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David Barash and the evolutionary biology of zombees

October 8, 2012

Esteemed professor of psychology at the University of Washington, David P. Barash, an evolutionary biologist, has written an op-ed in the Nytimes ostensibly about Zombie Bees, more expansively about mind control (and problems of mind-body phenomenology).

zombie david barash

Zombie Bees are a well known new phrase about bees straying from their hives, in light of concerns about colony collapse disorder. Is it because of cell phones towers? Global warming? Genetic-engineering? A parasite? Bee researchers are abuzz.

Barash’s op-ed asks “Who’s in Charge Inside Your Head?”

First Barash describes a parasite in some Zombees:

they’re not really zombies, although they act disquietingly like them, showing abnormal behavior like flying at night (almost unheard-of in healthy bees), moving erratically and then dying. These “zombees” are victims of a parasitic fly, Apocephalus borealis. The fly lays eggs within honeybees, inducing their hosts to make a nocturnal “flight of the living dead,” after which the larval flies emerge, having consumed the bee from the inside out.


These events, although bizarre, aren’t all that unusual in the animal world.

And this, in turn, leads to the question: who’s in charge of your own mind?

He then mentions ants, hijacked by a parasite before statement with what must be tongue firmly planted in cheek:

When we fall in love, we do so for ourselves, not at the behest of a romance-addled tapeworm. When we help a friend, we aren’t being manipulated by an altruistic bacterium

Then switches to “genes” and reminds that they are working toward reproduction and that they are we:

Who is left after “you” are separated from your genes? Where does the rest of the world end, and each of us begin?

Barash concludes with a somewhat bizarre reference to Spongebob Squarepants, the character who “lives in a pineapple under the sea… Absorbent and yellow and porous is he.”

The language is the virus. The cartoon characters (like all characters) invade our minds. We are all p-zombies. We are animals infected with ideas.


From → Academics

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