Feeds

What are zombie behaviours?

Unleashing internal demons

SANS - Survey on application security programs

Also in this week's column:

What are zombie behaviours?

Asked by Arthur Wasnegel of New York City

Zombie behaviours? Sounds like the action from B-grade horror movie. Or perhaps what The Stepford Wives get up to. In fact, zombie behaviours refer to routine things we do every day and night without even thinking. It is our unconsciousness acting out.

Most brain activity is unconscious. For example, the regulation of body temperature is one of the jobs of the brain. Yet such an activity is hardly done consciously. Zombie agents cause us to automatically and rapidly perform our zombie behaviors - actions without our conscious mind being aware of the stimulus and physical response.

We do this driving, dancing, and performing many routine actions where we seem to put our conscious mind on hold. Zombie behaviours and the zombie agents that cause them are significant, important to understand, and worthy of scientific study.

According to Christof Koch, a neurobiologist at CalTech in Pasadena, "Zombie agents control your eyes, hands, feet, and posture, and rapidly transduce sensory input into stereotypical motor output. They might even trigger aggressive or sexual behaviour when getting a whiff of the right stuff. All, however, bypass consciousness. This is the zombie in you."

According to Koch, an extreme example of zombie behaviour is sleepwalking. Sleepwalkers can carry out highly complex actions without remembering what they have done. In addition, a sleepwalker can drive a car (as sleepwalkers can and sometimes do).

A zombie behaviour thus occurs within a zombie behaviour - all the more fascinating to Koch. Also, laboratory experiments demonstrate that normal people will respond to scary pictures of snakes and spiders even though they are not consciously aware of them. The zombie behaviour is acting autonomously.

Perhaps most fascinating of all, it has been found that zombie behaviours occur at speeds that far outpace the speeds of conscious reactions to calculate and activate. Being slower, consciousness would therefore seem to be a maladaptive behaviour.

Assuming that any maladaptive behavior would be selected out due to natural selection and thus disappear from the species, an intriguing question emerges in terms of human evolution. Why did consciousness ever evolve at all if the zombie behaviours incorporated into our unconsciousness work so fast and so well?

One possible answer to this comes from Koch along with Francis Crick (the same Francis Crick of DNA double helix discovery fame).

In a 2001 article in NATURE entitled "The Zombie Within", Koch and Crick first speculated that: "It may be because consciousness allows the system to plan future actions, opening up a potentially infinite behavioural repertoire and making explicit memory possible."

Thus, consciousness would appear to be more varied, useful, and adaptable. Koch continues research in this area. In 2004, Koch wrote The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach (Roberts & Company) with a foreword by Crick.

There are many questions surrounding Zombie behaviours and what causes them. Could the zombie in us, primitive though it is, be the source of those rare flashes of insight that appear out of nowhere and from which solutions to problems appear fully formed when we next become conscious? Is this why we solve a problem by "sleeping on it overnight"?

An even more fundamental question (more speculative and fun too) is this: Is our conscious state merely a preparation for our unconscious state? Sleep would be the "normal" human state and being awake would be the preparation for sleep.

Rather changes how we think of about being a human doesn’t it? Maybe the zombie human within us is the more real human? What do you think?

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Melting permafrost switches to nasty, high-gear methane release
Result? 'Way more carbon being released into the atmosphere as methane'
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.