Are We All Zombies?

In an episode of The Walking Dead, a zombie has its brain scanned.  The scan reveals that the brain stem, an important, but primitive basis of consciousness, is very much alive.  In this view, zombies have consciousness, and thus consciousness cannot be used to distinguish zombies from humans.  Although human beings have higher cortical functions than zombies, like zombies, we have little awareness of our brain’s activities.  Even worse, neuroscience submits conscious awareness can get in the way of high performance, as when a tennis player has to actively think about her strokes.  Finding ways to cope with the limits of human awareness, our inner zombies,  may be the greatest challenge for our times. And as climate change limits our attention to mere survival, what will being human mean?  In addition to “The Walking Dead,” we will explore such questions in works of literature (Blake, Mary Shelley, Ishiguro), philosophy (Hurley, Dennett), and neuroscience (Damasio, Ramachandran).

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