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October 31, 2010 10:01 AM   Subscribe

A four part series on the science of zombies: ethics of the undead, how zombie biology would work, can you kill the undead, everything you ever wanted to know about zombies. From Discover Magazine's blog Science Not Fiction
posted by device55 (26 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why all the zombie-related stuff these days? It is just the next vampires-are-hot stuff, or is there something else going on?
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:48 AM on October 31, 2010


It's AMC's Walking Dead adaptation of Robert Kirkman's comic, Old'n'Busted; it premiers tonight.

Me, I'm twiddling my thumbs until Netflix finally gets Colin, which has been getting good press for almost 2 years now but just got released in the US on DVD.
posted by mediareport at 10:53 AM on October 31, 2010


Noooooooo! We just watched all of Dead Set in one horrifying go and spent the rest of the night alternately making zombie noises and sitting silently, terrified. We woke up fresh this morning to a brand new day with no undeadenace in it, had some coffee, tried to decide what to have for breakfast.

Now the cycle will start over again.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:59 AM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Btw, did anyone else roll her/his eyes at Friday's NYT review of Walking Dead? The reviewer says almost nothing about the show, going on instead about how zombies are from Mars and vampires are from Venus, and that "vampire mania...has dominated popular culture in a nonstop streak from Anne Rice’s book “Interview With the Vampire” to “The Vampire Diaries” on CW."

It's like these people never even heard of video games at all. Remember the "zombies are popular under Republicans, vampires are popular under Democrats" garbage we got a while back? Same thing.
posted by mediareport at 11:07 AM on October 31, 2010


Note that Evil Dead zombies are ruled out straight off the bat.
posted by Artw at 11:20 AM on October 31, 2010


ಠ_ಠ
posted by nickyskye at 11:22 AM on October 31, 2010


I am always a bit annoyed by articles that pretend to explain a situation in a "what-if" manner, like the article about zombie biology.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge nerd, I know more about the matter-antimatter reactor aboard the Enterprise than any rational person should, but there are some things that you should not try to explain - just present them, tell the audience that that is how it is, and get them to accept the fact that there won't be any more explanations. Otherwise you get stuff like this article: you don't even need biology to know that zombies (movie-zombies, undead) can't exit, elementary physics is enough.

We humans represent zones of reduced entropy - we exist because we are ordered in many ways. Our molecules and atoms aren't randomly distributed, they are arranged in ways that allow us to exist; unfortunately that is not the way the universe likes things, so we need to constantly introduce energy into our system to maintain this imbalance. If we stop doing that we suddenly cease to exist as human beings; we are now just a collection of building blocks, high-energy raw materials, something that other reduced-entropy zones in our surroundings have evolved to take advantage of. The second we die we get attacked by all sorts of bacteria, fungi, plants and animals that want to get a piece of the energy we so carefully collected and stored - and any zombie would be subject to that same mechanism. There is simply no way for a collection of complex proteins, lipids and nutritious liquids to exist without becoming the target of other living things and of the merciless forces of nature that demand that entropy increases when you don't spend energy on the upkeep of a decidedly unnatural state.

Zombies - as they are currently presented in books and films - can't exist. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy the story (well, most of the time), but I am not going to give the same leniency to an article that just takes the premise "it's magic" and then attempts to add a scientific underpinning to that.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 11:32 AM on October 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I Am Legend beat them to all the relevant zombie ethical questions by 56 years, and did it before the present notion of "zombie" even existed.
posted by rusty at 11:46 AM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, pretty much. Some kind of handwave like "it's a virus!" is acceptable and then after that it's all a bit dodgy. Still, Mathesons pseudoscience to explain vampires in I Am Legend was fun, and anything by Max Brooks is pretty great.
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on October 31, 2010


Bah, you beat me there rusty.
posted by Artw at 11:48 AM on October 31, 2010


mediareport: no, it's not. I get the feeling that a lot of people are expecting the end of the world in some way, and zombies are just fashionable.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 1:04 PM on October 31, 2010


It's really simple, people: zombies are Democrats, vampires are Republicans. Right now the Dems are (nominally) in power so all the fear is directed at Those Hordes of Mindless Sub-People Who Want My Stuff (starting, it would appear, with your braaaaains). Once the balance shifts back look for sociopathic loner/gangsters with supernatural powers lurking among and preying on us, inhabiting lairs evincing enormous wealth...

Or else zombies are Teabaggers. Your choice.
posted by tspae at 1:34 PM on October 31, 2010


Huh I just re-watched Shaun Of The Dead (on CABLE) and noticed a joke I missed.

On the 2nd day, resolved to clean up his life, Sean goes to the deli, picks out a coke and then ...carefully puts it back and gets a Diet Coke.
posted by The Whelk at 2:17 PM on October 31, 2010


I couldn't wait until Halloween, so I watched the first episode of Walking Dead right after watching Xombie on DVD. Both were excellent. I'm glad the zombie mythos is finally getting some quality content, because most films in the genre seem like they were written in about a half hour. Their producers apparently think if they show enough gore and include the word zombie in the title they'll automatically make a profit. I guess they must be, since garbage keeps getting churned out on a regular basis. Here's hoping the Walking Dead TV series gets at least as many episodes as the comic series its based on. Can't wait to watch it again tonight in HD.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 3:16 PM on October 31, 2010


Btw, did anyone else roll her/his eyes at Friday's NYT review of Walking Dead? The reviewer says almost nothing about the show, going on instead about how zombies are from Mars and vampires are from Venus, and that "vampire mania...has dominated popular culture in a nonstop streak from Anne Rice’s book “Interview With the Vampire” to “The Vampire Diaries” on CW."

So wait...is the NYT outsourcing its writing to SoCal screenplay writers?
posted by hal_c_on at 4:08 PM on October 31, 2010


I am always a bit annoyed by articles that pretend to explain a situation in a "what-if" manner, like the article about zombie biology.

No big fan of the Monster Manual either, I guess?
posted by ersatz at 5:44 PM on October 31, 2010


A wizard did it.
posted by Artw at 6:08 PM on October 31, 2010


I get the feeling that a lot of people are expecting the end of the world in some way, and zombies are just fashionable.

I think it goes a bit deeper than that, Old'n'Busted, but isn't exactly complicated. Flesh, decay and death fascinate us. Anyway, if you like teasing out all the cultural possibilities, literary and otherwise, try this essay (linked in Slate's fairly shallow review of Walking Dead). It's pretty good if you like that sort of contemplative analysis of the zombie craze. Me, I just like the pure horror of overwhelming hordes of flesh-eating monsters. Seems pretty timeless.
posted by mediareport at 10:18 PM on October 31, 2010


Saying a virus could make zombies is pretty whack. Viruses become less lethal as they evolve, adapting to their hosts in ways that maximize retransmission. Your common rhinovirus, for example, is way more evolved and efficient than something like ebola, because keeping you alive means it can pump out more copies of itself, and even come back to infect you again after changing a few genes. Over thousands of years that's a much better strategy than reproducing so fast it kills any potential vectors. A virus that's sophisticated enough to grab hold of the strings and levers of a dead body and manipulate it like some kind of nanoscale puppeteer just wouldn't have time to evolve if it wasted a host with each infection. Now some kind of nanotechnology might work as a zombifier, but it would have to really futuristic and carefully designed.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:09 AM on November 1, 2010


just wouldn't have time to evolve if it wasted a host with each infection

An infected zombie isn't wasted. Isn't that pretty much the whole point of zombies, the one thing that makes them different than corpses?
posted by Hubajube at 6:58 AM on November 1, 2010


peachfuzz: We just watched all of Dead Set in one horrifying go ...

I watched that on the 30th with my wife, the zombie fanatic who hooked me on the genre (or the villain) of the zombie. With her, I've watched campy zombie films that were entertaining, I've seen terrible films that were cobbled from various failed projects (really, one movie was made of three partial movies - it was bad). But I've seen some really good ones, especially the Living Dead series. But stop with the 4th movie, Diary is just annoying. In the four movies, there is a change in the zombie population, from ever-hungry collective of limbs and teeth, to individual entities who can learn and interact with the world.

Counterpoint to the concerns of PontifexPrimus: First, zombies are often called "living dead" for a reason - they animated corpses, they're something else. With that notion, the Zombie Biology article makes some sense. Second, not all zombies are the same. (See: types of zombies.) Depending on the depiction, they could require food, and they could eventually fall apart despite how much they "eat" (they might not be digesting the food). Others can be sealed up in tombs and still come back, or even become re-animated from the grave, even if they were not killed by contact with another zombie.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:02 AM on November 1, 2010


So, The Walking Dead... it was a bit good, wasn't it?
posted by Artw at 10:37 AM on November 1, 2010


For me Dead Set worked better as a satire on Big Brother / tv in general than an actual zombie 'film'... I've not bothered going back to it since it was broadcast.

I planned to judge Walking Dead on how soon I forgot it was Egg/Teachers bloke* playing the lead... as that was pretty much instantly I'm voting it a success

I actually think sometime around Day Of The Dead sadly George Romero actually became a zombie.

*For those that might not get that (ie Americans) I'll just say that Andrew Lincoln is a fairly familiar face to UK tv audiences
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:09 AM on November 1, 2010


He's also in Love Actually.

Most of the dialogue first episod. Was two British blokes pretending to be American and doing (to my ears) a pretty good job of it.
posted by Artw at 12:12 PM on November 1, 2010


"An infected zombie isn't wasted. Isn't that pretty much the whole point of zombies, the one thing that makes them different than corpses?"

From the point of view of a virus the zombie would be pretty much wasted, kind of like slash and burn agriculture wastes land when compared with sustainable methods. Remember that the virus wants to reproduce as much as possible over the longest span of time. That's its "goal," so to speak. The symptoms of infection (right up to death) are just side effects of the virus hijacking our cells to achieve that goal. Zombies are still stumbling around after death infecting people, so their virus would be somewhat more efficient in the short run than something like ebola, but by killing off the total population of hosts in such an effective manner, they're ensuring that any outbreak will be short lived. A really efficient virus like the common cold will stick around in the population for millions of years, infecting people and spreading itself around, but not limiting the total population of potential hosts.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:31 PM on November 1, 2010


The Walking Dead on Google Maps (contains spoilers if you've not read the comics, TV series may deviate)
posted by Artw at 10:24 AM on November 4, 2010


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