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Harvard Doctor – Steven Schlozman, MD – Psychiatrist of Zombies

May 8, 2012

Steven Schlozman, M.D., is an Associate Director of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry for Harvard Medical School. He has written about the “allure” of the apocalypse in Psychology Today and better yet, he’s analyzes the brains of zombies.

He has written a popular book “Zombie Autopsies” and he also gave a recent half hour lecture in which he analyzes fictional zombies to thoroughly discuss parts of the human brain anatomy. His discussion is funny and educational – full video of his lecture in this link: PODCAST: Harvard psychologist explains the science of zombies).

This is reminiscent of Drezner’s work on zombie in international politics and other academics using fictional representations of zombies to explain their academic discipline in an enjoyable way.

Also it is similar to my recent ZombieLaw post “I am America’s Wernicke’s area” responding to the Forbes piece about the amygdala and America’s political fears. The rhetoric of neuroscience in popular culture is undoubtedly related to the zombie rhetoric. We are a society faced with new technologies changing the way we understand the world and yet the major questions of consciousness remain uncertain.

Recently a commenter to this blog asked if we are becoming desensitized to zombies. I think we are definitely becoming desensitized to neuroscience and embracing the language in advance of really knowing what the words mean. Or rather, we know what the words mean but that’s all we know.

It’s really awesome the way Schlozman and Drezner have made the vocabulary of their domains more easily accessible (humanized?) through zombie metaphors. But at what cost? Does it reveal any underlying inhumanity in both their fields (brain science and international politics)? At the end of his talk Dr. Schlozman hopes no one will think his interest in zombies causes him to take his profession as a doctor any less seriously. Given the quality of brain science in his talk, I don’t for a moment doubt his seriousness as a doctor and isn’t that precisely the point; from a techno-medical perspective on the body, humans have always been (at least partly) zombies (and as medical records become further computerized, cybernetic zombies). And governments, deriving from a history of feudalism, have always seen the people as zombies.

Unlike these works, my ZombieLaw project is not about humanizing some arcane aspects of law through fictional exploration. This blog is about actual language use; actual “zombies”. In the Federal Courts we see “zombies” associated to “corporations”, “medications”, and “criminals”. We see popular press referencing all sorts of “zombie” political expressions, and as above, academia is embracing the word. “Zombies” exist even if only as a word and mental representation. This existence demonstrates important cultural understandings about what it means to be a person and to have consciousness.


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