Hello, and welcome to the Twilight Mystery Outer Science Limits 3000 Zone. I’m your host, Elvira Svenghoulie, and today we’re going to talk about…..braaaaaains………
No. That’s not true. It’s just me, Otter. And this is another of my famous(?) oddities. And today I’m going to talk about zombies. Specifically, why zombies can’t exist.
But before I can get into that, I need to explain what I mean by ‘zombie’. I’m not talking about the shuffling, moaning, creature that starts every morning by searching for coffee. Those are only zombie-like people. They suffer from a condition called Lackus-Ofsleepus. It’s a common condition found in people around the world, and is easily cured with caffeine. What I’m talking about are the walking dead. (Not the show or comic).
So, what is a zombie? In its simplest form, it’s a reanimated dead person. Depending on who you talk to, the corpses can be reanimated by several different means, such as magic, drugs, radiation, aliens, and more. For simplicity, (because when it comes to zombies, they aren’t as simple as you’d think), I’ve broken zombies down into 3 categories: VooDoo zombies, classic zombies, and modern Hollywood zombies.
VooDoo Zombies: These are the traditional zombies brought back by VooDoo priests to serve as slaves. Anecdotal accounts exist of actual VooDoo zombies. But these don’t count. Because a VooDoo zombie isn’t dead. The Bokor uses a drug, or mix of drugs, to render the victim comatose. The drugs also slow the heart rate and breathing down so it’s virtually undetectable. This causes people to think the victim is dead, so they bury them. The Bokor then digs up the ‘dead’ person and administers more drugs that removes the victims ability to think for themselves, and they use them as personal slaves. But since they aren’t dead, they don’t count as we won’t be discussing them any further.
Classic Zombies: These are the ones we all know and love. Someone dies, and after they’re dead, and I mean really dead, they come back to life. These are not smart creatures. They have one purpose only, and that’s to find, kill, and eat the living. They shuffle, they moan, they hold their arms out in front of them, and they don’t stop unless you destroy the brain. You know, the classic zombie. These are the focus of todays post.
Modern Hollywood Zombies: These can best be described as ‘fast zombies’. You may have seen them in movies like ‘World War Z’, and ‘28 Days Later’. Well, I have news for you; they aren’t zombies. The ‘zombies’ in 28 Days Later weren’t even dead. They were alive humans who had been infected with a virus causing them to become homicidal maniacs who wanted nothing more than to kill. Not dead? Not a zombie. And in World War Z, (don’t get me started on the difference between the book and the movie), The ‘zombies’ exhibited none of the classic zombie traits except for their desire to kill and eat the living. No, we won’t be talking about these stupid monsters they try to tell us are zombies.
So, let’s start by looking at how zombies are portrayed. Many of the movies and books don’t even bother trying to explain how zombies came to be, because it’s really difficult to come up with a plausible excuse for how the dead came back to life. But one thing they all agree on is, only their brains are vital to their existence. Somehow the core of the brain reactivates and allows for just basic functions. They can walk, but not well. They are limited to a slow shuffle. They are forced to swing their upper bodies to change directions when moving. A fast walking person could get away from one. They can see, but depending on the source, some can see better than others. But all have some form of vision as long as the eyes are intact. The same is for hearing and smell. They can vocalize, but only as moans.
They all have the same goal in their existence. To eat you. Some sources have them desiring brains, while others have them hungering for any living flesh. Either way, not my idea of an ideal dinner date. A zombie has a fixation on eating you, and it will not stop until it gets its feast, or until it’s dead.
The way you stop a zombie is to destroy its brain. None of its other organs matter. You can chop off a zombies head, and the body will lie motionless, but the head will still try to bite you. Chop it in half, and its arms will drag itself along the ground to try and get you. They don’t need to eat or drink. They don’t need to breathe. Submerge one in water and it will keep going. Seal it up, alone, in a crate for 10 years, and when you open it, it will try to eat you. You can only stop a zombie by destroying its brain.
So, let’s say a person dies, and then whatever makes a zombie reanimate springs into action and restarts that small part of the brain that controls the basic functions. So, they were dead, but now they aren’t. But they are. But when do they change from dead human to zombie? Because zombies eat the living, but not other zombies. And a common form of spreading the infection is to be bit by a zombie. So if a zombie grabs a living person and starts eating them, say in the belly, leaving the brain intact, the person will eventually die. And since the brain is intact, they will reanimate. But at what point does the zombie stop eating? The living has fluid, red, blood. Zombies have a thick, gooey, tar like substance. I’ll assume the zombie stops when the blood transforms.
At that point, the former living human then stands up and goes looking for its own meal. But how does it move? To walk, we need to contract our muscles in a coordinated fashion. Since a zombie brain is barely functioning, they lack coordination which explains the slow, rambling shuffle. But how do they contract their muscles? We do it by sending signals from our brains, through our nerves, to our muscles. The nerves in the muscles then cause them to contract and propel us forward. But to do that, the cells in the muscles need energy. And that energy comes in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate. (ATP).
ATP takes the energy we create by eating food and delivers it to where it needs to go to do certain tasks, like moving our muscles. It does this by feeding the cells a molecule of phosphate-oxygen. This transforms the ATP into ADP, and it’s energy is spent. Each cell has enough ATP already made for about 3 second of movement. So it needs to recharge. There are three ways of doing this. It can use the supply of creatine we have in each cell to make more ATP. Each cell holds enough creatine to make about 10 seconds worth of energy. It then turns to glucose. It transforms the supply of glucose into ATP. Each cell holds about 90 seconds worth of glucose. After that, it needs oxygen.
But wait, how do our cells get oxygen? Our hearts pump blood through our lungs, where it picks up oxygen, and then it flows throughout the body, delivering the oxygen to our cells. Now remember, zombies don’t breathe. They don’t even need lungs to exist. And they also don’t have blood. All their blood has transformed into a goo. And their hearts aren’t beating. So how do their cells get the oxygen they need? They don’t. They can’t. So, a recently reanimated zombie has less than two minutes of energy stored up before it needs oxygen to move. Once it runs out of ATP, it’s muscles stop moving. Which means, it’s dead again. It may still be conscious, but without energy, it can’t walk after you, it can’t grab you, and it most definitely can’t bite you. So, a worthless zombie.
But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that whatever transformation the zombie went through provides enough energy to keep its ATP production going.
After a person dies, within about 4 hours, rigor mortis sets in. This is caused by a transformation of chemicals in the muscles. Rigor mortis causes a persons body to go stiff for one to four days. Morticians have to manually loosen the joints, breaking the rigor, to prepare a body for burial. So, why don’t zombies just stiffen up for a few days? They should. But they don’t. So we must assume that whatever keeps the muscles producing ATP also prevents rigor. Moving on.
Have you ever seen a dead animal by the road on your way to work? On the first day, it looks like a normal animal, just dead. The second day, it still looks fairly normal. By the third day, if your windows are open, you can smell it. And it looks bloated. And by the end of a couple of weeks, it looks nasty. Why is that? It’s because dead things decompose. If you see it all bloated, it’s because the decomposition produces gasses, which lacking a way to vent, cause the critter to bloat up. Until it bursts.
Decomposition is a result of various bacterias eating you. Most of them we already have inside us, but because we are alive, we can keep them in check. One of those ways is by farting. The average human produces something like one litre of farts a day. When you’re dead, you don’t fart. So you bloat. (there are a lot of other gasses being produced as well). But left out in the open for a couple of weeks, and it’s doubtful a body the size of a human would have enough structural integrity to be able to walk. A month at most and you’d start falling to pieces. But once again, let’s assume that whatever transformed you into a zombie is also retarding the decomposition.
Now, where does that leave us? Every argument I’ve used to explain why zombies can’t exist, I’ve contradicted. That must mean I have failed in my stated mission. Well, I haven’t. I started this post by telling you I was going to explain how zombies can’t exist. Well, here’s a simple reason; they aren’t actually dead. Think about what death is. Legally death is the cessation of all brain function. Someones heart can still be beating, but if there is no activity in the brain, legally, they are dead. Zombies have limited function of the most basic section of the brain, so legally, they aren’t dead. Not dead, not a zombie.
So there you have it folks, zombies can’t exist because they aren’t dead.