Zombie stories are often about the utter failure of the government to deal with a big problem and, thanks to George Romero, also a great way to expose issues of class and social status. No one really believes they might attack one day. Zombies are a metaphor, like vampires or werewolves, for the horrifying and uncanny aspects of the human. They also remind you that, when things really hit the fan, you’re on your own. So be prepared! The Center for Disease Control does not want you to be caught unawares. In a post that walks the line between “ha ha this would never happen” and “but seriously just in case, you never know,” Ali S Kahn details the worthy forms of emergency response to hoards of the necrotic, brain-seeking undead:
I’m wary of the idea of meeting at the mailbox. Though I’m no expert, I have a strong suspicion that the mailbox is insufficiently fortified against the shuffling corpses invading the neighborhood. But hey, I’m not at the CDC, so I’m going to trust Kahn on this one. Maybe she keeps a shotgun (or cricket bat? Lobo?) in her mailbox. I just don’t know.
What I do know is I need to get an emergency kit like the one on the right. Because a zombie hoard is nonsense. But the Singularity might trigger a new stone age and I won’t be able to dash off to Wal-Mart for supplies. Should I be embarrassed that a small part of me hopes/expects some sort of epic disaster for the selfish reason that modern life doesn’t let me use a flashlight or flint in day-to-day routines? I mean, I just don’t have enough reasons in my life to use a kerosine lantern.
Maybe that’s how I can write off my next camping trip: research for zombie apocalypse.
For more on zombies, check out my series, the Ethics of the Undead.
Image of zombies kindly broadcasting their presence via Wikipedia
Halloween is a-comin’ and this Sunday brings us AMC’s The Walking Dead. In honor of that, we’re discussing The Ethics of the Undead here at Science, Not Fiction. This is part IV of IV. (Check out parts I, II, & III)
Before I get onto the other exciting questions, a quick recap: a zombie pathogen could not be a “live infection” (i.e. rabies/Rage), but would be a re-animation virus: infection-death-reanimation. Bodily fluid transmission, non-regeneration/growth, and slowed decay were also key features of my hypothetical zombie pathogen. A zombie is a corpse with the appearance of life. The distinction is between brain-death and brain destruction. A zombie is brain-dead. In reality, it is the pathogen which is alive, hijacking the corpse. When one damages the corpse sufficiently, the pathogen has nothing left to “hijack” and therefore the zombie is de-animated.
With these key points answered, we can answer a whooooole bunch of other questions about what a zombie is and isn’t. Answers after the jump! Read More
Halloween is a-comin’ and this Sunday brings us AMC’s The Walking Dead. In honor of that, we’re discussing The Ethics of the Undead here at Science, Not Fiction. This is part III of IV. (Check out parts I, & II)
Are zombies really dead? How do we know? People are often reported “clinically dead” only to be revived later. If it is moving, if it reacts to stimuli like a food source or sounds, and if metabolic processes are in play, how can we call a zombie dead?
The most basic definition of life is the ability to have “signaling and self-sustaining processes” as the all-knowing Wikipedia tells us:
Living organisms undergo metabolism, maintain homeostasis, possess a capacity to grow, respond to stimuli, reproduce and, through natural selection, adapt to their environment in successive generations.
Zombies do indeed undergo a qualified form of metabolism, sort of maintain homeostasis, and definitely respond to stimuli. Alternately, zombies do not grow, reproduce, or go through natural selection. So much for a clear answer there.
Consider the following: When we “kill” something, we are implying that our action has made an “alive” thing “dead.” We commonly refer to “killing” zombies. Therefore, a zombie is alive until it is killed. Not quite, some might argue, a zombie is undead. Undead is a special word that describes an entity which was once alive in the full meaning of that word, then died, and was then re-animated (e.g. a zombie). The zombie was not re-vivified, that is, brought back to life, but its bare biological systems were re-started. Read More
Halloween is a-comin’ and this Sunday brings us AMC’s The Walking Dead. In honor of that, we’re discussing The Ethics of the Undead here at Science, Not Fiction. This is part II of IV. (Check out parts I, & III)
Before we can start investigating whether or not something that craves brains has a mind or should be pitied, we need to define just what, exactly, we’re talking about when we talk about zombies.
I’m going to start by ruling out the 28 Days Later zombies and the voodoo/demonic zombies of Evil Dead. First, the name of this blog is Science, not Fiction, which means any religious hokum is right out the door. Demon possession, souls back from Hell, and voodoo are not going to be considered in this investigation. On the other end of the spectrum, in 28 Days Later anything infected with “Rage” becomes a “fast” zombie. In essence, Rage is rabies only way, way scarier. Thus we aren’t dealing with the “undead” so much as the violently insane. So non-fatal pathogens don’t count either. If the pathogen doesn’t first kill you, then re-animate you, then you aren’t a zombie.
Which leads us to the next question: how does the pathogen work? I am not denying here the multitude of variations and nuances among zombie plague viruses, so we have to come up with a generic, realistic version to have our discussion. Zombies generally meet three important criteria. They are 1) stimulus-response creatures that seek flesh 2) continually decomposing and 3) contagious via bodily fluids. If we can explain, reasonably, how and for what reason a pathogen might cause/allow these conditions, we can describe a realistic zombie pathogen.
Halloween is a-comin’ and this Sunday brings us AMC’s The Walking Dead. In honor of that, we’re discussing The Ethics of the Undead here at Science, Not Fiction. This is part I of IV. (Check out parts II, & III)
Zombies are everywhere! Zombieland, Shawn of the Dead, and 28 Days Later in the movies; World War Z and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on the bookshelf; Left 4 Dead, Dead Rising and Resident Evil in your video games - not to mention the George A. Romero and Sam Rami classics in your DVD collection. And this Sunday Robert Kirkman’s epic The Walking Dead lurches from the pages of comic books onto your television thanks to AMC.
Where ever you turn, zombies are there. We can’t seem to get enough of the re-animated recently departed. But why do we love these ambling carnivorous cadavers so?
Zombies are horrifying. An outbreak would almost certainly lead to global apocalypse. Unrelenting, unthinking, uncaring, undead, they are a nightmare incarnate. They remind us of mortality, of decay, of our own fragility. Perhaps worst, they remind us of how inhuman a human being can become.
Zombies are familiar. Refrains of “Brains!”, guttural groans, and mindless shambling instantly trigger the idea of a zombie in our mind. We all know, somehow, that decapitation – that is, destruction of the zombie brain – is our only salvation. I bet you’ve dressed as one for Halloween. Every time “Thriller” comes on you probably dance like a zombie. Some mornings I feel like a zombie. Even philosophers talk about zombies. We know zombies. They are hilarious, they are frightening, they are part of us. And that is why we love them.
But have you ever asked yourself: is a zombie still a human? is a zombie dead, really? can it feel pain? does a zombie have dignity? Has the question ever popped up in your quite-live brain: is it ok to kill a zombie? Could a zombie be cured? If you could cure it, would you still want to? In honor of Halloween and our culture’s current love affair with brain-eating corpses, I present The Ethics of the Undead, your universal guide for answering all of your most pressing zombie questions. Stay tuned for posts throughout Halloween weekend!
Maybe because I’m still watching the True Blood Season 1 DVD and have to hold my ears whenever it comes up in conversation, but I think the vampire phenomenon has sort of played itself out.
I predict we’re going to look back at the release of the original, Swedish Let the Right One In as the vampires’ artistic high point. I also predict that the release of the American version will mark the end of the whole bloody, sexy craze.
So what’s next for fans of the undead? Zombies.
Anticipating public demand for a government response to the growing threat, mathematicians at the University of Ottawa have published an epidemiological model of an outbreak of zombie infection. [viaTalking Squid]
This comes just a few months after the Boston Police confirmed via Twitter that they would promptly inform the public in the event of a zombie attack. [via Consumerist]
And we’re just one month away from the release of the new Woody Harrelson movie Zombieland. I’m telling you, people. Zombies.