The public appetite for zombies is utterly insatiable, rampant and out-of-control. The zombies are spreading like a plague through modern culture. They have broken free from their traditional confines of cult-horror films; they have stumbled out of the flea-pit cinemas and are now infiltrating mass-media of every possible kind. The undead – it now appears – have us surrounded from all directions: cinema, TV, art, graphic novels, video-games and novels.
Even the academics scientists have succumbed to the epidemic. University courses are offering zombie-related syllabus; there has been hundreds of papers, government publications and dozens of books published on zombies – from fields as diverse as epidemiology, law, history, filmography, anthropology and neuroscience.
Searching sciencedirect.com, there are now around 2000 publications which feature the word “zombie”. In fact, the spread of zombies now even appears to have surpassed the popularity of vampires – in both popular culture and within the sciences.
What are all these publications? Where do they come from?
This inexorable rise in zombie science simply reflects wider cultural shifts. The zombie has mutated and adapted within the 21st century. Artists and writers have come to realize the strength of the zombie metaphor, and how it can be endlessly be applied across a plethora of contexts and genres. Similarly, within the sciences, the zombie has been adapted in a number of guises.
The largest representation in the scientific literature (a few hundred papers) is within the field of computer science. These “zombie computers” have been taken over by a hacker, at the mercy and control of an evil-dooer for their own nefarious purposes. Similarly, a large number of publications discuss “zombie banks”, institutions that are the walking dead of the monetary system, existing in name but financially vacant. Another popular concept is the “philosophical zombie”, a hypothetical construct that is rallied as an argument against materialistic notions of reality.
For this blog, such metaphors are of limited interest. Instead, we are going to be getting into the brains of the neuroscientists, digging up the undead in the archaeologic record and delving into the filmography of zombie-studies. Most of all though, we are going to be delving into the realms of “biological zombies” – the rapidly growing literature discussing real, living parasites: ones with the ability to infiltrate the brains of their hosts, influence their victims behavior, turning them into drones that further spread their vile contagion.