The Frightening Science Behind The Zombification Of Humanity
By Ellen Granfield
Science proves we are, in many ways, zombies ourselves.
Zombies! Run for your life! The living dead are everywhere!
This Halloween, it’s worth asking why we remain so fixated, across the globe, on the undead walking among us. Why are we obsessed with rotting flesh trying to subsume our healthy visages?
The simple is answer is that, in many ways, it’s because we are zombies ourselves, a notion proved in several ways by science.
And this, more than anything, is what should really scare us.
The Science Of Fear
Taylor Clark, in his book Nerve — which studied poise under pressure (among other phenomena) — found that, in general, 10 to 20% of people retain awareness and effectiveness during a crisis, 10 to 15% freak out and endanger themselves, and 70 to 80% become bewildered sheep.
The most common response during a crisis isn’t decisive action or panicked screaming, but dazed, paradoxical lethargy and denial. Considering climate change, extinction rates, overpopulation, poverty, pollution, systemic oppression, and the corporate takeover of our culture, we are in a constant state of crisis rendering us unable to correct course.
Faced with fear, unable to handle what’s happening, we react as zombies would.
The Science Of Tech
If psychologically, denial is an easier option than action, our culture finds this type of nonfunctioning an adequate substitute emotionally as well. MIT professor Sherry Turkle has shown that over the last 20 years, in large part due to technology, many college students have lost their ability to feel empathy through lack of engagement with others. And they weren’t born that way; it was a gift of culture.
As she says, the silence and lack of talking cultivated by technology has “led to a crisis of empathy that has diminished us at home, at work, and in public life.”
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We have effectively learned to shut off our sense of feeling the world around us by rote. Unfortunately, this troubling disconnection from ourselves and one another grows even more desperate as the human brain cannot function correctly in this isolation. The brain — literally — requires input from the heart to conceptualize and understand people and place. Without that input, we’re decidedly lost, zombies lusting after a sentience we no longer possess.
The Science Of Metaphor
Beyond being drawn to zombies on a psychological and emotional level, our cultural fascination with them has actually made us, in a way, more like them.
It’s important to remember that metaphor isn’t something separate from us; it’s not a clever use of language, but an actual function of being human. Linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson’s research has shown metaphors to be imperative in communication, to ourselves, others, and the world writ large. In their book The Metaphors We Live By, they explain:
“The concepts that govern our thought are not just matters of the intellect. They also govern our everyday functioning down to the most mundane details. Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the word, and how we relate to other people. Our conceptual system thus plays a central role in defining our everyday realities. If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor.”
Want to be frightened? Consider the notion: If we’re conceiving of our world as a place riddled with apocalypse and resurrected bodies — if we ourselves are the animated corpses — then we’re slowly re-mapping our own minds. That because we’re all thinking about zombies, so compulsively we have become, by figurative definition, the walking dead ourselves by investing so much of our mental energy into their endless depictions.
The Science Of Physics
Here’s where things get really heady — and thought-provoking, and more than a little scary.
Carl Jung coined the term “collective unconscious” to describe an archetypal understanding of the world we all share like a psychic river. But over time, our evolving hyper-rationality has threatened this state of being.
The critical philosopher Jean Gebser — who dedicated his work to exploring human consciousness — conceived of four types of brains homo sapiens have evolved through: the reptilian drive to survive, the mammalian that deals with relationships, the neocortex in man finding a sense of aesthetics/beauty, and an understanding of how things work. Gebser also believed and saw all around him during the horrific wars of the 20th century a collective conscious in “deficient mode” due to hyper-rationality.
At the same time, scientists posit that there is an intimate connection between anyone’s mind and any matter in the universe. Physicist John Archibald Wheeler (who studied under Einstein and Bohr) is among the scientists who have theorized that the very act of thinking about differing outcomes changes them.
Essentially, we are designing the universe as we go along.
Scientists posit that there is an intimate connection between anyone’s mind and any matter in the universe.
So how does all this fit in with zombie fascination? Because by isolating ourselves from the collective conscious, we’ve been left in a zombie state, beginning an arduous struggle to reintegrate ourselves into the collective consciousness so the Universe — that we very well might be creating — in turn might know itself.
All of which prompts the question: How on earth do we wake the dead?
The 18th-century philosopher Goethe believed in the imaginative process. He called our two cognitive faculties “understanding” — the rational thinking of science — and “reason,” the intuitive perception of creativity. Both play important roles in life, because together they provide access to the heart, and mind, of nature and ourselves, and offer solutions to problems that on the surface seem irresolvable by engaging the world through active thinking, imagination, and dreaming.
And doing so as if our lives depended on it.
It becomes critical to be aware of everything we do, to observe the expansive machinations in motion in order to better understand their consequences. It means not making split-second judgments, but instead allowing ourselves to know the people we stand beside. Opening our hearts purposefully and with awareness. Knowing that what we do to others we do to ourselves because there is no “other.” That what we see in the world around us we really see, but often deny, in ourselves.
Because, in the end, we choose to be dead or we choose to be alive.