Monday, January 18, 2010

Creating a Zombie: Is It Possible?

Come on, haven't you ever wondered if it's scientifically feasible?

In some magic-based practices, the process of making a zombie is taken as fact. With the right mix of ingredients, a person can ingest the concoction and go into a kind of stasis (think SciFi long-distance space travel). The body’s systems would shut down to almost a halt, maintaining just enough to keep and element of life present (yeah, like a glowing pilot light on a gas heater). There is no doubt this is possible. Every time we undergo anesthesia for a surgery, we are quieting down conscious brain function, but maintaining autonomic function so our hearts still beat and we still breathe. With anesthesia comes a dulling of pain senses and the creation of amnesia when it is over. Of course, this wouldn't make for a real zombie, just a dead-looking person. The zombie would supposedly occur when you reanimate the person. In the case of anesthesia or even primitive mixes of powders, it wouldn't make a zombie, it would make an awake person after deep sleep.

These logistics aside, the problem with creating a zombie is the basic knowledge that when you shut down body functions to the degree that breathing is not detectable, then not enough blood is reaching the brain. Even if you reanimate a person by say CPR means, if the person has been without oxygen for enough a period of time, the brain functions will not reengage. You will have anoxic brain injury and a vegetative state.

Saying you reanimate a person’s body, in order for them to be a walking eating threat, they would have to have some of the brain functions in order to still move about. The concept of a zombie being directed by its master to do tasks is absolutely impossible. It would be like telling a person in coma to sit up on the edge of the bed. So, in the case of this type of “zombie” they would not be able to perform the functions of wandering the streets. They would also be mortal and able to be killed.

So, let’s conceive of some situations in which a zombie-type creature could be created. It would take a few elements. There would need to be severe retardation of brain function to the point that the person is perhaps at the mental level of a 2-year-old and therefore understanding of commands, but not understanding of whether these commands are fair or unfair, right or wrong. In order to get this unfortunate person to eat flesh, it would take a condition of pica. Pica is a condition in which a person craves things to eat that are not eatable, such as clay, metal, soil, and the like. Along with perhaps an ongoing iron-deficiency anemia, this lame-minded host could potentially be talked into cannibalism. In this case, at best, you’d get a docile child-like person who could be talked into eating flesh but would not have the natural tendencies to go out and seek flesh to eat. They would also be mortal and easily killed.

Other considerations: There is a disease called Kuru. It attacks the brain in a sort of mad cow disease type of way. It was found in New Guinea to be caused by cannibalism and the eating of the brains of those infected. This disease kills usually within 12 months and is also called the “shaking” disease or the “laughing” disease because it causes uncontrollable shaking and outbursts of laughter. That would make for a much different zombie, as this one would walk and talk, but also shake and laugh uncontrollably. Probably not that threatening. They would also be mortal and able to be killed, but would die on their own within several months in an agonizing manner.

The true zombies of pop folklore are an interesting concept, but the reanimation of flesh would also include an anoxic body that would not be able to have a brain function to move about, think, desire to eat, or any other features we’ve come to know.

Just because zombies can’t physiologically exist in the manner shown in movies presently, there are other aspects of medicine upcoming in the field right now that could change the present impossibility. Doctors are working on a kind of patient stasis that would keep their body functions on the lowest level of existence until they can come up with cures for what ails them. This is different than “putting a head on ice” cryogenics. Still, these two forms of putting people in stasis and then reanimating them could very well create conditions we aren’t aware of. Certain parts of the brain could feasibly be revived while others die off creating an imbalance in behaviors and tendencies. This might be like a football head injury can make someone suddenly very angry when they were kind before. Still, this would be a mortal condition and able to be destroyed.

Ultimately, the only true flesh-eating, killing, ruthless, nearly indestructible zombie you could ever invent would involve some very savvy Japanese engineers. It would have to be robotic. This could be programmed in many ways and the thought is actually a bit more chilling than flesh and blood, shoot `em in the head zombies.

Whether zombies exist in the future or not, the concept of a person dead but walking, alive but soulless is one that continues to fascinate and repel.


  1. I read somewhere about some sort of concoction that when given to a human at first mimics death and then makes the person go into a zombi-like state. It was supposedly used to control slaves it places I can't remember since I read this a long time ago. Supposedly the effects could be reversed simply by feeding the person salt. Whether this is true or not I could not tell you, but interesting nonetheless.

  2. Yes, this was found in the Haitian culture as a way of mimicking death, supposedly made from the blowfish and a few other deadly things mixed together. As far as the ability to enslave the person, that's not really been proven since no one is willing to try it out on a human being for experimental purposes, but it could definitely make someone appear dead. If you wanted to truly make someone docile, a lobotomy is probably still the best option, but it doesn't give you all the zombie traits, just the meek aspects. Intriguing stuff, huh?

  3. It is for sure... although why someone would want to make a zombie I am not entirely sure! :-D

  4. You got me there. If I could bring to life a movie monster, I'd probably choose Phantom of the Opera or something--at least then he's contained in a building I'm not likely to attend. Hee hee

  5. I've heard about those Haitian style zombies before, where they give them something to appear dead, and they give them an antidote that wakes them up. Once awake, I guess they still have some sort of amnesia, and they just become slave laborers because they don't remember the past...or something like that.

    I guess it just really depends on what your definition of a zombie is.

  6. Jeff;
    Very good point. You can get some features of a zombie, but not all in one package. That's why my plan would be to make robot ones. I think that idea could work. Mwa ha ha ha
    Sounds like a bad SyFy movie, huh? Like "Ice Spiders," except we'd call it "Zombie-bots"

  7. kuru sounds so freaky, i'll remember not to any human brains.
    i think there was a movie about that whole Haitian concoction thing. i can't remember details, maybe a reporter who went to Haiti to investigate this. oh, i don't remember, i'm not making any sense.
    any way creating zombies is a very creepy concept.

  8. Sandra;
    I remember that special. He was talking to a priest dude and they were explaining the use of blowfish and other elements. Very creepy. I barely trust my anesthesiologist to put me out for surgery. I can't imagine having some dude pound powders together and give it to me and then expect him to wake me up. Sounds like a legitimized mickey the dudes use in the bars to knock out their victims. Yikes!

  9. Sounds like "Weekend a Bernie's Two", bringing him to life with Voodoo, lol. Whatever, I'm sure in some cultures this is possible in some way, shape or form and like Jeff said, it depends on your definition of a zombie. Personally, I hope we never have to deal with them.

  10. Yeah, I don't think they'd make great pets, although in one of my favorite zombie movies, "Fido," they did make swell servants and friends.

  11. I really love zombie movies. I've seen almost all of them, even the really bad ones. I own over a hundred of them and my collection ranges from classics like White Zombie to the remake of Dawn of the Dead. In my passion, I've sucked all my friends and family into zombie movie world. Unfortunately, my friends and family are very smart. They are doctors and cellular neurologists and biochemists. They tell me all the time that zombies are impossible and they explain this to me in words I really don't understand. I have been told that there are drugs that induce a trance like state that makes users resemble zombies that were used in Haiti. I've also been told that a rabies like disease could induce a scenerio similar to the scenerio in 28 days later, however the people infected would die quickly and weaken even more quickly as these diseases act to weaken the body not strengthen it. So all my dreams of some day fighting zombies have been destroyed by my too realistic friends.

  12. Jessica;
    I agree about zombies. In fact, one of goals is to be part of a flash zombie walk. you can find forums for your state to see if anything is going on. I really want to dress as one and attend. I can't figure out what kind of zombie I'd be. I think it should be different than the regular bride zombies and such. I think a steampunk turn-of-the-century one would be wicked. I agree about all the talk of zombies not existing. So long as folks like you and I watch the movies and read the books...zombies live! Of course, you can always take on the wonderful challenge of writing a zombie book. Oh, and some time I'd love it if you'd do a review of the best zombie movies and why they're the best.

  13. Someone been reading too much "Serpent and the Rainbow"?

    I do know there is a disease, a form of autosarcophagy, that makes the sufferer eat their own flesh. I forgot the exact name of it though. I read about it while browsing through medical journals at Schuler's months ago(don't ask).

    If it is even possible to create a zombie, I'd bet money it would be induced by an extremely aggressive meningitis-like bacteria that eats away at the part of the brain responsible for intelligence, memory, speech, etc., which would involve both the frontal and temporal lobes. Since these lobes are adjacent to one another it would be assumed that the infection would need to start at the front of the brain, which would be nearly hit or miss for a bacterial infection, so the making of a zombie would not always be guaranteed. In addition, sensory nerve fibers that transmit to pain receptors would either need to be destroyed altogether or dulled, perhaps by an adrenaline surge caused by a malfunctioning adrenal system spurred by brain damage.

    Even with ALL this, the zombification of the individual would only last as long as the infection stayed in the front parts of the brain. The rest of the brain would need to stay intact in order for basic motor skills and visual processing to work (hey, they not only need to see us but they need to know WHAT we are, i.e. a food source, before they can chase us). Once the rest of the brain succumbs to the bacteria the zombie would, well, die.

    I'm not a neuroscientist or zombie expert so this is just a best guess.

    As for the need to feed on other's brains and flesh, I'm at a bit of a loss. Maybe the first disease would leave the sufferer open to an opportunistic disease that would in turn cause the flesh cravings. It would make sense, since as you've said, there's no possible way to have a disease with all this in one package.This would most likely be caused by either a deficiency of some kind that the zombie would crave and that (by dumb luck) be abundant in breathing humans. Most likely this hunger would have to be caused by some sort of blood disorder like Porphyria, or even another neuro-disease such as rabies (Just like Quarantine! You gotta love it). But talking about all the pieces that would need to fall into place!!! Porphyria and rabies don't mass infect populations, even as opportunistic diseases, but there's always the possibility of mutation.

    As for an invincible walking DEAD corpse that craves living tissue for reasons unbeknown to mankind, simply put...not gonna happen. There must be some cognitive ability left in the undead, and for the brain to stay alive as everyone knows, you need to get oxygen to the brain so the blood MUST be pumping somehow (damn you for making me think so hard tonight!!! lol).

    But who knows? With genetic engineering, and hell, even to an extent nanotechnology, we may be in luck for a true-life zombie apocalypse yet!

  14. Grim;
    You're talking my language. Yes, autosarcophagy is self cannibalism. I was considering that, but most cases include such minor things as biting the buccal mucosa in one's mouth (cheek biting), booger eating, and hair eating. This is really rude, isn't it? Totally appropriate for this subject. I like your idea of meningitis. The encephalopathy condition can do many things to the brain. Before my son went into seizures with meningitis the encephalopathy had him extremely sensitive to light and sound (which could make a zombie avoid going into the light--photophobia). He also had the sense someone was over his shoulder and hearing faint voices. He was trembling with fear and really overcome with it. He had 2 seizures and when he finally came out of the worst of if a few days later, he was himself again. Very scary condition. The problem with it is that parts of the brain that would be affected would eventually lead to seizure and postictal state, making the zombie useless. Although the concept of a zombie having a seizure as he turns into a zombie would be most realistic (moviemakers pay heed). I think flesh cravings would really have to do with lack of food supply. Should you put a zombie in a place with no food but other humans and only the rudimentary brain functions to understand hunger and thirst, he'd kill without remorse. I'm within you, in the real's gonna take some nanotechnology. Here's another thought. If the government is testing at places like Montauk...they could be working on zombification to make people who would be protesting and fighting them give up and walk away or follow their commands. I'm certain that has to be the ultimate weapon...mind control. Didn't Jesse Venture talk about that in the HAARP episode? Now, we're talking X-files, my friend!

  15. Ha! I was going to mention light sensitivity as well (since the zombies it the story I'm penning that I mentioned earlier are like such) but figured I was getting too wordy. Damn, who needs zombies when the real life versions of things are ten times as scary as anything Hollywood can whip up!

    Funny you mentioned the cheek biting as a form of minor autosarcopagy. I actually have that though I'm not chewing holes through my face. Just a nervous tick I guess. But the type I mentioned was extreme and people were doing just that. I think one guy even ate his leg or arm or something. I'll try and find the book next time I get to the bookstore.

    I also like the idea of seizures and zombies.'re giving me ideas.

    And speaking of nanotechnology an mind control, you should really read my shitty zombie apocalypse story that's very akin to that situation. Inquire monthly, it should be done by next decade.

    Also, I didn't catch that Jesse Ventura episode. I did watch the one where they were talking about the Bilderberg Group and found it a little too paranoid for my taste. I'm not very anti-government if you catch me. I'd rather be the one in the lab creating the zombies! Mwahahahaha!!!!

  16. Grim;
    I agree. I did a little experiment on here to get people to do remote viewing at Montauk. What I picked up myself was really impressive and it was sort of...along those lines.

    I might right zombie short stories now and then, but I don't plan on doing novels about them because I'm more of a gothic horror writer, so please feel free to use the seizures. Study up on encephalopathy and you'll learn features like photophobia and phonophobia (sensitivity to sound). Following a seizure, there's a postictal state so it would appear to a person viewing the zombie-to-be that they would die, no vital signs, then a seizure would occur. That would make them think life came back. The zombie would have a postictal period where he's a bit slow and disoriented. If encephalopathy is involved, he could become violent and be hard to subdue. He would seem to be in pain (headaches) so moaning would be feasible. It sounds like you really have a super handle on the zombie thing. This whole post was kind of to keep people who think about zombies to begin to think...what would it be like if we made them--how? Instead of just pulling the old zombie lines we used to like radiation did it or in Last Man On Earth--viruses did it...we have to ask what their flesh would be like, their needs, their weaknesses, their mental capacity...You are doing all of that. Bravo! Can't wait to ready your stuff.

  17. Your last comment on writing a book on their needs etc. reminded me of a recent book I read and loved called Breathers. It is a rom/zom/com. A romantic zombie comedy. It is told from the zombie's perspective and goes into great detail about the zombie's needs and desires and what drives the zombie. It's wonderful.

  18. Jessica; You are soooo interesting! I love your zest for zombies. I'm thrilled whenever I meet people who are quirky and interesting. I think that's why I love the blog world. I live in a very upper middle class yuppie area of town and folks in AZ are rather conservative and behind the times, and I long to find "my people." I see myself as kind of an educated eco-weenie with an organic farm in Oregon wearing sandals and doing oil paintings along a stream... You sound like just my kind of buddy! Even though I write horror romance and erotic romance, I never imagined doing a zombie point of view. That's really intriguing. You think about it and if the intellect is gone, what's left are the basic survival needs; food, water, procreation, and sleep. This is so fun to do conjecture about. I could continue this conversation for days!

  19. You are interesting too! I love your posts. I've really enjoyed following your blog. I also live in a pretty conservative area and when I tell most people that I love zombies they look at me like I have lobsters crawling out of my nose. It's good to meet someone who is quirky too. It seems like you write a lot. Is any of your stuff published? Could I read it? Do you go to any writer's conferences?

  20. Hey Jessica;
    Birds of a feather, for sure!

    I used to write romance but then realized I really should be writing horror because I'm all about psychology and atmosphere, so I switched over and everything clicked. Every experience of my life makes it an obvious choice for me. I do write a lot. It flows out of me like I'm channeling because I found my niche. I'd advise most writers to really consider their basic life exposures and influences and write from that. I grew up in a very romantic atmosphere, lost of emotional turmoil, a haunted house, and skills from reading objects, so what I write is a combination of these things. I only just started submitting things again. I wrote short stories in October on my blog and people reacted so well that I decided to start sending my writing in and, well, so far the majority are getting published. Not bad. I just had a short story in the magazine "Creepy Queen"'s January issue. It was the only short story, so I was honored. It was called "Cave Dwellers." You'd find it in my backlog of blog posts from October on the 27th. In fact, that whole month I did a lot of short stories. I even did some mad-lib ones where I asked different followers to offer a place, a creature and a location. It was fun trying to tie them together in a story. In October, I also submitted a short story for Travel Channel's "Ghost Adventures" called "Evil Walks The Halls" to promote their Halloween special at Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. That was on October 19th post. I'm having a short story about a werewolf posted on the 28th on Flashes in the dark site. I'm just now finishing an erotic horror novella and another romantic horror novella. I have a set of novels for a series that are romantic horror that I hope to finish editing and get sent off. It's a team of paranormal researchers and there's a budding romance between two members so it kind of hooks people into wanting to read the whole series where they study ghosts in one, UFOs another, Bigfoot another, et cetera. It's ambitious. I need to quit my day job so I can get this done. I'm efficient, but even I know my limits.