The weekend host of the radio program, Ian Punnett, was interviewing me, a Harvard Medical School physician and national expert on the compelling world of zombie neuroscience. Punnett asked me to help make sense of a new and terrifying threat to our planet, and I told him what I had learned from a discovered manuscript penned by a doctor from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who had succumbed to a zombie plague while studying its origins. It was in this last capacity that Punnett had me on his radio show. I knew all this going into the show.
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But how exactly does a zombie brain function? Finally, a Harvard psychiatrist has the answers. Through education Dr. Steven C. Schlozman is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a lecturer at the Harvard School of Education. He has even drafted a fake medical journal article on the zombie plague, which he calls Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome, or ANSD the article has five authors: one living, three "deceased" and one "humanoid infected".
He conducted extensive research by talking with George Romero and immersing himself in genre literature and memorabilia - which is why the alternate title for his lecture is "A Way Cool Tax Deduction for a Bunch of Cool Books, Action Figures and a Movie. But the underlying science is serious.
His lecture is a tour of the human brain, using the living dead as a narrative theme. According to Dr. Schlozman, this is your brain on zombies: The Frontal Lobe This part of the brain is involved with "executive functioning" - enabling us to think carefully and solve problems in an abstract way. But we do know that zombies can see us and sense us. Schlozman concludes that zombies possess just enough frontal lobe activity to "listen" to the thalamus, through which sensory input is processed.
But the frontal lobe function most relevant to understanding zombie behavior is the control of "impulsivity"-the general term for when you do something and, if you had two more seconds, you might not have done it.
For instance, if in a fit of rage you have the sudden urge to punch your boss in the face, the frontal lobe intervenes and allows you to consider why that might be a bad idea. The Amygdala and Anterior Cingulate Cortex Absent a properly functioning frontal lobe, a zombie is driven entirely by base emotions - such as rage - that are housed in the primitive parts of our brain, notably the amygdala. A crocodile brain, for instance, is mostly driven by the amygdala.
So, when the amygdala gets all stirred up by fear, anger or lust, the anterior cingulate cortex steps on it a little bit, giving the frontal lobe time to think everything through before it sends signals toward the motor cortex and we act upon those impulses. A zombie would have a dysfunctional anterior cingulate cortex, rendering it unable to modulate feelings of anger.
The result? The Cerebellum and the Basal Ganglia Science may once and for all settle the heated debate over whether "the infected" in 28 Days Later could be classified as zombies. Schlozman says "no," observing that "the infected" possess "some sort of higher cortical function going on that allows them to hunt humans. They can run, jump, climb and quickly change direction-activities that the true Romero zombies are incapable of performing.
Clearly, zombies suffer from cerebellar and basal ganglia dysfunction duh! Those are the parts of the brain that make fluidity of motion possible. The basal ganglia helps us with coordinated movement.
The cerebellum helps us with balance. Schlozman describes mirror neuron theory as a "neurobiological model for empathy, which suggests, in a very hopeful way, that we might be wired to connect with one another. In response, we disconnect from each other. But the zombies keep coming. And that actually freaks out the humans more than anything else, prompting the humans to turn on each other.
Schlozman suggests that mirror neurons also help explain the popularity of the zombie genre among the living. We enjoy a brief vacation from empathy, and take our crocodile brains out for a spin. By way of example, I came across an interview with actor Mike Christopher Berhosky, who played the iconic Hare Krishna zombie in the movie, Dawn of the Dead. But the fun lasts only up to a point. As the movies progress, Schlozman says, we start to feel uncomfortable with the loss of our humanity-that we are "so willing to forsake those mirror neurons.
The result is hyperphagia. Zombies will eat and eat and eat, but never feel satiated. That raises a slightly awkward question: If zombies are constantly eating, then how come they never poop? Now we know why zombies are always moaning.
With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. Steven Weinberg.
But how exactly does a zombie brain function? Finally, a Harvard psychiatrist has the answers. Through education Dr. Steven C. Schlozman is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a lecturer at the Harvard School of Education.
Zombies on the Brain
The frontal lobe is the part of the brain involved with "executive functioning" - enabling people to think carefully and solve problems in an abstract way. Zombies only possess just enough frontal lobe activity to "listen" to the thalamus, through which sensory input is processed. However, absent a properly functioning frontal lobe, a zombie is driven entirely by base emotions - such as rage - that are housed in the primitive parts of our brain, notably the amygdala. The anterior cingulate cortex modulates and dampens the excitability of the amygdala.