Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Zombies from the Zombie's Point of View

I may be one of a relatively few people in North America who has never seen a complete zombie movie (although I did watch most of Shaun of the Dead), but I think I get the general idea. In the standard zombie movie, humans die in a plague only to be reanimated into unthinking, unfeeling, brain-eating creatures who reproduce themselves by biting people or sustain themselves on brain matter, wreaking havoc on the innocent wherever they go.

There is a certain logic to the plot of zombie movies. If there were zombies on the prowl in my neighborhood, I'd get busy barring the doors and boarding up the windows, too. But what one never sees in the movies or reads in the movie reviews is being a zombie from the zombie's point of view.

Why is it that a “spirit” might come back from the dead with a message of encouragement but a zombie would come back from the dead lumbering with jerk-like movements and constantly intoning “Brain. Eat braaaaaaain”? I don't think it's because zombies don't have brains.

Zombie brains must share many characteristics with human brains. After all, they still have the ability to recognize, kill, and eat humans. They must possess at least some of the human senses. They must be in touch with the real world.

What zombies evidently don't have the ability to do is to see beyond the physical world. They have the ability to see an innocent child, chase it, and eat it, but they don't have the ability to see an innocent child and recognize the quality of innocence, to see a potentially tasty creature that they must nonetheless must not eat and even must nurture and protect.

A zombie does not have the inner experience of the outer world. A zombie, if there really are zombies, might have the sensory abilities (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste) to do an inventory of the physical world, but the sensory data in the zombie's brain, we humans tend to believe, don't have the qualities of the physical world.

But why all this speculation about a fictional being? There aren't any zombies, are there? Really?

It's a lot easier to speculate about zombie brains than it is to speculate about human brains.

A friend I respect reports and encounter with a belligerent member of the undead. No one believed my friend until the undead person also attacked someone else. I take my friend's accounts seriously and literally, in terms of the experience of the attack. There are at least several possible explanations.

1. My friend imagined an attack an undead person and an unrelated person later imagined the same undead attacker.
2. My friend made up the story about being attacked by an undead person and a second individual made up a very similar story.
3. My friend was attacked by an undead person and a second individual made up the story about being attacked by the same zombie. Then there's my favorite,
4. My friend made up the story about being attacked by a zombie but then the zombie materialized into the real world and attacked someone else. Or,
5. My friend and the other individual were both attacked by a “real world” individual on whom they projected the qualities of a zombie, or they were both attacked by a “real world” individual who was a zombie.

Zombies are a lot easier to understand. They just want to eat your brains. But people who observe zombies have to (1) see a human form, (2) recognized it as undead, (3) recognize it as a threat, and (4) run for their lives to safety. If anything goes wrong with any of the four phases of zombie recognition, there isn't a zombie experience. You have to be pretty darned smart to know you're being attacked by a zombie.

It may be that we humans are hard wired to see zombies all the time, and it's only when our brains are so tired that they don't filter out the zombie images that we do. Or it may be that our ability to project an image of what we expect to see (as I discussed in an earlier post) is energized by something physical, physiological, or electrical going on in our brains. That is, we might see real people but see them as zombies. Or it may be that “zombie” is the brain's shorthand for a dangerous person to be fled right now. Or there might be real zombies. It almost doesn't make any difference whether zombies can be precisely defined in the real world or not or whether they exist in the real world or not. Sometimes you just need to bar the doors and board up the windows. (Just don't tell your stories too indiscriminately if you happen to have encounters with the undead.)

Whether or not you possess edible brains is the only thing that is important if the zombie sees you. Whether or not you have bars for your door and boards for your windows are the only things that are important if you see a zombie. And if you want to be a helper to the helpless and to assist your zombie-viewing friends with what you believe to be their hallucinations and delusions, only try to do so in a zombie-proof space. It just might be you who suffers the error in perception, and the zombie might eat you first.

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