Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?


So, I wanted to talk about zombies. But what could I even begin to say? It’s likely that only Shakespeare himself has had more written about him than our beloved zombies. I just wanted to write a post with meaning. And then it hit me! Meaning! Philosophy! Existentialism! I’ll cover the whole gambit. Leave no stone un-turned. The universe has unveiled itself at my finger tips!

I might as well have fainted for all the good my consciousness did me. The wheels started slipping on the ice, I over corrected and jammed the brakes instead of pumping them. The universe went squealing into a lamp post and crashing to a halt (please note that I have not actually suffered a car crash). When I finally came to, all I remembered was that I wanted to talk about zombies and I had mentioned philosophy. So I Googled. Turns out, there are such things as Philosophical Zombies (boy that would be a great twitter handle–keep that, it’s yours). They are defined (by Wikipedia) as:

[beings] indistinguishable from humans except that they have no conscious experience, qualia, or sentience.

Uhh . . . What does that mean?

Well, I think it all comes back to the most cliched of zombie desires: Brains! I guess, to be more specific, the mind is what they’re after. Zombies have what is essentially a clean slate. No memories, no experience, and really no control over what it is they’re doing. It would appear that zombies are the ultimate Physicalists. I’ll explain. It would seem that in terms of philosophy there are two camps vigorously debating the concept of ‘mind’ The Physicalists argue that all of our higher order functions (love, pain, empathy etc.) are simply reactions to outside external or internal stimulus. Essentially, just links in a chain. They would argue that we are the same as our undead brethren and that a long enough chain of events would have these walking corpses River Dancing and reciting the Gettysburg Address. I shutter to think what chain of events could lead to such madness but the idea is that no sentience is required, just causes and effects. Conversely, despite all our conscious experience and knowledge of right and wrong, a long enough, and sophisticated enough chain of events would send people gobbling up there neighbor’s flesh like crab ragoons at the Chinese buffet (sorry that was a little insensitive).

Thought of in this light, I suppose that the opening scene of <em>Sean of the Dead</em> is perhaps the most philosophical clip in all of zombie cinema. Notice how Sean simply reacts without any ‘consciousness’ or awareness that the whole world has gone to hell around him. Who’s the zombie in this clip? Sean? Or the walking dead?

No wonder Simon is so uptight about the direction zombie movies have taken in recent years. Despite his tongue-in-cheek, he’s actually quite the zombie scholar . . . who knew?

The second camp is generally of the opinion that since zombies, by definition, cannot have sentience they cannot be human. That there is inherently something that separates us from them. This argument doesn’t seem as elegant as that of the Physicalists but I haven’t found a good way to refute it. Sometimes logic is like that.

I really enjoy thinking about the possibilities for zombie fiction if writers and authors begin think “physically” with their zombies. It reminds me a little of the androids in Philip K Dick’s writing. We might never know who’s a zombie and who isn’t. Some zombies might believe they are people! Some people might find out they are really just zombies! Oh and of course all the guts and gore you can imagine

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  1. Zombies was a metaphor of consumption society. Zombies are the brainless consumer who purchase products compulsively without any reflexion and contribute to destroy the planet with their attitude. It’s an ecologic denonciation.
    The problem is the majority of zombie novels oppose zombies to survivalists. It’s a right wing denonciation which present facism as the only alternative. It’s very depleasant fiction.

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