is this: Are superpowers only available to fictional comic book characters or the ultra-rare human with natural abilities that appear granted by the divine? Or are they becoming increasingly available to all of us through almost unimaginable breakthroughs and discoveries in science and technology?

Our guest on today’s episode of In Search of Lost Mojo, Dr. Paul Zehr, is the man to ask.

He is professor of kinesiology and neuroscience at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. He’s well-known in the scientific community for his work on the neural control of human locomotion—how the arms and legs interact during walking—and how the brain’s ability to adapt is associated with rehabilitation in stroke victims.

But he’s best known to the general public as the author of a trilogy of popular science books, all using superheroes as the basis for investigations into the future of human performance.

His 2008 book, Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero, is essentially a guide for understanding how the human body works and responds to exercise.

In 2011, he published Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine, exploring what it would mean to the human body, and the nervous system in particular, to use an integrated exoskeleton like the Iron Man suit of armor.

His latest book, Chasing Captain America: How Advances in Science, Engineering and Biotechnology will produce a Superhuman, demonstrates the medical and scientific possibilities of recreating an entirely new human by radically altering their biology.

Paul is a regular speaker at conference and comic conventions and has written extensively on exercise, science, and superheroes in publications such as Scientific American, Men’s Health, and Popular Mechanics. He’s practiced and taught martial arts for over 25 years, and is a double black belt martial arts master. It’s his study of martial arts that he attributes to getting him interested in science in the first place.

In this episode, we talk about the genesis of his superhero trilogy, the promise and perils of the science and technology that can enhance human performance, and why everyone can always get a little closer to being superhuman.

Please enjoy this super episode of In Search of Lost Mojo with Dr. Paul Zehr. After the show’s over, check the show notes and all of our other interviews at timzak.com/podcast.

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Want to hear another show featuring a masters athlete built like a superhero?  Check out this episode with the ripped bodybuilder and author Clarence Bass!

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY:  From genetic manipulation to exoskeletons, we are rapidly acquiring the capability to fundamentally alter human biology to enhance human performance.  Do you welcome these advances or is it time to hit the brakes?  Please let me know in the comments!

Scroll below for links and show notes…

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

Learn more about Dr. Paul Zehr at his Personal Website

PEOPLE AND OTHER MENTIONS

SHOW NOTES

  • Show intro [0:00-3:54]
  • Paul's backstory and how it shaped his career [3:54-9:34]
  • How Paul's martial arts training relates to his scientific research [9:34-13:50]
  • What is Becoming Batman all about? [13:50-18:22]
  • What are the key takeaways from Becoming Batman? [18:22-27:39]
  • The challenges of building and using an Ironman suit [27:39-31:51]
  • How close are we to having an Ironman-like exoskeleton today? [31:51-35:16]
  • What if there were no rules?  Creating Captain America, the perfect human. [35:16-43:47]
  • Paul's recommendations on how to manage the evolution of human performance technologies [43:47-50:11]
  • Why has the COVID pandemic made Paul less optimistic about managing human enhancement? [50:11-52:41]
  • Government's failure to keep up with the advances of individuals and corporations to alter human biology [52:41-55:51]
  • What's Paul excited about now--applying martial arts fundamentals to pre-/post-rehabilitation [55:51-58:22]
  • The false limits to what individuals can achieve [58:22-59:48]
  • How to find out more about Paul and his work, and show conclusion [59:48-1:01:42]