Don’t be left for Dead: Zombie symposium prepares UMD students with the facts

The lights in Bohannon 90 dimmed down slowly, a flash on the screen and a piano begins to play. The eerie mood was set following the flicker of slides of the black and white film flashing across the screen. “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” was the teaser to UMD Zombie Fest 2012, a two-hour-long symposium that covered everything from zombie neurobiology to the international impact of a zombie outbreak. A brief history of zombies was given, along with an explanation of the two different types of zombies. The first being voodoo or Haitian zombies, the second being what we think of today as a typical “zombie.”

“There’s a fair amount wrong with zombies,” said Janet Fitzakerley, a researcher of auditory neuroscience at UMD. “If you didn’t already know.”

Fitzakerley used her presentation time to discuss exactly what is in the zombie “food pyramid,” and what kinds of nutrition they get from brains. She went through the question meticulously, hitting points of interest in terms of zombies’ motor function skills.

“If we could put a zombie in an MRI machine we would be able to tell they could detect pain, but they wouldn’t care,” Fitzakerley said.

Fitzakerley speculates that zombies maintain most of their sensory functions (vision, smell, hearing, feeling), so that can only mean that zombies burn calories. Roughly speaking, zombies would need to consume about 4,800 calories a day, according to Fitzakerley. Zombies maintain the ability to initiate and execute movement but they can’t plan movement.

All six speakers varied in department affiliation, giving the symposium an interesting blend of information. Jeremy Youde, a Political Science professor, discussed the global threat of a zombie pandemic, particularly with regards to the role that international governance would play in response to an outbreak.

“In a lot of ways a zombie outbreak is the greatest international threat,” Youde said. “We don’t have any institutional way to deal with this on an international scale. I’m willing to bet that zombies don’t read maps well. We can’t tell them, ‘Hey, you can’t go there.’”

Youde went on to discuss the potential military implications of a zombie outbreak.

“A zombie outbreak could really be a military opportunity,” Youde said. “The military is not the answer, though. We could use nuclear weapons, but then that causes a whole new problem—radioactive zombies.”

Shane Courtland a professor of ethical theory and political philosophy at UMD discussed the moral tradeoffs in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

“Look at your neighbor,” Courtland said. “They’re plotting your death.”

Courtland foresees an ethical and moral collapse as a potential reaction to the zombie apocalypse. Courtland explored the connection between self-interest and moral obligation in the survival-based decision-making in a zombie-infested world.

Even as the glimmer of hope for the future of society fizzles out, Courtland discussed how one should handle a victim of a zombie bite; a common trope in many zombie films. Courtland examined the utilitarian view many people take to in a survival situation. Utilitarianism strives to maximize the overall happiness of an individual; basically sacrificing one for the many.

“You’re not going to know how to act,” Courtland said. “But we will see groups of people acting in a mutually beneficial way.”


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