Previous parts here:

Creating a scientifically semi-valid super-soldier, part 1: Skeleton

Creating a scientifically semi-valid super-soldier, part 2: nervous system

Creating a scientifically semi-valid super-soldier, part 3: Physical shock resistance

Creating a scientifically semi-valid super-soldier, part 4: respiratory system

Creating a scientifically semi-valid super-soldier, part 5: Heart and circulatory system

Creating a scientifically semi-valid super-soldier, part 6: Radiation protection

As you move through the world, hearing is a particularily handy trait. It allows you to hear approaching traffic, know if people are around you, allows you to commmunicate and if you are a soldier you'll be able to hear danger and get an approximate location. Modern day soldiers also carry a lot of hearing protection to prevent lasting damage. So if the hearing protection is pretty much mandatory it would be better to build it as standard in super-soldiers. The goal is that these solutions are growable, maintainable and repairable by the biological body of the soldier in question.

My own idea's:

Localization: Ears can localize a sound, but Human ears for example have their limits. If a sound is coming from directly in front or behind you, it becomes almost impossible for your brain to tell if the sound is either in front or behind you. Barn Owls (https://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/owl-facts-for-kids/barn-owl-hearing/) use ears that aren't symetrically placed on the head to counter this, not only are they asymetrically placed on the vertical plane, but also on the horizontal plane allowing them to pinpoint a rodent under the snow better. Perhaps there is also room for another set or (rudimentary?) ears on the body for both redundancy and better localization. Or maybe just place 2 earholes per ear if that works.

Hearing protection: I have little idea how to protect the ears continuously without impairing the hearing. Preferably whatever protection is used should automatically kick in when a soundwave/pressurewave reaches a certain threshold to protect the ear. Or perhaps the vulnerable parts of the ear that get damaged could be replaced with something sturdier. A build-in hearing protection like those musicians use which filter out/reduce lots of sounds above a certain threshold seems like a pretty good start but it won't be enough for a battlefield.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The parts that get damaged by overpressure are the parts that give fine hearing, making them studier would impair hearing faint noises and this would effect a soldier, perhaps similar ears to humans, as you better better at localistaion but able to hear a wider range of frequencies, Electronic devices emit incredily faint high frequency noise, which is undetectable to humans and almost all animals on earth, if a super soldier could hear this then they'd be able to hear an enemy soldiers Radio or NVGs $\endgroup$ – Blade Wraith May 21 '18 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ Also the 3M™ Peltor™ ComTac XPI is fairly common in the military, as it only blocks out very loud noises, i've used these while using shotguns and i can only just hear the shotgun going off while still being able to hear my own footsteps, but this would be using technology rather than the super soldier itself $\endgroup$ – Blade Wraith May 21 '18 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ Why would your super soldier have to pinpoint the location of a rodent below snow? Also the idea of a battlefield, those still exist to some extent, but well, the days of world war 1 are long gone. Perhaps you should come up with a great situation first where your soldier needs better hearing and then one can come up with a solution. If you take a modern urban warfare, you've got sound reflecting from so many objects, I doubt great localization ability would be of much use. If you want to have a good design, think of the purpose first and then the solution and not the other way around. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 21 '18 at 12:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 the soldier wouldnt need to pinpoint a rodent beneath the snow (unless its hungry). Its just a comparison to show how nature does superior localization than humans and gives a possible option to how superior ears might work. As for the "not WW1" comment, even if war doesnt remain as loud or fights happen in an urban environment having superior and harder to damage ears remains an important part of a good soldier, if only by giving him a superior ability to locate despite echoes. $\endgroup$ – Demigan May 21 '18 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Blade Wraith but could it be possible to design an ear that disconnects and protects the fine parts against overpressure (assuming the head doesnt get accelerated by the pressure)? Or have a sturdier way of being build? Imagine the finer parts being made of a different biological material that can stay operational. Or imagine that enough of the finer parts will survive (with redundancies) to hear through a battle, and then regenerate in a short time to be fully operational again? Would the "Peltor" be reproduceable in biological components to always protect the ear? $\endgroup$ – Demigan May 21 '18 at 17:59

Well, I hope they don't need to be good-looking...

I think your idea about additional ears is right on the money. With a bit of tweaking, I think it can accomplish what you're looking for. As you've said, barn owl's asymmetrical placement is great for localizing sound, so that's step 1. Move the existing ears a bit off center. For improving hearing, you've gone in the direction of dampening sounds, which is very important for a soldier, certainly, but with additional ears, we can add another benefit - the ability to hear quieter sounds. In pursuit of this, we need 2 big changes to the "natural" ears.

First, make them more sensitive. Not a lot more - the eardrums need to not burst when someone nearby speaks a little loud - but as much more sensitive as you can get without everyday sounds being a problem. We can add better frequency range on these ears, too. Check out owls, bats, and dogs for examples.

Second, we need to protect those delicate instruments! Have you ever used your tragus (google image search is the best way to see what that is. I had to look up the name for it) to plug your ear by holding it in with your finger? I would bulk that up with layers of soft and hard tissue and add a muscle so that the soldiers can close it at will rather than needing to hold it closed. Basically this is a biological ear plug. If this isn't too much of a stretch, I would also add the ability to regrow parts of the inner ear in case of damage.

Now that that's done, it's on to the big change - a third and fourth ear! These should be off-centered, also, for localization, and I don't think they need the outer ear, (the visible part) since they're not going to be delicate in the least. They could share the existing outer ear or just be slapped on the head somewhere. The idea behind these ears is hearing while under fire, so you want a very tough eardrum. Listening with these would be like listening with ear muffs on, but less... muffled? Hard to say since no human has ever had this experience, but I imagine it would be like a television turned down low - quiet, but perfectly clear. It may become hard to hear quieter sounds, like teammate communication, but you can use these ears for your communication devices, and turn the volume up until it's good and audible.

Alternatively, if this isn't too much of a stretch, you could add the tough ear drum as something that can be opened or closed over the delicate eardrum. In that case, the tough ear drum isn't an ear drum at all - it's more like the biological ear plug from earlier. Most natural "seals" like sphincters and eyelids can't seal perfectly on their own, so maybe let your soldiers produce a thinner, more viscous ear wax on demand that could complete the seal. They may also need something like tears to flush the wax out when they're able to safely use their more sensitive hearing again. Yuck, this has gotten gross. Like I said, I hope attractiveness is not an issue. These guys are not going to be good at seducing an enemy operative.

I hope that helps you grow your ideas further!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I wonder, would it really look that bad? If you use relatively normal looking ears and Hide the second ear hole in the hair or as a second hole in the outer ear shell it wouldnt look so bad would it? Place it a bit higher/lower for localization purposes... Another advantage of putting it in the earshell is that you can keep symetry but switch which hole is sensitive. The timing of which receives the sound first remains available regardless of sensitivity for localization. The earwax solution could perhaps be blown out after use, no dirtier than blowing your nose. $\endgroup$ – Demigan May 21 '18 at 18:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nah, it probably wouldn't be too awful. The ear offset on owls would look pretty odd on humans, though. (Take a look at the shape of their skull to get an idea of just how offset they are) That said, maybe it doesn't have to be that dramatic? Some reshaping of the ear shell may help disguise it, too. "Hiding" the 2nd set of ears in the earshell or hair would also definitely help. In any case, the prestige of being a super soldier would probably score them some points to make up for it. :) $\endgroup$ – Josh May 21 '18 at 19:35

Experiences From a Modern Battlefield

Frankly, hearing is of pretty limited use in modern combat. When you have multiple automatic weapons firing, explosions, screaming, vehicles, aircraft coming in low and hot, more explosions, and more gunfire it becomes apocalyptically loud. I remember my gunny grabbing me by my helmet, yanking my head down and screaming in my ear that we needed to call in medieval and being totally unable to hear him, he ended up just having to shove a radio and a 9-line evac template card into my hands so I could understand what he was saying. We had to move the radio back from the engagement area by a few hundred yards to be heard by battalion over the noise. An no point during 2 combat tours totaling 18 months in total duration between the two was my hearing ever a factor in locating an enemy beyond "oh crap, machine gun fire from over there!". When both parties have high powered modern weaponry they tend to not get very close to each-other to engage. The idea that combatants are stalking around silently straining their ears to hear a nearby hidden enemy makes for good drama but it just doesn't really happen. If the enemy were ever within 200 meters of us it was essentially a point blank engagement and things got very loud and very messy very quickly.

The worst part of combat concerning hearing wasn't that I wished I could hear better, but that I could somehow have hearing protection that would filter out what I didn't need while still allowing me to communicate to my squad. In movies everybody had neat little radio headsets, in reality there's two radios for the whole squad, and a headset is less that useless because now you are carrying around about 20 pounds of batteries to power something that isn't even useful once you actually need it. I did do a "non-combat" deployment into Ramadi where our squad was attached to a Navy SEAL team to "instruct" local Iraqi army recruits how to fight, in reality we just raided ISIS explosives caches and obtained intel for airstrikes. The SEALS had this neat headset thing that amplified sound when you were wearing it but would shut off amplification when things got loud, and it had a radio built into it that also boosts radio chatter volume when it detected high noise. The SEALs had them because well, they're SEALs, They get the best gear without question. At $2500 a pop the military doesn't see fit to hand said headsets out to everybody because contrary to popular belief, main battle fighting groups are issued the most economical gear, not the latest gear.

I have no way how you would obtain this functionality from genetic modification, that's really not my area of expertise. All I can say is what requirement I would have liked to have on my battlefield and that a technological solution exists already, its just not included in the regular Infantry's general gear issue yet.

  • $\begingroup$ I always assumed headsets were standard issue so you'd be more likely to be able to hear teammates over the noise, especially when they're not right next to you. Thanks for educating me! $\endgroup$ – Josh May 21 '18 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ If a platoon is on a mission typically there will be a total of 4 radios for the group. One for each squad leader, one fore the patrol leader, and one for his second in command. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 May 21 '18 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the info. I wonder, if you had been able to hear your buddy tell you the 9-evac and you hadnt needed to move 100m so that people could actually hear you, would that have been beneficial? Sounds like it would (damn that sounds bitchy from me, not the intention). I know that I focused on enemy fire and localization, but any advantage you can get from improved hearing on a battlefield sounds great, including hearing or sending commands. As for the genetic modification. I'm working more on genetic construction from the ground up where (at first) you build the soldier more than grow it. $\endgroup$ – Demigan May 21 '18 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ I've added you to chat, I can fill you in on some finer details and realities of modern warfare and soldiering there. chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/info/77816/… $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 May 21 '18 at 18:36

Re-engineer the outer ear and canal to include intricate musculature controlling banks of different-density veils, flaps and apertures. With these structures, the soldier should be able to limit which frequencies reach the ear drum. Add more musculature and ligaments to allow the outer ear to rotate on two planes, allowing the soldier to also chose which direction is being listened to. Make the musculature and control nerves very fast with hardwired instincts to snap closed whenever environmentally necessary.

Now re-engineer the larynx. After all, what good would selective frequency filtering be, unless you could simultaneously produce those frequencies audibly. Now super soldiers can speak clearly to each other despite ambient battleground noises. They just have to choose a quiet frequency to speak at and filter out all other noise.

Finally, re-engineer the auditory portions of the brain. Model it after the naturally occurring circuitry from the brains of bats. Give your soldiers a gift of echo-location.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.