Ok zombies, I’m out.
Gone fishin’, python huntin’, whatever Florida zombie metaphor you want (down to where they go to die?). See ya when I see ya. Save some brains for me.
While I’m gone, read the previous three posts (Part1, Part2, and Part3) for about two years worth of failed “zombie” cognitive research. Part1 is junk science but Part2 still really excites me and Part3 is a cute proof of a rhetorical paradox. None of it is particularly ground-breaking but I do think Part2 could be a new way to study character words in legal opinions, and Part3 should make us pause every time anyone refers to their supposed reality. But then we already pause at “zombie” and, of course “creativity“, and “anonymous” and soon every word is pause-worthy and none of the words make any sense. All we can do is add more words.
For more recent zombie themes, read the posts that precede those three. Zombie scholars should note particularly George Pfau’s presentation, and cultural theorists will be additionally interested in the SVA Zombie Formalism panel discussion.
Haven’t heard of zombie formalism yet? See my attempts to explore it here and here. And for more of the artist names being associated to this see Howard Hurst asking: “Who Has the Cure for “Zombie Formalism”?“.
That article is about the art world in which the answer might be obvious: stop buying it. But many wonder what is the cure for zombie. So as I pause this blog, let’s recall some zombie cures: salt, lemons, frogs, love, yoga, puppies, comedy, iron(y), juju, sadhu, water in the ear, mirror boxes, muscle transplants, shotguns, legislation, fire. I’m sure I’ve left some out and even more I’ve yet to discover, but “not buying it” is a good one to add to the list.
This blog isn’t dead, just a hiatus. Until them, nom nom…
It started when I noticed so many journalists (and others) writing that “zombies aren’t real”. I began asking survey participants (recall previous failed survey efforts) to identify which is the “real zombie” from two choices (“Uncertain” was also a third option). The two choices included one fictional answer choice: “A “zombie” is a mindless monster that eats human brains” and that was tested individually against three alternative answer choices (other alternatives were tested in pilot research but these three were used in the controlled version of this experimental design):
– “A “zombie” is an insect controlled by a parasite,”
– “A “zombie” is a computer that has be taken over by malware,” or
– “A “zombie” is a mixed drink made with rum and fruit juice.”
Each of these alternative definitions is something that exists tangibly and has been called a “zombie” by popular press (see for examples ZombieLaw posts tagged: rum-drinks, botnets, and insects). The survey instructions specifically told participants that both of the choices were ways the media had used the word.
The majority of participants responded that the “real zombie” is the “mindless monster that eats human brains”. This was somewhat surprising to me because I would have thought that the other objects were more real. I have frequently argued that zombies are real but not as monsters, as words. These results show that most participants think the fictional zombies are more real.
The cover of last month’s November 2014 National Geographic was Carl Zimmer’s article with cover headline: “Real Zombies”, about parasite-controlled insects. And yet, the majority of my survey participants seem to disagree.
Another question on the survey asked these same participants whether they believe zombies exist in reality. Most participants respond “No.” but the proportion of “Yes” increases significantly if the order of the questions asks about whether zombies exist after the comparison question. This makes sense because the comparison question answers remind some participants about the existence of an alternative definition. This simple exposure is enough to increase the proportion of participants that will say zombies exist.
Yet many participants who claim that zombies do not exist will still select the fictional definition as the “real zombie”. This means that the participants are willing to label something as “real” even after claiming it doesn’t exist. This suggests that “real” is not a reference to tangible reality, but is perhaps something more about authenticity or essential referent.
This result excited one adjunct professor in my department, so I worked with him to write it up for a Masters degree. After depositing that thesis, I continued to explore the word “real” as related to zombies but continued to fail to intrigue my doctoral advisor. In fact, he claimed I was “harassing” him for trying to get him to read that paper draft too early in the semester. Without any ‘real’ academic support or advisement this process is impossible. Honestly, it’s not entirely my advisor’s, nor the school’s fault. I have been a difficult student and clearly I still don’t get it. My writing is disjointed and poorly styled. I love ideas, but I don’t particularly like the pragmatism of neoliberal institutions nor the insidious mentality of the ivory tower. Grants are all they care about. If the practical applications are not immediately obvious than it’s not science. This is the modern academic system. I should have known better.
My graduate studies have reminded me that I don’t particularly like academia. Like I said, I like ideas but academia is a terrible style. After a decade of trying, I think I’ve learned an important lesson. I’m ok without them. It would be hypocritical of me to keep paying money to a zombie institution that I don’t respect. They want over $4000 a semester just to maintain continuous registration. No credits, just continuous enrollment in supposed “doctoral advisement” except the only advisement I have managed to get is denigration (see Part1 and Part2 of this series of posts on my research failures). I’m done with this crap.
Nevertheless, I conducted one more follow-up study, even though I don’t even care what they think about it anymore. I am sharing it here because I think it’s interesting and you all can decide for yourself. The crumbling zombie Ivy league is an elitist scam and I have wasted enough of my life trying to impress them. Their style works for them, good for them.
I think this last study is pretty great but I’m sure it still doesn’t explain the cognitive implications. The results show that participants do distinguish between the words “real” and “nonfictional”. This was a controlled study, the participants were randomly assigned by the survey software to either a question asking participants to indentify the “real zombie” (as above) or the “nonfictional zombie”. The answer choice options were the same as the version above (the fictional version tested individually against rum-drink, malware and insects, plus an “uncertain” option). The variable of interest is the one word changed in the question asked (to identify either the “real zombie” or “nonfictional zombie”).
The difference between these groups shows a statistical difference in the understanding of the words. Participants are more likely to select the fictional definition when asked for the “real zombie” than when asked for the “nonfictional zombie”. Hence, the rhetorical “real” is not perceived as synonymous with the “nonfictional”. Therefore, being “real” is different than being “nonfictional”, at least as applied to zombies (and also seems to work on some pilot testing I did with “wizards”, i.e. participants are likely to think “real wizards” are spellcasters as opposed to math, finance, computer, or pinball experts).
Surprisingly, many participants still select the fictional monster definition even when asked for the “nonfictional zombie”. I don’t have a good explanation for that. Perhaps participants don’t know what nonfictional means or perhaps this word also has something more to do with authenticity than it might seem. Still, the main effect is significant, and there is a proportional difference in the interpretation of “real zombie” versus “nonfictional zombie” on all three sets of answer choices tested. Again, as mentioned in the previous post about my other MTurk surveys, some of the samples had inconsistent results, but I didn’t throw out any of the data and summed overall and the effect holds.
I do believe this project was on it’s way to maybe finding some ‘real’ cognitive implications potentially regarding the perception of rhetorical reality. However, without a supportive advisor, I refuse to continue paying for so-called “doctoral advisement” that I am not getting. Honestly, who cares about the letters appended to the end of my name? It’s all so bourgeois-gauche. Sorry mom, but this work ain’t doctoral material. Maybe it could have been… Surely it’s as much my fault as anyone else, this program was a bad fit and I kept trying for way too long. There is an “adjunct crisis“, and still the adjuncts are the only faculty that care at all. Paying any more money to this zombie institution would be psychotic. It’s time to stop being a zombie student and try making a real living…
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
– J.K. Rawling, in the book “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”
“Reality is merely an illusion albeit a very persistent one.”
– Albert Einstein (* is this an authentic quote or a persistent attribution?)
“what the art of physics is, is the ability to sniff out which mathematics is relevant for reality and which mathematics isn’t”.
– Brian Greene, modern physicist in “The Hidden Reality” (2011)
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
– Philip K. Dick, science fiction writer
“It’s now reality. It’s not science fiction. It’s real and you can look at it.”
– Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, about a new rail gun weapon system
“It was so real it didn’t seem real.”
– School Police Officer on scene of Newtown school shooting
“It doesn’t have to be understood to be real.”
– Peter Lanza, father of Newtown school shooter Adam Lanza.
“I challenge you to make sure all students feel like the ‘realist person on earth'”
– Sonia Nieto at the Teachers College 2014 commencement
“too many of them are getting addicted to video games, and we just can’t let them do that, nope, we gotta get out there, and you gotta get them out there, doing real stuff.”
– Temple Grandin at the Teachers College 2014 commencement
“Pick any metric you want — America’s resurgence is real.”
– President Barack Obama, December 20 2014 weekly address
“that’s how you want to portray the world but we know a different reality.”
– Mayor Bill de Blasio, December 22 2014 press conference
Hello ZombieLaw readers. Thank you for your readership. This post (and possibly the next few posts) is going to be quite a bit different. I have been working on various “zombie” research for years and failing so much. It’s finally time for me to quit on a portion of these efforts but I wanted to share the results with you all.
It’s been a very long road and some of the studies I tried are sort of interesting, but at this point none of them are particularly worth my time to continue. I’m not sure what that means for the future of this blog but the blog is a very different part of this project, and can still continue. However, in a larger sense it’s all sort of related so it will be interesting to see how my art develops.
None of this work I am going to report now has ever sparked the interest of my academic advisors. I’m done. I’m tired and burnt out. It’s not entirely the school’s fault, I was a difficult student, frequently bit the hand that fed me, my writing is disjointed and sometimes incomprehensible, I never liked formal academic style and clearly I still don’t get it. It’s ok. I think I’ll be happier without these zombies. But as I close off this time, let’s look back at some of my doomed efforts.
First, one of my early “zombie” cognition projects, I tried looking at the serial position effect. This is a classic of human memory that causes people to better remember words in the beginning and end of a list. Words in the middle of a list are more likely to be forgotten.
The word “zombie” seems a sticky word, and so I thought maybe it is more memorable than it should be. I put “zombie” in the middle of a list of words and the participants recall the words they remembered immediately at the end. I would need to do a lot more study to say for certain what is happening. Might need to try the word in other positions on the list and also test against other word options. In this study, the other words were selected from a database of word frequency in modern language but it’s possible that “zombie” had already become more frequent since the creation of that word frequency database. And also something is maybe going on with the word “reindeer” too. And some other irregularities. I tried a few iterations and these results happened:
After that study failed to spark my so-called advisor’s interest I moved next to exploring if there was something about the syllables themselves that made this word “zombie” special. I tried replicating the classic Bouba-Kiki experiments and replacing one of the words with “zombie” syllables. These results seemed to show that zombie could be perceived as either the round-shape or the pointy-shape depending on the contrast comparisons. Compared to Bouba or Kiki, “zombie” swings to the other.
In that table it says “right” and “left” but it means the first word of the comparison in the row heading. Notice a good repetition of the classic results for with Kiki being the sharp character and Bouba the rounded. The other versions show some of the effects of changing the -ie ending on zombie. Recall previous ZombieLaw posts made tangential reference to Bouba-Kiki research and possible syllable-effects: see “zombie linguistics scrabble dictionary” and “Noam Chomsky zombies! and why!“.
Who cares about shapes and word sounds? Not my so-called advisor. Round and sharp might be zombie false dichotomy and the effects are not clearly because of ambiguities in the sound-shape meaning (i.e. zom = rounded ; bie = sharp). Also zombie is a more familiar word than Bouba or Kiki. Who knows what it means? So I moved on…
I started asking people about their belief in zombies. Just a regular survey. I collected a bunch of participants on this survey via Amazon’s MTurk (which is how the previous studies were conducted too) and it seemed to show that the participants were more likely to think other people could be zombies if they also think they themselves might be a zombie. Duh? Too obvious, right? And the percentages of both were small so it’s not much of a finding.
There also seemed to be an age effect for affinity to zombies (based on likelihood of clicking an article with “zombie” in the headline title) but not a big difference in the ages. The average age of those with high zombie affinity was around 30 compared to about age 35 for those with lower affinities, but both groups with standard deviations larger than that difference. So again, not much of a finding. Also, that zombie-affinity variable (based on selecting headlines) also related to the question about whether other people might be zombies. Again this finding is somewhat obvious in that participants who prefer “zombie” headlines are also more inclined to be unsure about whether other people might be zombies. This doesn’t imply any actual effect of having these beliefs. Obviously an interest in zombies might increase the likelihood of considering the possibility that other people are zombies. It doesn’t mean these participants are processing any information differently. So again, not cognitive enough.
I did think I found a gender effect in the first sample of this survey that I collected. It was a somewhat large sample for cognitive research with over 100 participants, but unfortunately, these gender effects failed to reappear in the subsequent sample. Damn you, Type 1 error (or perhaps some unknown sampling bias – sometimes MTurk is an amazing service to collect survey opinions, but then sometimes the samples are so wildly different for no apparent reason. Anyway, none of my replicated effects were of particular interest to my so-called advisor, and so I moved on again…
Eventually, I hit upon a study idea that would become my Master’s thesis… unfortunately, not the doctorate I had hoped. Oh well, sorry Mom… but that’s a story for future posts… stay tuned… nom nom….
Softcover copies have been readily available via Amazon and Createspace for a while, along with other book collections of some fun words in the law.
So tonight I went to that panel at SVA:”“Zombie Formalism” and Other Recent Speculations in Abstraction“:
Moderated by artist and SVA faculty member Amy Wilson (BFA 1995 Fine Arts). Panelists include curator and art advisor for Levin Art Group Todd Levin, painter and art critic Walter Robinson and artist, writer and curator Ryan Steadman.
It was a really entertaining and informative panel. There was a lot of name dropping of artists I have never heard of but the overall themes of “zombie formalism” seem highly relevant to this blog, my art, and the culture of this country. Here are some of my notes and incorporated thoughts.
Undisputed, the zombie virus is money. The art world is not about art movements only market movements. Draining the possibility of myth, the terror of sublime.
It is the “triumph of shit”, “craptastic” collections of crap. Examining our own crap (recall zombie poop) – consider it a potential measure of health, but also obsession with any production from the self (see narcissism and selfies).
The zombies are the “exemplary sufferers” but it’s comedy. First time tragedy, second time farce? This is the continuing postmodern condition. Nothing original anymore, what was called pluralism in the 80s, art drained of political influence.
Hauntology – haunted by the past, evoking Derrida’s specters of Marx, with zombie formalism it appears as if the means of production are embedded in the product. The author vanishes. Retromania, super-hybrids, Process oriented – response to a market flooded with jingoist propaganda.
People want to hang their art in their home and still invite civilized guests.
Instagram censors anything a 13 years can’t see. This very much disturbs Todd Levin who thinks this is creating a filtered conception of modern art that turns everything into pop tart style or banned. Yet most people seem unaware that our communication platforms are not benign to content. Levin got banned from Instagram for posting esteemed art that looks awfully like child porn.
The new MoMa exhibit today “Forever Now” but how can we ever be out of our time? Except we are always out of our time when there is more than illusory content, when the author had an intent and made the object in the past for a communicative purpose, that communication had a time and good art travels to the future to pull the spectator back. In this way culture is asynchronously together. Yet it’s still possible to do color field abstractions and stand outside of time, to convey to the audience only the vapid magnificence in itself.
While the panel was going on, a new post at SFChronicle: “Mural veteran Andrew Schoultz’s paintings add layer to history” by Kimberly Chun, an artist’s response to zombie formalism?
That’s why they call it ‘zombie formalism’ — it’s devoid of content,” says Schoultz,
Back at the conference, Ryan Steadman thinks young people are used to the “crowded marketplace”, and it’s just attempts to market in a crowded space. He thinks young people better understand that world population is exponentially growing and expect lines for the bathroom. For Steadman it’s not a “secret cabal” creating zombie ideas, it’s people banging up against the same ideas across local and international influence. But consider recent Reuters data analysis of the Supreme Court: “The Echo Chamber: Elite Group Of Lawyers Receive Unprecedented Advantage At Supreme Court” suggesting there are 66 lawyers that seem to have cabal-like influence over the high Court. Is it legitimate help, or an insulating filter? In a crowded space is there any middle ground between oligarchy and a tragedy of the commons?
An audience member asked if it is possible to be a young abstract artist and not fall into this category of zombie formalism? Is it just denigration of the young?
Another audience member says market formalism is indicative of “I can’t breathe” political culture and an absence of a focus on “living”.
A female audience member wonders about overwhelming male power structure. Response: nothing sells like the female body.
Zombie formalism negates the artist’s subjective experience, and will therefore wash away minority voices (the erasure of voice is the erasure of minority voice? consider zombie anonymous) but Robinson responds: “turn it up”. He actually said that the entire world of female artists is about playing to male cliches so:
Get to work. Get a day job.
Or would you put a plastic bag over head rather than get a day job?
1% with a target on your back.
Who told all these artists they could make a living at their art anyway?
Moderator Amy Wilson thinks we are all screwed. She wonders if zombie formalism is cynical or optimistic naivete? I wonder if that’s not sometimes the same perspective.
Maybe we are finally coming to terms with the fact that the avant-garde is just one more niche and maybe not even the most advanced? I mean, duh.
It’s like the trailer for this coming season of HBO’s “Girls”. David Mamet’s daughter says:
I don’t understand why nobody tells you how bad it’s going to be in the real world.
And Brian William’s daughter (aka Peter Pan) says:
Yeah they do, it’s pretty much all they every ever tell you.
We need a new metaphysics to resolve this aporia.
Walter Robinson likes sex. An unanswered audience shoutout wonders if he pays for that too. Top dollar if it’s not zombie formalistic? More intriguingly, his aesthetic desires have shifted toward what he cannot have; he said he used to paint girls, now he paints cheeseburgers.
He didn’t say why he gave up cheeseburgers, but perhaps it’s the plight of the vegan zombie, cannot haz cheeseburger, it’s zombie flesh and curdled torture. Recall Professor Drezner‘s “Girls” as a metaphor for international politics, and consider that we live in an age of extremely skewed and filtered speech. Robinson thinks “Homeland” made him want to bomb Pakistan.
It’s not just instagram terms of service. The standards of the 13 year old pop tarts have kept our national discourse at the level of a middle school dance (all the blues on one side of the gym, all the reds on the other, nobody knowing how to talk to the other side). Levin seems to really believe that so goes Instagram so goes the art world. Personally I prefer the horny 14 year olds of Imgur, but his point is strong. We need a public society that can comfortably explore the realities of 4chan. It’s not about liking it, it’s about giving fringe ideas a space to flourish.
All the world is a crap circus and we are but flies on the wall, consuming a feast.
And see more ZombieLaw tag: Art
Artist George Pfau is a zombie expressionist. Here is his expressions from a talk he gave this past summer at BAASICS.5: Monsters based on his thesis from California College of Arts in San Francisco.
This blog has referred to George Pfau on many previous occasions. He is perhaps my only fan. He’s taken me to lunch, he’s shown my book people, getting me some press with him and his zombie efforts continue to impress. He is a rising star in the young zombie scholarly art community.
I particularly like this talk. His pacing keeps the tone academicly serious, aided also by the black backdrop and his excellent oil painting pedestaled to his left. The talk hits most of the major points of modern zombie memes as they were last summer, and also displays some of his drawings. I’ve seen some of these before on his website and yet, particularly the very simple one of dotted body outlines, became much more profound by this explanation about bodies and their edge surfaces.
Early on he mentions “grotesque” (recall previously about grotesque in American Literature, particularly Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio”). Note also Pfau’s mention of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and of zombie dancing, and how that added synchronicity to the zombies (also a sort of synthesized digital lockstep?). Notice his reference to the blurring between groups and individuals which he links to the difference between losing a body part and dying. This is the difference of us and them, of parts and whole.
Where is the whole? Is there a hole in the whole? Consider Zombie French Theory. And more recently, the French philosopher of science Bruno Latour has argued we need a re-conceptualization of the meaning of wholes. Our language is faulty. We see ourselves as separate from our environment. But such cleavages are artificial, socially constructed.
Artificial cleavage? Consider the new comedy from Above Average: “Ghost Tits“?. Identities always includes the word “tities”; zombie tits? Yes, and astronaut fish and other weird animals, see last year’s “Zombie Tits, Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals” by Becky Crew, which is now more readily available under the newer title “Zombie Birds, Astronaut Fish, and Other Weird Animals“. Because “tits” was an unacceptable word? Is that because it’s a derogatory word for the female breast or because that particular body part is culturally taboo?
How did we get here? Oh yea, cleavages, and identities, and because I was thinking about bodies and differences and French. Oh the French and their artisanal tongues, wait did I just write “anal tongues”… oh, this isn’t getting better… sorry George, I didn’t mean to turn your talk obscene. Though, recall another young zombie scholar Dr. Bradley Voytek, Ph.D. recently referenced obscenities law to explain the neuroscience of consciousness.
The word “zombie” is itself questionably obscene, against the moral standards for bodily display – that Victorian urge to demand that insides be kept inside. But the style of independent gorefest movies traditionally overlaps with the sexploitation genre, and “prurient interests” are arousal of bodily desires, perhaps not necessarily obviously sexual because sublimated into something else. While we’re still being French, let’s think also of Deleuze‘s “body without organs”, that we are desire-making machines, and the plateaus can go on forever. We can discard the Lacanian name of the Father and become our own Artaud - yes, toads. Ancient voodoo toads. Lick the toad. Lick it. Become “my own grandpa!“, leap like Nijinski.
This is what it means to be young zombie. A parade of references, disjointed category spaces, art expressed through academia, academia expressed through art, homonyms and verisimilitudes, surface structures, a multiplicity of voices, Bahktinian novels with too many authors, with turtles all the way down, singing “Too many cooks” by Adult Swim’s Casper Kelly.
Recall prior attribution to Zombie Millennials but this label has been misplaced (as most zombie false dichotomy category labels are). It’s too easy to assume abstract generational differences when everything is all repetition through oddly connected social networks and time moves at different paces. Zombie ideas flow in a bricolage of memes, faster and faster, some impossible to kill only because they keep reappearing so fast, others insidiously slow but impossible to disprove.
At times it can seem as all our identities are, is but a type of bodily resistance. Eventually the bubbles go pop but the ideas are bulletproof. Viva la resistance. Viva young zombie. Like young money (recall Nicki Minaj be chillin with a zombie and more recently been chillin at SNL where WWZ zombie survivalist Max Brooks got himself fired), the young zombie is part of the old zombie, still talking about the question of the real zombie, because we can’t break free from the slavery of the mind, and the oppression of the minority.
Same as it ever was, cause hey cuz, it never was. Nothing but a dream moment in a Bergsonian ‘duration’. But a Hegelian “nothing”, so ya know, that’s some thing. And the Titan with one blinded eye screamed, “the nothing is eating my brain” but it was actually James Joyce’s Ulysses (as translated by zombie Marcel Proust).