The Zombie paradox.

The Zombie paradox.

fighting-zombiesAlthough zombies, or the myth of dead people returning in various manifestations to inform, puzzle, haunt, or eat the living, are present in all cultures, as far back as a mention in the epic of Gilgamesh of ancient Sumer, the word “zombie” itself hails from Afro-Caribbean voodoo culture. What zombies are and do differs widely according to different sources. In Haiti it’s the Bokor, or voodoo sorcerer who bestows upon healthy individuals a death-like state. After burial, the Bokor disinters the biddable undead, in order to basically utilize him or her for such mundane chores as fetching the morning paper and murdering opponents.

In modern fiction, starting with George A. Romero’s 1968 “Night of the Living Dead”, the deceased have become cannibalistic automatons, either infected by unknown rabies-like viruses, or some mysterious apocalyptic force.

TORONTO, Ontario — A police officer at the scene of a grisly beheading on a Canadian bus reported seeing the attacker hacking off pieces of the victim’s body and eating them, according to a police tape leaked on the Internet Saturday.

Regardless of this shocking headline plucked recently from CNN.com, zombies are and remain, according to mainstream academia, firmly in the realm of fiction.

Nevertheless, credible suspension of disbelief, a necessary tool in even the farthest flung corners of imaginary tales, not only forms an integral part in zombie science, it is a rich quarry from which contention erupts like, well, zombies from a grave. For example, scientifically, it shouldn’t be so hard to imagine some of yet unencountered germ to incapacitate a person’s higher brain functions, rendering them comatose, will-less, or uncompromisingly aggressive. Think Michael Douglas in “Falling Down”. Mass-hysteria has yet to produce a single throng of brain-devouring revenants, but all-you-can-eat buffets, English soccer matches and dog-eat-dog mums at a price-slasher megasale offer tantalizing glimpses of the human psyche’s regressive abilities.

No need at all to go as far as mentioning war and the mathematical certainty that detention camp wardens will get up to no good regardless of contented family lives, jealousy-inducing end-of-year bonuses, munificent pension plans, or regular work-outs on Wi-sports. Zombie flics rightly explore the threshold between order and chaos, the tenuous membrane separating Homo Apollo XI-us and his club-wielding forebear.

All this is understood by social scientists and geeky teens alike. What’s never ceased to bug me though is this; If the infection is passed on through bites from a crazed, meat-chomping former individual, how does the disease propagate? When does the zombie decide he’s munched enough to quench his unquenchable desire for human flesh but still leave enough limbs on a victim to become a successful sociopath in his or her own right? Discuss!

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