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Subject presents with insatiable appetite for human flesh.
October 31, 2011 2:34 PM   Subscribe

What can neuroscience teach us about zombies? A pair of neurology blogs go over nine common symptoms: Aggression, Lumbering Walk, Memory Loss, Aphasia, Capgras-Delusion, Impaired Pain Reception, Locked Attention, Flesh Addiction, Insatiable hunger, Conclusions.
posted by empath (45 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
What can neuroscience teach us about thoroughly exhausted trends?
posted by Ratio at 2:44 PM on October 31, 2011


Why are you giving someone crap for making a zombie post on Halloween?
posted by demiurge at 2:50 PM on October 31, 2011 [17 favorites]


This is very silly.

There's a modern trend in the telling of fables to make literal what is fundamentally metaphorical, which obscures the etiological and functional significance of the metaphor and blunts ludic participation by reducing the fantastical to the mundane and mechanistic. That's exactly what this guy is doing and it strikes me as a failure of imagination.
posted by clockzero at 2:53 PM on October 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


I've been reading the Walking Dead comic book series, and one thing I can't figure out is, how do zombies "live" past a month or so? Why don't they decompose? Is it magic? Is it biology? And why do the survivors hole up in a prison? Why not a Walmart? And why doesn't anyone ever get sick from all of the decomposing (or not) corpses lying around? Or when they get corpse gunk in the face during a fight? And why is Rick such a jerk?
posted by KokuRyu at 2:56 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Failures for sale! Come and get your failures! We got failures of imagination, we got failures of a sense of humor, we got every failure your heart could desire at a price you can't resist.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 2:57 PM on October 31, 2011 [10 favorites]


Zombies are basically just magic, like time travel. Sciencing either of them up too much isn't really worth the effort.
posted by Artw at 2:58 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ever seen what emerges from pubs and clubs after they close?
I swear zombies are real. They're not undead they're just drunk people stumbling home.
posted by burnside at 3:00 PM on October 31, 2011


A friend of mine in London joked that the riots were just like 28 Days Later
posted by KokuRyu at 3:01 PM on October 31, 2011


Whose zombies, I might add, were pretty realistic - they withered away after about a month or so
posted by KokuRyu at 3:01 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ever seen what emerges from pubs and clubs after they close?

A major difference is that brains make a lousy substitute for the obligatory 3am post-bar poutine
posted by Hoopo at 3:05 PM on October 31, 2011


That's exactly what this guy is doing and it strikes me as a failure of imagination.

The articles are only half about zombies. The other and more interesting half is about how the human brain works.
posted by empath at 3:06 PM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ratio: "What can neuroscience teach us about thoroughly exhausted trends"

*cough*
posted by brundlefly at 3:25 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed this. I like attempts to "science-ify" magical and metaphorical things, because that amuses me. I like reading about the brain. I like the brevity of the posts, and the nice little wrap up.

After all, why not look at the neurology of zombies? Is it any sillier a pastime than complaining about people looking at the neurology of zombies?
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:26 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


The other and more interesting half is about how the human brain works.

Who need working brain....i want YUMMY BRAINS!! BRAAAIIIINNNNS!!!!
posted by Skygazer at 3:27 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I realize that there exists a small outside chance that my contribution here is not as enriching for others as it probably seems I suppose it must be. I regret having phrased what I said as negatively as I did; I'm not trying to tear down the post.
posted by clockzero at 3:34 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


The real experience of rabies led to zombie stories, not the other way round (imaginary reverse-engineered zombie brains map surprisingly well to rabies-infected brains).
posted by benzenedream at 3:37 PM on October 31, 2011


I continue to wish that people qould squelch the urge to wander into a thread, see that there are no comments yet, forebear from reading any of the links, and drop off a neatly coiled little witticism. Like new puppies on new carpets, I swear.

I've read a couple of the posts. The one on the zombie shuffle is interesting, making a comparison between the shuffle seen in zombie movements and patients with cerebellar ataxia, complete with video. It also describes Romero's reasoning behind the zombie walk as "they're dead. They're stiff. It's hard to walk." Instead, having read just one of the links from the post, you could start to think about how maybe we map attributes from members of our own society onto monsters.

That way, maybe you don't feel as bad about feeling uncomfortable the next time you see someone lumbering awkwardly down the street, since "he's walking just like a zombie, what the hell?"

I'm reaching, sure, but it's a great post and a great concept to write some short articles on.
posted by kavasa at 3:44 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


yeah, he's done a great job of summarizing a lot of very complex neuroscience.
posted by Maias at 3:50 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've got no objection to these as fun descriptions of zombie-like conditions that you might see in an outbreak of 28 days later style not-the-living-deadness.
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on October 31, 2011


I'd rather people use neuroscience to determine what our next horror trope could be. Just load up a 16 year old boy into an fMRI and flash some monsters in front of him and see which one causes the "awesome node" in his amygdala to flash.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:23 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Peter Watts is probably the writer to watch.
posted by Artw at 4:25 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Zombies not bad....Zombies misunderstood....my...uh,,,best friend zombie...(spare...uh...brains?)
posted by eggtooth at 4:35 PM on October 31, 2011


zombies, I might add, were pretty realistic

Not to get all pedantic, although you could call them zombies, but that were actually infected. Once infected they became berserkers. Also, the people never died or became undead. The infected died of starvation, of which the undead cannot do as they are already dead.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:38 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not to get all pedantic, although you could call them zombies, but that were actually infected.

Are we talking about 28 Days Later or the London riots here?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:53 PM on October 31, 2011


I am so glad some people get what we're doing. This was a project born out of beer and boredom on a lark by two grad students who loved zombie movies, and it's kinda... well... taken off. To the point where it comes up in everything I do now (for better or worse).

Obviously this is all a joke. But people are accidentally learning about real science in the process, which we think is awesome, so HA. It’s funny to me that the best method I’ve found to engage the public in neuroscience is with something so silly. I think it’s similar to how pulp sci-fi novels from the 1950s and 60s got so many people interested in the space sciences in the 60s and 70s.

That said, cognitive neuroscience can be fraught with sub-par research, so we're also doing this to make fun of our own field. It was really easy to make plausible sounding cog neuro arguments that result in a flesh-eating zombie. This should give any researcher pause. And I get to do some guerrilla science by hanging up zombie "research" posters at international conferences.

Anyway, I am stupid excited to see this on the blue. If anyone's interested, here's the background on how this got started. Kinda crazy what can happen from a random email or phone call.
posted by bradleyvoytek at 5:01 PM on October 31, 2011 [13 favorites]


4 out of 9. NOT a zombie! Result!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:47 PM on October 31, 2011


Apropos: There's a special new section of The Huffington Post tonight that's worth checking out, while it lasts.
posted by Asparagirl at 5:59 PM on October 31, 2011


Happy Halloween!
posted by Meatafoecure at 6:00 PM on October 31, 2011


I've been reading the Walking Dead comic book series, and one thing I can't figure out is, how do zombies "live" past a month or so? Why don't they decompose? Is it magic? Is it biology? And why do the survivors hole up in a prison? Why not a Walmart? And why doesn't anyone ever get sick from all of the decomposing (or not) corpses lying around? Or when they get corpse gunk in the face during a fight? And why is Rick such a jerk?
posted by KokuRyu at 2:56 PM on October 31 [1 favorite +] [!]


There's quite a lot of things in the Walking Dead comic books that don't really make much sense (or are explained in awkward ways, often retrospectively explaining something some oversight or mysterious logic, and in "tell" rather than "show" mode). Highly overrated.
posted by Bwithh at 6:52 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't really get the complaint about making the metaphorical more literal. Does providing a literal explanation invalidate all figurative interpretations? If so, a lot of grad students' senior theses on how Moby Dick totally isn't just a whale still got them tenured.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:59 PM on October 31, 2011


pffft zombies dont even exist you guys

youuuu guuyyyyys
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:40 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't really get the complaint about making the metaphorical more literal. Does providing a literal explanation invalidate all figurative interpretations? If so, a lot of grad students' senior theses on how Moby Dick totally isn't just a whale still got them tenured.

I didn't mean that rendering the metaphorical literal invalidates all figurative interpretations. I do think, though, that we find fabulistic and fantastical stories and figures captivating for sometimes-complex reasons which literalization can render banal.

Fantastical quasi-humans are rich with symbolic resonance. Vampires, zombies, I dunno, merpeople, they don't come from a rational or mundane part of the human imagination. They represent states of in-betweenness, of incomplete or profane transformation, they embody complexes of transgression and yet also of sympathetic desires; most importantly, they're especially and fundamentally human because their significant attributes are both dramatic deviations from and recognizable forms of human life, our passions and fears writ large and wild, alive independently. Modern vampires, for example are generally tragic lovers of some kind, unable to live completely in their human passions but also incapable of resisting their monstrous bloodthirst.

Zombies, I think, are especially interesting precisely because they're so incredibly popular. They're everywhere, just like in the movies! Something about zombies really resonates with people on a deep level. I don't know exactly what about them does that, although I have some ideas.

But the point is that what makes them interesting, I think, is not their zombie-ness per se, but how they interact with regular humans and what they mean as a contrast to normal human life. Bringing their fantastical qualities into the real world, explaining them as rational consequences of well-understood phenomena, robs them of their intimate place in our imagination, it makes them merely grotesque. Like a grisly car accident or a gruesome disease, they're demoted to scary bullshit. This is increasingly the way we represent them, which I think also has interesting implications.

That's just my opinion. Also, you have to do a hell of a lot more than write a clever senior thesis about the metaphorical implications of the whale in Moby Dick to get tenure these days :-)
posted by clockzero at 8:11 PM on October 31, 2011


Ever seen what emerges from pubs and clubs after they close?
I swear zombies are real. They're not undead they're just drunk people stumbling home.


After watching the late showing of 28 Days, my friend and I were thoroughly creeped out when we left the theatre. It was 1 am and the city streets were totally deserted as we drove home (what can I say, they roll up the sidewalks at night where I live). You can imagine our reactions when a lone figure suddenly loomed up on the road in front of us, shuffling menacingly. Turned out to be a drunk dude shambling home from the pub, but for a moment there I was certain we were seeing a zombie.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:20 PM on October 31, 2011


@clockzero: we of the Zombie Research Society don't only focus on just the neurological aspects of zombies!
posted by bradleyvoytek at 10:28 PM on October 31, 2011


HI I'M ON ZOMBIEFILTER AND I COULD OVERTHINK A PLATE OF BRAINS.
posted by bradleyvoytek at 10:30 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


But the point is that what makes them interesting, I think, is not their zombie-ness per se, but how they interact with regular humans and what they mean as a contrast to normal human life. Bringing their fantastical qualities into the real world, explaining them as rational consequences of well-understood phenomena, robs them of their intimate place in our imagination, it makes them merely grotesque.

Why? How?
posted by LogicalDash at 10:59 PM on October 31, 2011


What can neuroscience teach us about thoroughly exhausted trends?

I am wondering what, exactly, it is about zombies and vampires that has made them so ubiquitous recently. Well, what it is about us.
posted by dhartung at 1:05 AM on November 1, 2011


It's because we're going through a repeat of the 70s again, complete with 70s monsters.
posted by happyroach at 1:27 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's almost spooky the way the Romero-zombies have taken over: at times it seems they've erased all recollection of the real zombie phenomenon. I sort of wish that this was not the case.
posted by Segundus at 2:37 AM on November 1, 2011


I am wondering what, exactly, it is about zombies and vampires that has made them so ubiquitous recently.

In video games, it saves a lot of money on AI programming.
posted by empath at 4:43 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


HI I'M ON ZOMBIEFILTER AND I COULD OVERTHINK A PLATE OF BRAINS.

I confused. This is MetaFilter. We type text into little boxes. What else can we do except discusses the subject at hand, which in this case happens to be zombies? Oh, I know, we supposed to be making snarky, self-referential comments instead.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:29 AM on November 1, 2011


The articles are only half about zombies. The other and more interesting half is about how the human brain works.

That is true. But the connection to zombies is a serious stretch, and not quite accomplished.

Does anyone have a good explanation why zombies would prefer the relatively small and hard to get brains of humans vs all those the fleshy chunks down below? Have any authors addressed that?

Also, do zombies *need* to eat human brains to live? It would seem odd that such a tremendous drive to eat humans doesn't correspond with survival. I mean, could a lazy zombie just get stoned, hang out and say "hey look, humans ... oh wait, they're gone" and still live for a while?

Why do zombies need to eat humans if it doesn't keep them alive?

Or do all the zombies die out once the humans are gone? It doesn't seem that way.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:27 AM on November 1, 2011


Oh, I know, we supposed to be making snarky, self-referential comments instead.

No, just making a snarky, self-deprecating comment for having invested so much of my time thinking about this is all. :)
posted by bradleyvoytek at 9:20 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fantastical quasi-humans are rich with symbolic resonance. [...] But the point is that what makes [zombies] interesting, I think, is not their zombie-ness per se, but how they interact with regular humans and what they mean as a contrast to normal human life.

I think I get what you're saying. I agree that one function of stories, including monster stories, is to help us explore or advance our understanding of ourselves and our societies, and I agree that the posted links are not engaging with zombie stories on that level at all. (Well, I didn't read them all, but I'm willing to extrapolate.)

But the authors aren't telling stories, they're explaining a bit of neurology using a playful conceit. There was something similar linked back in Dune week — some high school science questions which called on the students to apply their knowledge to situations and technology described in the novel. For such purposes, symbolism and other literary-analytic factors are kind of beside the point. That's not the game they're playing, and objecting to that means saying something like, "YOU'RE PLAYING WITH THAT TOY WRONG STOP IT STOP IT". (This is, of course, a grotesque caricature of your remarks.)

I mean, it's great that Eco wrote "The Myth of Superman", but that doesn't make it wrong for Niven to have written "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex", right?
posted by stebulus at 8:41 PM on November 1, 2011


And I would never want to silence, or -- perhaps worse -- correct creative endeavors, for what it's worth. I'm not a purist or nostalgic or territorial about narratives or literary traditions, which by their nature obviously change over time, and are nurtured by how they're used, and that they are used. A story or a character that nobody uses or appropriates is not a relevant or meaningful one.

Literalized readings of metaphorically-derived figures, though they may depart in some fundamental ways from the manner in which those figures were originally located in the complex overlapping domains of waking life, dreaming, and fiction, are not something I want to deride or put down. They're just a very different way of thinking about them, to me.
posted by clockzero at 10:54 AM on November 2, 2011


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