Friday, October 21, 2011

The Living Dead Brain: What Forensic Neuroscience Can Tell Us about the Zombie Brain

Dr. Timothy Verstynen & Dr. Bradley Voytek, Zombie Research Society

This is a cross-post between Oscillatory Thoughts and Cognitive Axon. Stay tuned to both sites over the following days leading up to Halloween for updates on our model of the zombie brain.




What can neuroscience teach us about surviving the zombie apocalypse?

What makes a zombie a zombie or, more importantly, what makes a zombie not a human? Philosophers contend that a zombie lacks that qualia of experience that belies normal consciousness.

However this is a less than satisfying explanation for why the lumbering, flesh eating creatures are pounding outside the door of your country farmhouse.

Beyond the (currently) immeasurable idea of consciousness or the whole supernatural “living dead” theory, zombies are characterized primarily by their highly abnormal but stereotyped behaviors. This is particularly true in more modern manifestations of the zombie genre wherein zombies are portrayed not as the reanimated dead, but rather as living humans infected by biological pathogens. They are alive, but they are certainly not like us.

Neuroscience has shown that all thoughts and behaviors are associated with neural activity within the brain. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the zombie brain would look and function differently than the gray matter contained in your skull. Yet, how would one know what a zombie brain looks like?

Luckily, the rich repertoire of behavioral symptoms shown in cinema gives the astute neuroscientist or neurologist clues as to the anatomical and physiological underpinnings of zombie behavior. By taking a forensic neuroscience approach, we can piece together a hypothetical picture of the zombie brain.

Over the course of the next week, Oscillatory Thoughts and Cognitive Axon will team up to show our hypothetical model of the zombie brain. Each day we will present a new "symptom" associated with a zombie behavior and show its neural correlates in our simulated zombie brain.

This entire endeavor is partly an academic "what if" exercise for us and partly a tongue-in-cheek critique of the methods of our profession of cognitive neuroscience. We’ll be breaking up the workload and alternating days (hey... we gotta work our real jobs too) so be sure to check both places for the newest updates on zombie neuroscience.

Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek - Zombie Research Society zombie brain




DISCLAIMER: We need to be very clear on one point. While we sometimes compare certain symptoms in zombies to real neurological patient populations, we are in no way implying that patients with these other disorders are in some way “part zombie”. Neurological disorders have provided critical insights into how the brain gives rise to behavior and we bring them up for the sake of illustration only. Their reference in this context is in no way meant to diminish the devastating impact that neurological diseases can have on patients and their caregivers.

2 comments:

  1. This is such an awesome page! Thank you guys for posting! I teach biopsychology at Foothill College and I'm going to have my students study this page...and then come up with the neurological explanations for Vampires (and other fun supernatural creatures). Thanks again!

    -Ben Stefonik
    stefonikbenjamin@foothill.edu

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  2. Thanks Ben.

    Feel free to use any and all portions in your class. That's what we want it used for (i.e., educational materials). We're working on a deal to turn it into a formal educational book at some point in the future. Stay tuned!

    --Tim

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