by Lev Lafayette
The Undead have a very special place in the human psyche. Across time and culture there is all sorts of stories of who the undead are, where they come from, whether the undead takes the form of an incorporeal spirit like a ghost, or has a physical bodes, like various forms of vampires. Whatever approach is taken, it is something that was definitely dead, but whose corpus, spirit, or both, is now present again.
The following lengthy article is not meant to be any sort of consistent approach to the matter of the undead. It is simply a collection of mythologies and even scientific facts that should be mined as a resource for GMs, especially those who prefer to have engage in a real-world settings, whether with a sense of magical realism, historic fantasy, or even otherworldly conspiracies.
There is a body of evidence (see what I did there?) that suggests a range of ancient deities associated with a birth-death-rebirth cycle. The ancient Egyptian Osiris was one of the first, associated appropriately as the god of the afterlife, the underworld, and the dead, but also as the god of transition, resurrection, and regeneration.
In the Osiris myth he starts as an early King of Egypt, with a lineage stretching back to the creation of the world by Ra (Atum). The queen and sister is Isis (yeah, they went there), and his brother was Set. They were all the children of the earth god Geb and sky goddess Nut.
Set gets annoyed with Osiris for a variety of reasons; early texts say it was because Osiris kicked him, later texts is because he and Nephthys are getting it on. Nephthys, by the way, was Set's consort and the fourth child of Geb and Nut. Yes, that's right, the younger sister.
In any case, Set gets it into his head to knock Osiris off and get to rule on his throne. How he did this is subject to some debate. Some sources says that he turned into a crocodile or bull and did his brother in whilst in such a form - a lycanthrope! Later texts seem to settle in the idea that Set chopped Osiris's body into pieces and scattered them across Egypt - symbolically forty two pieces (one for each province) was a popular number, making the god the literal embodiment of the Kingdom, with a body part claimed for cult centres.
Isis decided that it was time to put the pieces back together, and goes looking for them with Nephthys. After various trails and tribulations she gets everything together, with the help of other deities, including Thoth, who with his awesome magical and healing powers, and Anubis, the god of embalming and funerary rites, turn Osiris into the first mummy, and they restore his body to life.
However, there was a slight problem: they were missing his dick. I kid you not. So Isis fashions one out of gold, sticks it on the body, casts a spell that wakes Osiris up (“blows life into him”, you know), and gets herself pregnant through the golden penis that shoots a lightning bolt. Note that according to some texts Isis does this whilst in the form of a bird, because that's what she was doing at the time whilst searching for the bits of her brother-husband-king. I swear, if this is ever made into a film...
Osiris dies again, and goes off to rule Duat, the realm of the dead. Isis gives birth to Horus (no, she doesn't lay an egg), who eventually defeats Set after a series of battles and, being ancient Egyptians, various acts of sexual dominance against each other. Without going into the details, Horus wins, or at the worst, they split Egypt up. But the main thing to remember in reference to the undead: Osiris is the first mummy and has a golden penis that shoots lightning bolts. Never forget that.
The Ancient Hellenes had a bunch of characters that were demigods, children of gods, or immortals. In particular there was a few heroic mortals who died and attained immortality after being resurrected, because being a hero and reaching immortality was a big deal to the old Greeks.
Asclepius is one well-known example, starting life as the son of a mortal woman named Coronis and the god Apollo, and most certainly not a neighbour or anything like that. Apollo, who was not exactly famous for his fidelity, was nevertheless a jealous patriarch and decided to have Coronis killed for being unfaithful. Jeez, those Greek gods were arseholes.
Coronis gets thrown onto a funeral pyre, which is set alight, and then decides this is the opportune moment to go into labour. In what appears a line-ball situation, Apollo intervenes at the last moment as Coronis is being burnt alive in childbirth and cuts the unborn child out of her womb.
Apollo then gives the child to the centaur Chiron, who raises and instructs Asclepius in the medical arts. Asclepius eventually surpasses even Apollo in this skill to the point that he was able to bring the recently deceased back from the dead, including Hippolytus, son of Theseus. That apparently annoyed Zeus - and he had his brother Hades on his back who was complaining that if this Asclepius kept up his work there would be no more dead spirits in the underworld.
So Zeus smacked Asclepius with a thunderbolt. This angered Apollo who in turn killed the Cyclopes, who made the thunderbolts for Zeus. In return, Zeus banished Apollo from the night sky and after a while revived the Cyclopes, and Asclepius was revived and became a star constellation and a deity in his own right.
Dionysus is known as the god of wine and winemaking, of madness, theatre, and religious ectasy. But how he got there involves multiple resurrection stories. The first is yet another Greek story of conflagaration and the male gods "sowing their seeds". His mother was the mortal Semele, and the father was Zeus. Whilst Semele was pregnant Hera found out about Zeus' indiscretions and paid Semele a visit, befriending her, and causing her to doubt that the father was really Zeus. Her work done, Semele demanded that Zeuss reveal himself in his godly splendour - which under duress he did, and Semele promptly combusted, because that's what happens when look upon an god that's coated in lightning bolts.
As she burnt to a crisp, Zeuss pulled the unborn Dionysus out her womb (there's a lot of that going on) and stiched him into his thigh, where presumably he kept a spare womb for such emergencies. A few months later he is born, received the the nickname "of two-mothers".
The Cretan version of the myth is even more hardcore. In this instance, Hera decides to use the Titans to lure the infant Dionysus away with toys, and having done so, tear him apart and eat time. Zeus turns up and, being pissed off in a manner that only the king of the gods can be, smites them all with lightning bolts. He then picks up the still beating heart of Dionysus, the only thing that remains of him, and sticks that in his thigh.
Note that it is possible that both these stories are "true" if they happened in sequence - meaning that Dionysus would have been born twice to three mothers, with Zeuss getting the job twice. Just as well he had that spare womb in his thigh.
The Norse god Balr is particularly well known through the Völuspá, the first poem in the Poetic Edda. Being the sort of woeful Cassandra that he was, he dreamt of his own death first, but so did his mother, Frigg, showing that a madness shared becomes a sanity.
Frigg, being the sort of mother who would do anything for her son, made every object swear to never to hurt Baldr. Surprisingly, all objects made this vow except mistletoe, which was considered too young to make such a contract. Frigg probably should have gone back to mistletoe, because having an Achilles Heel like that is going to bite you.. And it did.
Loki found out about this, and being the sort of prick that he was, he made a magical spear (or arrow) from this plant and gave it to Baldr's blind brother Hoor, where the gods were engaging in the new favourite pastime of chucking stuff at Baldr which would bounce of harmlessly. In many ways, you can see, they weren't much better than Loki. Anyway the inevitable happened, and so began a succession of events that led to Ragnarok, when a multitude of gods are killed, there is a succession of natural disasters, and the destruction of the world - the sun becomes black, the earth sinks into the sea, the stars vanish, steam rises, and flames touch the heavens. Quite an effort there.
So after all this, the earth reappears from the water, Hoor and Baldr return from Hel and everyone lives happily ever after. The end.
"And the Lord will send a plague on all the nations that fought against Jerusalem. Their people will become like walking corpses, their flesh rotting away. Their eyes will rot in their sockets. Their tongues will rot in their mouths."
Appropriate for a games such as the d20 supplement Testament, or any number of angels versus demons games that were particularly popular in the late 1990s (e.g., In Nomine, Heaven and Earth, Rapture: The End of Days), is the use of the undead within the Judeo-Christian tradition. The biblical quote is pretty explicit. Are there there are a few more suggestions that the dead will walk the earth? You betcha.
Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.
You have to hand it to Isaiah, that's pretty sound advise under the circumstances.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Well the dead will definitely awake, although some will be embarrassed about the things they did a thousand or so years beforehand. Embarrassed zombies, think over that one for a while.
If anything it's just about zombies, even those who regain some of their intellect, think again. There's vampires to worry about as well, and is their want, they prey primarily among those who won't be noticed when they're gone.
There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind.
It's certainly not just the "Old Testament" either.
Unsurprisingly, some ask whether vampirism is such a good idea.
And said, “Far be it from me before my God that I should do this. Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men? For at the risk of their lives they brought it.” Therefore he would not drink it. These things did the three mighty men.
1 Chronicles 11:19
There is, of course, references to time-dependent points where the dead rise.
The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.
Surprisingly, few thought that the world was going to face any sort of apocalypse in the year 1000 CE, as even most literate people used a regnal years system (e.g., the forth year of Jarl Olaf Tryggvason of Norway). There were a few medieval historians who knew different however - and they were very worried. It's a rich source of terror for historical-fantasy gamers; what if they were right?
But maybe some of these walking dead will be friendly.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
Ah, walking dead saints. You mean, high level former clerics that have come back. What could possibly go wrong? Well sometimes you need to get advice from ghosts.
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
Contrary to popular opinion advocated by jokers on the Internet around Easter time, Jesus was definitely not a zombie. He was certainly not mindless, rotting, and to use the popular vernacular, nor did he want to consume brains (perhaps he wanted to consume minds or souls, at least metaphorically). Arguably Jesus could have been a ghoul, because one supposes he could have caused paralysis by touch, although as far as the Scriptures say, there is no mention of an graveyard stench. We can immediately rule out all the incorporeal undead, such as ghosts, wights etc because after the resurrection the wounds were present.
You know where this is heading. A king of kings, a former powerful magic-user, who still bares the wounds of their supposed mortality, and is themselves capable of raising the dead. Jesus was a lich.
In 2014, Drents Museum of the Netherlands conducted a CT scan of one of its Buddhist monk statues and found a mummified Buddhist monk inside it. According to the experts, the mummy was that of Buddhist master Liuquan, who had died around 1100AD. Another CT scan and endoscopy revealed Liuquan's internal organs had been removed and replaced with scripts covered in Chinese writing, presumably an early form of software virtualisation to replace hardware components.
But gamers know better than that. This is actually a 18th-level mummy-monk who will kick your arse to enlightenment and back again. Worse still, there's more than one of them.
Buddhist mummification, is a quite extraordinary practise and sometimes carried out as self-mummification (sokushinbutsu). The story is that in the Japanese version monks caused their own death by adhering to a wood-eating diet made up of salt, nuts, seeds, roots, pine bark, and urushi tea. They were then buried alive in a pine-wood box full of salt connected by a tube for air and would ring a bell signaling they were alive. The self-mummification of a Tibetan monk, who died ca. 1475, was acheived through a combination of meditation, prolonged starvation, and slow self-suffocation using a special belt that connected the neck with his knees in a lotus position.
As another example, in Thailand the body of Luang Pho Daeng is still on display; complete with sunglasses. He died in 1973 whilst meditating.
There are hundreds of known cases of these mummy-monks. What if they get sufficiently annoyed with something that they get up? Perhaps it is just as well that they have reached Buddha-hood. With no attachment to the world, nothing that happens will sufficiently upset them to the point where they rise to action.
Which is why some Buddhists claim that these monks are not actually dead, but rather in a deep meditative trance known as “tukdam”.
To put it bluntly, Robert Cornish (1903-1963) was a reanimator, a modern day necromancer if you like. A brilliant student who graduated with honours from the University of California at the age of 18, and received his doctorate at 22. In 1932 he became interested in the idea of reviving the dead, initially by using a teeter-board to encourage blood-flow in the recently deceased, effectively by placing the corpse on a see-saw. CPR techniques were not well known until the 1950s, and as you can imagine trying to get blood to circulate via a see-saw was not going to the most successful process. Still, one can not help but be impressed by such efforts.
After failures on human subjects from a variety of causes – and apparently trying every folk tale technique that was known - he began to experiment on dogs, eventually reaching a degree of success with forced circulation mixed with injections of epinephrine and anticoagulants. Antivivisectionists and the University had some problems with Dr. Cornish's fiendish plans and closed down his laboratory, forcing him to further his experiments at home (don't try this at home readers).
After the success on dogs, humans began to contact Cornish who was very interested in expanding his work. In the late 1940s, an application was received from a death-row inmate, Thomas H. McMonigle. A major problem was the inmate was to be executed by poison gas, and the corpse was normally left in situ for some hours. "He wants me to bring him back to life after his execution, in the interest of science.", said the ever-factual Dr. Cornish. But ultimately it is believed that Californian law enforcement refused the application on the concern that a reanimated murderer would be freed under "double jeopardy". If executed murderers could walk the streets again an hour after execution the supposed punishment deterrent would be somewhat lessened.
Dr. Cornish was also a practicing Roman Catholic, which led to some debate among leaders of that body about what they thought of the resurrection of dogs and murderers. In his final years he lived in a tin shack in Berkeley, having marketed a dentifrice, made a steam-resistant paint, and dealt in war surplus goods.
You might think that would be the end of it. After all bringing dogs back to life after death is one thing, but even after a few minutes one would expect that there would be some brain damage and the longer the corpse was left to lie, the more serious it would be. Dr. Cornish's dogs were revived, but let's just say they weren't bouncing around and narking.
Surely nobody would continue these experiments in reanimation ….
Behringer, W. et al. (2003). Survival without brain damage after clinical death of 60-120 mins in dogs using suspended animation by profound hypothermia. Critical Care Medicine, 31(5), 1523-31.
My Mother was a Zombie?
In 2014 a clinically dead woman who was pregnant was being kept alive against her family's wishes. How could such a situation arise? Ah well, it was Ireland, a country famous or notorious - depending on your point of view - for being the only democratic state with a constitutional ban on abortion (the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1983, was carried by referendum with 67% in favour).
In what became known as PP vs HSE, Ireland's High Court had to decide about what to do about zombie mothers. The facts were as follows: On November 27 2014 a woman in early pregnancy was admitted to hospital with nausea and headaches. Two days latter, she fell over and was unresponsive. By December 3, she was declared brain dead. At this stage she was fourteen weeks pregnant. She was then placed on life support.
The woman's family had to battle the issue through the High Court who, at least to some credit, were relatively quick about the issue. After being on life support for three weeks on December 26, 2014, they decided that the life support machine could be turned off.
None of the seven doctors who gave evidence at the case argued that life support should continue, nor did there was any prospect that the child would be born intact.
Meanwhile the woman's condition was deteriorating, as her brain rotted away. There was an open head wound and several infections, and there were concerns that the drugs being administered to the brain-dead-woman, would be affecting the unborn child.
In the case, an attempt was made to argue that the Irish language version of the Article 40.3.3 claimed that the State had an obligation to ensure the right to life "as far as possible". The Court however argued that that the prospects for a successful delivery of a live baby in this case "are virtually non-existent", and that the obligation meant that protection must not be "futile, impractical, or ineffective".
Of course, it could have gone the other way - and a drug-addled damaged child could have been born of a zombie mother. Now surely that would be super-villain potential.
We're Actually All Psychic Zombies Time-Travellers
A fascinating study by Adam Bear and Paul Bloom from Yale University has suggested that our brains seem to rewrite history so that the choices we make after an event seem to precede it. Why would we do such a thing? Because it generates a sense that we can predict things that in reality have already happened.
The experiment consisted of subjects viewing white circles and guessing which ones would turn red. The reported accuracy was 20% higher than chance, suggesting either a surprising level of psychic capability among the volunteers or they had tricked themselves (it is not uncommon, of course, for psychics to trick themselves - and other people).
So the next step was to vary the rate of change between the circles changing colour. Interestingly, the reported accuracy was the highest when the delays were the shortest.
Adam Bear and Paul Bloom at Yale University conducted some simple tests on volunteers. In one experiment, subjects looked at white circles and silently guessed which one would turn red. Once one circle had changed colour, they reported whether or not they had predicted correctly.
It seems that that we perceive the order of events correctly but then subconsciously swap the sequence in our memories so the prediction seems to come first. Or, in a similar manner, our brains confuse events and time, making more significant errors in this perception between event and prediction when the time frame is shortest.
It could be that we're psychics, whose ability to predict the future is greatest when when that time-frame is smallest. Or that we're time-travellers, who can journey at best into the very near future and snap-back to the right time to make a correct predictive choice. Or we're zombies, who despite our best intentions, have a brain that rewires our sense of perception to make us feel that we've made the right prediction.
Adam Bear, Paul Bloom, "A Simple Task Uncovers a Postdictive Illusion of Choice", Psychological Science April 28, 2016 0956797616641943
Zombification and Mind Control in the Small World
Various parasites alter the behaviour of their hosts in destructive ways. They effectively turn them into zombies. It should be a relatively easy task for GMs to think of ways to convert these little horrors into effective undead for one's roleplaying game.
The female jewel wasp is the first example, with a way of ensuring that their children have plenty to eat. First they find a cockroach and inject a toxin that paralyzes its front legs. Then it strikes again, hitting part of the cockroach brain that determines movement. Unable to move and effectively zombiefied, the cockroach is dragged into a burrow, and the wasp eggs injected into it. Once hatched, the wasp larva will spend several days consuming the wasp, before converting its body in a pupa shell. A month later it will emerge, and the wonderful cycle of nature will continue.
Direct Injection of Venom by a Predatory Wasp into Cockroach Brain
Gal Haspel, Lior Ann Rosenberg, Frederic Libersat, Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience and Department of Life Sciences, Ben-Gurion University, Beer-Sheva, Israel
Females of the Costa Rican wasp (what is it with these wasps?) Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga lay their eggs on the abdomens of unlucky orb spiders called Plesiometa argyra. The wasp larva effectively drugs the spider, leading it to build a new type of web. This web is designed to support the cocoon that the wasp larva will build after it has killed and eaten the spider.
Under the Influence: webs and building behavior of plesiometa argyra (araneae, tetragnathidae) when parasitized by hymenoepimecis argyraphaga (hymenoptera, ichneumonidae)
William G. Eberhard, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Escuela de Biología, Universidad de Costa Rica, Ciudad Universitaria, Costa Rica.
Journal of Arachnology 29(3):354-366. 2001
"Enough of wasps", gentle readers cry, "I am freaked out enough already". OK then, how about flukes? Not so lucky?
The lancet liver fluke lives inside various grazing animals, unsurprisingly in the liver. When it lays its eggs, they make their way to the world through the animal's defecation. Certain snails, being what they are, think that cowshit tastes awesome and eat the eggs. Which then hatch inside the snail (oops).
The snail, understandably disliking this turn of events, creates a cyst around the nearly-hatched parasite and coughs them up in a mucus-covered spitball. These flukes know how to party.
The parasitic slimeballs are then eat by some particularly daft ants. They flukes make their way through the ants system, eventually finding the brain. They then use their awesome fluke-mind-control powers to zombify the ant, and cause to seek the highest blades of grass it can find, where it will stay motionless ... until a grazing animal comes a long, and the beautiful cycle of nature continues.
Behavioral and Morphological Changes in Carpenter Ants Harboring Dicrocoeliid Metacercariae
W Patrick Carney, American Midland Naturalist (1969), Volume: 82, Issue: 2, Pages: 605-611
Following a similar trajectory, the fluke euhaplorchis californiensis begins its life in the ocean-dwelling horn snail. From there they produce larvae that swim around estuaries and salt marshes looking for killifish. Once a victim has been located it makes its way to the fish's brain, where it attaches itself as a cyst causes the killifish to become obvious as possible - swimming close the surface, jumping around and so forth - making it a very attractive target to wading birds.
When healthy killifish fish is stressed, it produces serotonin from the raphe nuclei region of the brain. The parasite larvae block that response, causing lower serotonin in the hippocampus, while boosting dopamine in the hypothalamus. The result? A fish full of energy that makes every effort to get caught by motion-sensing predators. Once the killifish is swallowed, the flukes can hook up in the belly of the bird, their eggs are released back into the water in the bird's droppings to be eaten by horn snails and start the cycle anew.
Ain't nature grand?
Shaw et al, Parasite manipulation of brain monoamines in California killi?sh (Fundulus parvipinnis) by the trematode Euhaplorchis californiensis, Proceedings of the Royal Society doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.1597
Of course, all this isn't quite the same thing as being undead. But it is mind-control. If you really want to get into zombie-behaviour there's nothing like the South American phorid fly and their fire ant victims. The much smaller fly lands on the ant and injects its eggs into the ant's body.
The egg hatches, burrows its way into the ant's head makes its new home. For several weeks it makes a meal of the ant's brain, compels it to leave the colony (so it doesn't get attacked by other fire ants), and eventually decapitates the ant, and "hatches" from the decapitated head.
(Image from National Geographic, May 2009)
Three Cases of Zombification
In 1997 The Lancet provides a short, but fascinating study, entitled 'Clinical findings in three cases of zombification'.
Prof Roland Littlewood, Chavannes Douyon, MD, "Clinical findings in three cases of zombification", The Lancet, Volume 350, No. 9084, p1094–1096, 11 October 1997
These are literal example of zombification, following the that were reported to have taken place in Haiti. The example zombies, identified by their initials, died, were buried, and then were noticed by others. The article begins by noting that the the Haitian Penal Code (Article 246) considers zombification to the equivalent of murder, explaining that Haitians are typically not buried but encassed in above-ground tombs. According to the authors, zombie cultural tradition argues that the person consists of their body, the animating principle, and agency. The process of control is described as follows:
"In zombification, the latter is retained by the sorcerer [boko], usually in a fastened bottle or earthenware jar where it is known as the zombi astral The animated body remains without will or agency as the zombi cadavre, which becomes the slave of the boko and works secretly on his land or is sold to another boko for the same purpose. In Haiti, the term is also used in metaphor to refer to extreme passivity and control by another."
From the three examples, FI was approximately thirty years old when they died and were buried in the family tomb next to their house. Three years later they were recognised by a friend and relatives, wandering near the village. The friends and relatives accused the husband of zombifying here. A local court authorised the opening of her tomb, which was full of stones. FI was admitted to a psychiatric institution and diagnosed was diagnosed with catatonic schizophrenia.
WD was the eldest son of an alleged former 'tonton macoute' (secret policeman) under the Duvaliers’ regime. At 18, he suddenly became ill at died three days later and was buried. Almost two years later he was at cockfight, and recognised his father, accusing him of zombifying him. WD was diagnosed with epilepsy and “organic brain syndrome”, whatever that's supposed to be. Perhaps having an organic brain is unusual in Haiti.
The third example, MM, was the younger sister of our principal informant. At the age of 18, MM had joined some friends in prayers for a neighbour who had been zombified. However, she herself then became ill and she died in a few days. The family suspected revenge sorcery. Thirteen years later, MM, reappeared at the town market and had been kept as a zombi in a village a hundred miles north, having born a child to another zombie (zombies can breed!). With the death of the sorcerer, their son released MM from bondage and she made her way home.
The authors conclude that the most probable explanation for these three cases is mistaken identity and wandering individuals with mental illnesses. However the conclusion also suggests that possibility of rapid and incorrect burial, with bodies stolen by boko, and then the repeat use of Datura stramonium to control the “deceased person”. This particular approach has been suggested in a number of publications, for example in reference to Clairvius Narcisse, who had been turned into a zombie in such a fashion.
Kao, C.Y., and T. Yasumoto, 1986, "Tetrodotoxin and the Haitian zombie." Toxicon, 24:747–749.
Kao, C.Y., and T. Yasumoto, 1990, "Tetrodotoxin in 'zombie powder.'" Toxicon, 28:29–132.
A group of authors, one with the interesting surname "Smith?" (yes, with the question mark), mathematically modelled what was the most effective way of dealing with a zombie apocalypse. After explorations of the alternatives, the zombie utilsed in the study is the modern popular culture version; one of the living dead with an insatiable desire for human flesh. A zombie bite would leave an open wound and the mixing of zombie saliva and blood would lead to infection and transformation.
Applying statistical modelling, the basic model has been played out many times; there is a zombie outbreak and in a very short period of time the zombies overwhelm the "susceptibles". A quarantine model is proposed as an alternative, with the possible chance of a breach. Depressingly, this attempt with delay but not prevent the eventual takeover of the zombie horde.
An optimistic model explores the possibility of a cure for the zombie disease; however it is not one which provides immunity (i.e., a zombie becomes a susceptible). In this case the zombies still overwhelm the susceptibles, but do not completely destroy them as there is a sufficient number of zombies who are "cured" to keep the human population low, but relatively stable.
The final model proposes successive waves of attacks on the zombie horde, depending on resources, resulting in an impulsive effect. Striking early and striking with force rapidly reduces the zombie numbers and subsequent attacks must occur before the zombie popultion can grow again. With this approach the forces of humanity can defeat the zombie horde. In its conclusion the article states:
"An outbreak of zombies infecting humans is likely to be disastrous, unless extremely aggressive tactics are employed against the undead. While aggressive quarantine may eradicate the infection, this is unlikely to happen in practice. A cure would only result in some humans surviving the outbreak, although they will still coexist with zombies. Only sufficiently frequent attacks, with increasing force, will result in eradication, assuming the available resources can be mustered in time."
Phillip Munz, Ioan Hudea, Joe Imad, Robert J. Smith?
When Zombies Attack! Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection
Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress, pp113-150, 2009
Zombies are not, of course, the only one of the undead subject to a statistical analysis. In a multinational research paper, researchers from Ireland, the Czech Republic, Russia, and Germany reviewed the "intertemporal interactions between species based on differential equations", specifically vampires and humans. Mathematical models are provided with hindsight analysis that show the exponential growth rate of human populations. A brief historical account of vampires is provided, for a "predator and prey" population model. "The growth of
vampire population will be determined by the quality and quantity of interactions with humans." Vampire slayers are also introduced to the model. It is possible, using the Lotka-Volterra system, for a stationary situation, where the number of predators and prey reaches a stable number, allowing for the two species to co-exist.
Reviewing a variety of popular culture sources however, the researchers were pessmisitic of such co-existence. A Stoker-King model ("Dracula" and "Salem's Lot"), where killed humans return as vampires, leads to a situation where the human population would be defined as "critically endangered" after a mere 165 days. Elaborating from this, where vampires must feed and conversions are rare, the Rice model (Vampire Chronicles), the human population is also effectively wiped out however it takes 48.7 years.
A third scenario, the Harris-Meyer-Kostova model (based on Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, Charlaine Harris's "Sookie Stockhouse (Southern Vampire) series", the "True Blood" TV series and Elizabeth Kostova's "The Historian"), proposes a world where vampires (mostly) peacefully co-exist with humans. Vampires in this model do not need to feed or kill humans, and conversion is a difficult process. This may be the only manner in which the "Twilight" series has any degree of a plausible depiction of vampires, and even it is clearly by accident.
Wadim Strielkowski, Evgeny Lisin, and Emily Welkins, "Mathematical Models of Interactions between Species: Peaceful Co-existence of Vampires and Humans Based on the Models Derived from Fiction Literature and Films", Applied Mathematical Sciences, Vol. 7, 2013, no. 10, pp453-470
A Neuroscientific Approach to Zombies
Tim Verstynen and Brad Voytek are neuroscientists think that archetypical zombie behaviour can explained. In 'Do Zombies Dream of Electric Sheep? A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain' (http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10305.html), the the assistant professors of cognitive science provide details of the symptoms and causes of what they call 'Consciousness Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder' (CDHD).
The first issue is poor impulse control and violent behavious on the part of zombies. As a related matter, the zombie lacks the ability to have a 'flight or fight' response. According to the researchers, this is explicible from damage to neural circuits.
The second issue is that zombies have notoriously bad motor skills. They stumble about, they always look like they're about to fall, and they move very slowly. The argument goes tht they have damaged cerebellum, the small brain structure at the base the neck, which is coordination of muscular activity.
Thirdly, zombies aren't exactly known known for their verbal acumen. Talk to them and the seem confused. Often they are just able to mutter the object of their deepest desire: "Brains!". Evidentally zombies suffer from aphasia, unable to communicate and barely able to express their single and simple concepts. There is a variety of neurological causes which could suggest a variety of zombie minds!
Further, zombies struggle with facial recognition. People whom they have been close to for years may result in a confused moment of recognition until the desire for brains takes over. This suggest that zombies have a damaged fusiform face area of the brain, near the bottom of the neo-cortex, towards the back of the head.
But what is it with brains and their desire to chow down on the flesh of the living? Well, the researchers don't deal with that directly, but they do discuss hunger. There is, of course, a tight link between hunger and brain activity, and there are two chemicals that regulate hunger and satiation. If these are blocked or, then a person can suffer from constant ravenous behaviour.
Put it altogether, you have a collection of conditions that explain how the zombie virus transforms the human brain.
Don't Mourn, Organize!
Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in the Republic of India, and indeed, the most populous subdivision in the world with almsot two hundred million inhabitants. Like other parts of the world which have been known for poverty and a high population density, it has also had its fair share of corruption, especially involving what is a relatively and increasingly scare commodity that is a human necessity and in fixed supply; land.
In 1976 as a young man Lal Bihari applied for a bank loan. He visited the revenue office at its district headquarters, Azamgarh, to obtain a proof of identity and found that his application was rejected for one of the more unusual reasons - he was offically listed as 'dead'.
Following some investigations it was discovered that his uncle had bribed a government official to register him as dead, so that he would get the ownership of Bihari's ancestral land at Khalilabad, which measured less than an acre. Unsurprisingly incensed at his status, Bihari began the difficult process of undoing the error, facing a bureaucracy known for inefficiencies and corruption.
Taking the additional name Mritak (deceased) Bihari also discoverd that there was a number of other individuals in the same situation. Forming the Uttar Pradesh Mritak Sangh (Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People), they began to campaign for legal recognition that they were, in fact, alive. By 2004 the association had over 20,000 members throughout India, and had succeeded in having four members legally defined as alive - including Bihari who, after standing for election against the Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1989, was acknowledged as being alive in 1994. In 2003, Bihari was awarded the Ig Nobel Peace Award.
Also following the political path was Santosh Kumar Singh who had been declared dead for nine years before deciding to run for President. After moving to Mumbai, he fell in love and married a woman from a dalit (lower caste) family. Incensed relatives - the family was thakur (upper caste) - decided to teach Singh a lesson; they socially outcast them, then had him declared missing, and shortly afterwards, dead. Unsurprisingly, the relatives acquired his land and property. Would you be surprised that this also happened in Uttar Pradesh?
(image from Gulf News)
For gamers and other fiction writers whose setting involves the walking dead similar issues can arise, especially with those undead with effective cognition. It is perhaps unsurprising that vampires and liches are so powerful - if they were not their land and property would be seized by opportunistic relatives. But what if they were in an advanced industrialised democracy? Could a vampire stand up to a SWAT team? Or would they be driven from their crumbling gothic mansion?
Under such circumstances it is probable that they might need to begin a political campaign for legal rights and recognition. Rather like the unfortunate individuals in India who are among "the living dead".
"Azamgarh Journal; Back to Life in India, Without Reincarnation"
"Plight of the Living Dead"
“'Dead' man in India must prove he is alive”