Zombies and Inverse Zombies

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

Classics from the zombie and inverse zombie research literature
Compiled by Alice S. Kaswell, Improbable Research staff

Zombi(e)s (1)
“The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombi,” E. Wade Davis, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 9, no. 1, November 1983, pp. 85–104. The author, at Harvard University, reports:

For many years students of Haitian society have suggested that there is an ethnopharmacological basis for the notorious zombies, the living dead of folklore. The recent surfacing of three zombies, one of whom may represent the first verifiable case, has focused scientific attention on the reported zombie drug.

Zombi(e)s (2)
“Preparation of the Haitian Zombi Poison,” E. Wade Davis, Botanical Museum Leaflets, Harvard University, 1983.

Zombies (3)
Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie, E. Wade Davis, University of North Carolina Press, 1988, ISBN 0807817767. The author explains:

Evidence suggests that zombification is a form of social sanction imposed by recognized corporate bodies--the poorly known and clandestine secret Bizango societies—as one means of maintaining order and control in local communities....

“Critically, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Of greater interest is the empirical observation that the bokor [the people who are doing the zombification] recognize the toxicity of these fish [puffer fish] and include them in the powders, and that at certain times of the year these fish contain a toxin known to have induced apparent death.”

(YouTube link)

Inverse Zombies
Inverse Zombies, Anesthesia Awareness, and the Hard Problem of Unconsciousness,” George A. Mashour, and Eric LaRock, Consciousness and Cognition, vol. 17, no. 4, December 2008, pp. 1163–68, DOI:10.1016/j.concog.2008.06.004. (Thanks to Lee Odkent for bringing this to our attention.)

The authors, who are respectively at University of Michigan Medical School and at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, explain:

Philosophical (p-) zombies are constructs that possess all of the behavioral features and responses of a sentient human being, yet are not conscious.... But what if we were to invert the characteristics of p-zombies? Such an inverse (i-) zombie would possess all of the behavioral features and responses of an insensate being, yet would nonetheless be conscious.

While p-zombies are logically possible but naturally improbable, an approximation of i-zombies actually exists: individuals experiencing what is referred to as “anesthesia awareness.” Patients under general anesthesia may be intubated (preventing speech), paralyzed (preventing movement), and narcotized (minimizing response to nociceptive stimuli). Thus, they appear—and typically are—unconscious....

The current investigation compares p-zombies to i-zombies and explores the “hard problem” of unconsciousness with a focus on anesthesia awareness.


This article is republished with permission from the January-February 2009 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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