The living dead are a recurrent feature of many supernatural belief systems and can be found in just about every culture and as far back as history can be traced. For example, early Egyptian religion was characterized by obsession with the afterlife. The origins of such universal beliefs are arguably a feature of the way that young children reason about death. The concept of death is one that children struggle to understand and this may explain why various studies have shown that toddlers are inclined to afterlife beliefs. For example, my colleague Jesse Bering studied this in a 2004 study where he told kindergarten children about a mouse that had been killed and eaten by an alligator. The children agreed that the mouse was dead, but they thought the mind was still active. Such dualism of body and mind allows for the afterlife in the form of ghosts and spirits.
In contrast, zombies are the earth-bound animated bodies of the dead. In SuperSense, I discuss another universal belief in the rejuvenating powers of consuming flesh and the body of others. Not only is this evident in certain religious rituals but certain secular practices of absorbing the vitality of others is not uncommon in today’s society. Zombies apparently need to eat brains to keep, ‘staying alive.’ Such beliefs makes for great cultural horror stories, of which vampires are probably the most popular.
Of course, we scientists, could be wrong. The living dead or zombies may really exist and we need to be observant. Thankfully, there are people out there willing and prepared to defend us from zombie attacks. Last week, motorists were alerted to an outbreak of zombies on the motorway. The motorway signs warned drivers of zombies ahead thereby averting a disaster. Without the quick wits of such people we may be caught off guard by the legions of the undead.
And what about our leaders? Are they prepared to protect us from the undead? I know that everyone thinks that President Obama is much better than the last guy but at least Bush recognized the problem of zombie attacks.