Ask a librarian anything I probably don’t know the answer, but I know where to find it

390

Giselle: There’s been a lot of talk lately about zombies and it’s all got me kind of worried. I need to know: Are zombies real or not?

The librarian: Yes…there has been a lot of talk lately about zombies, including among academics. In fact, a quick search of the UNB Worldcat database reveals 426 peer-reviewed articles about zombies, many of which were published in the past decade (by the way, “peer-reviewed” means that other scholars evaluated the article before it was published to ensure that it met certain scholarly standards).

I also found 1760 books in the library’s catalogue with the Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) “Zombies” (by the way, LCSH can help you find more relevant results). So this is clearly a hot topic among academics. It’s so hot in fact that the University of Baltimore is now offering a course about zombies that promises, among other things, to “get you ready for the zombie apocalypse.”

But are zombies real or not? Let’s see what the academic literature has to say: I managed to find a couple of articles in the Journal of Consciousness Studies that suggest that zombies *might* be real. The first article, “Conversations with zombies,” by T. Moody (February 1994) concludes with the line “we might, after all, be zombies,” but by zombies he means people that appear to be intelligent but that have no internal experience of consciousness and he’s definitely not talking about the kind of zombies that moan and bite people. The other article, “Yes, we are zombies, but we can become conscious,” by C. T. Tart (April 1995) says pretty much the same thing—what a misleading article title!

R. Kirk points out in “The inconceivability of zombies,” (Philosophical Studies, 2008) that “many physicalists agree that zombies are conceivable—even in a strong sense—but disagree that conceivability entails possibility” (73) and then he goes on to argue that “zombies are not conceivable in any sense strong enough for the conceivability argument” (74).

One of the best sources I found was Braaaiiinnnsss!: From Academics to Zombies (University of Ottawa Press, 2011) by Robert Smith. Smith declares that “ultimately, a zombie uprising in an absurd concept. It’s an inversion of all the natural laws…” (6). This doesn’t stop him, however, from suggesting that, of all the theories about how a zombie uprising could occur, “space radiation really does fit the facts best” (6).

The vast majority of the sources I found agree that zombies are not real and that it’s extremely unlikely that they ever will be real. It’s interesting though that most of the academics who have weighed in on this issue are not scientists. In fact, an awful lot of them are philosophers. I’m not sure what that says about philosophy, but I wanted to consult a scientific source so I turned to the USA government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for help. I discovered that an entire section of their website is devoted to “Zombie Preparedness” (see http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies.htm) and that they invite people to “join the CDC Zombie Task Force.”

It turns out that this is all tongue-in-cheek and that the site’s real purpose is to encourage and help people to prepare for real disasters. A spokesperson for the CDC wrote to The Huffington Post earlier this year that the “CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms).”

So, there you have it, zombies are not real. I’m glad you didn’t ask me whether vampires are real or not. That question is a lot more difficult to answer.