I've been experimenting with characters with enhanced senses/extra senses and I wonder if it's possible that, through increased sensitivity or special receptors on the skin, someone could perceive heat radiated as infrared radiation in order to synesthetically form images like a skymap?

Any suggestions on how this could be achieved and the limitations that would come with it?

EDIT: I've come across this article from The Other Murdock Papers(a blog about Daredevil with lots of interesting insights) about how the concept of Daredevil perceiving radiated heat in detail in the Netflix show isn't very realistic because a single patch of skin would receive stimuli coming from all angles so at most he could only point to the general direction of the heat source, and that's why animals that can "see" heat need to have the receptors inside of pits like a pinhole camera, but I want my character to look like a normal person from the outside so then I theorized a special kind of receptor that can not only detect the radiated heat but the angle of incidence too, thus having the capacity of forming a sharper image all around the skin, but if thermal cameras need to be cooled down I guess the skin would need to be thermically isolated in order to be cooler than the insides of the body.

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    $\begingroup$ VTC:NDC There isn't a worldbuilding problem here. Is it possible? I've a friend, a programmer, who likes to say, "given enough time and money anything is possible." Add to that the premise of Clarkean Magic, "An advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Result: set this far enough into the future and the answer is yes. The closer you get to 2022, the more the answer becomes no. Do you want help creating this tech? Happy to help. Do you want permission to use the tech? Not our problem. Do you want assurance that it's realistic? Also not our problem. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 30, 2022 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure why this question has been dismissed and slightly mocked. Snake thermal receptor systems could be modified for the task. How that is received by the user and if "long distance" is realistic is another question. $\endgroup$ Aug 30, 2022 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ JBH and Alex P, Whilst providing informative help in the past on this site on a level that cannot be quantized, you both seem to have come to the end of your tethers on here, to the point that you can no longer provide the same level of help and often reply with frustrated snarky comments. At times like this it would be better that you take time away and reevaluate if you still have the patience to help those less informed. $\endgroup$ Aug 30, 2022 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ The question could be improved with a little more context, eg "I am trying to design a warm-blooded/cold-blooded (pick one) creature the size of a mosquito/mouse/greyhound/human/elephant (pick one) that can perceive radiant heat... It lives in (describe environment). Is this feasible?" At least, I think that's what you mean, but a few more words from you - the OP - would help ensure everyone has the same understanding. $\endgroup$ Aug 30, 2022 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ @AlanDavies You need to do a little research. Paulo has a 40% closure rate on his questions and has only ever answered one with a score of 0. He's received a great deal of assistance concerning how to ask better questions and what kinds of questions are suitable on this site. Maybe you don't have children, but there comes a time when all that's left is a spanking. And you're confusing blunt for snarky. Of course, you could step up and try helping Paulo understand the rules and how to write a quality question.... You didn't, but you could. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 31, 2022 at 5:17

1 Answer 1


Humans Kind-Of Have This Already

Infrared light is perceived by humans as heat. This can be easily demonstrated with a heat lamp, sunshine, or sitting near a fire.

The issue is that the resolution and sensitivity is horrible. Most people need to augment this by looking and inferring if something is hot, such as seeing heat source or moving around to narrow down the direction. Additionally, the heat source usually needs to be quite hot or quite large to feel it at any appreciable distance. (Appreciable here will mean beyond arm's length!)

Snakes Do This Better

Pit Vipers, specifically! They have special organs which detect infrared wavelengths of light, especially the infrared given off by mammals. One can see a small row of pits along the mouth of such snakes: this is that infrared sensing organ.

Research suggest that the image from any given pit is quite poor. This is due to several factors. However, a pit viper has multiple pits and has a brain. Their brains are capable of synthesizing input from multiple organs and potentially producing a sharper picture. What is clearly established is that these are sensitive enough to find and even strike at prey.

Pits for Humans?

Couldn't we just genetically engineer some humans for this? Remember that DNA is not computer code! It is not guaranteed that introducing some new gene(s) means the organism copies-and-pastes capabilities and organs from other creatures.

Yes, there are examples of both natural and artificial horizontal gene transfer, but it is not always guaranteed. Complications will likely arise- maybe some other biological functions become impaired. We just do not know the ramifications of "adding pits" because the human body (like most animals) is complicated!


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