Health: Life Hacks – Zombies Don’t Wear Helmets.
With Halloween around the corner and Outbreak Festival Limerick 2012 kicking off next weekend, I thought it was time to look at the threats posed to you and I by zombies, and how to prevent our demise by minding our brains.
Your brain is the product of billions of years of evolution. It has evolved from those first brains that crawled onto land, through to the creatures that grew fur instead of scales, and onto the social brain that we and primates share. This social brain allows us carry out complex tasks, learn and plan, and, most uniquely, it allows us to be self-aware.
While it’s a challenging task to isolate just one possible cause of zombification in a brain as complex as ours, it’s worth looking at a number of particular behaviours and extrapolating what damage in particular could have caused them.
Lack of social awareness
Much of what makes us ‘human’ is performed in our prefrontal cortex. It is the social response and awareness centre; it helps us see things from others’ point of view, as well as regulating our responses. One particularly fine example of how damage to this area affects us is the tale of Eadweard Muybridge, who was thrown from a horse and carriage and used his forehead to stop his fall. Afterwards he stopped bathing and grew increasingly eccentric, going as far as to shoot a man he believed to be having an affair with his wife. After shooting the man, he calmly stepped over the body to where the dead man’s wife stood crying, and was perplexed as to why the woman was upset.
So, as zombies seem to have very little social awareness, embarrassment or awareness of how they might smell or look, we can reasonably conclude that their prefrontal cortices are fried.
Poor motor control and emotional outbursts
Zombies are not known for calm, rational responses to stimulus. Set off a car alarm and watch them freak out. This would probably indicate damage to a central region in the brain.
Close to the middle of your brain lies the limbic system and basal ganglia. I suspect that typically, zombies will have serious atrophy at this site. Firstly, the limbic system is the control centre for emotion in your life; it is a central arc containing the hippocampus which stores memories (zombies rarely remember their phone number), the amygdala which controls fear reaction (zombies fear nothing), along with the septum which controls aggression (zombies are easily angered).
Zombies have a selection of problems with carrying out fine motor tasks. Door knobs seem to be the first line of defence against the undead, as they lack the coordination to twist AND push. Right next to the limbic system is the basal ganglia, which is the fine tuning system for movement. Damage here could result in jerky, uncontrolled movements. It’s also likely that cerebellum damage at the base of the brain results in that slow, wide-legged shuffle that zombies seem so prone to, while the fast/slow zombie differences may be due to differing rates of decay in these two regions, or the exact mechanism of action of the zombie infection.
Zombies by and large are people of few words, like ould fellas that hang out outside pubs before opening hours. Groans seem to convey everything. Pretty much like living with a teenager. Damage to the side of the head and brain may result in lesions to Broca’s area which is the speech production centre, so while zombies may have the right words to express themselves, they lack the control to articulate them… exactly like teenagers.
Why do zombies crave brains? While this mystery may yet be beyond science (we lack test subjects to do placebo controlled, double blind taste tests), I have a hypothesis of my own!
Brains are bathed in a neurotransmitter called glutamate. You might recognize this from MSG (monosodium glutamate) that takeaway food is full of. That glutamate might make brains particularly tasty. I theorize this from studies of the remains of mice that my cat deposits all over the place, intact but for missing heads.
So, all this, if nothing else, should convince you to start wearing a helmet when cycling. Your brain is far too tasty to risk damaging it.