To explain diseases to the masses, for the purposes of garnering support for funding and research, scientists often speak in terms of analogies.  Cancer cells “talk” to each other.  Species of bacteria form “partnerships” with other species of single celled organisms to spread infections in hospitals.

Of course cancer cells do not “talk” to each other, nor do single celled organisms form “partnerships”– not in the human sense of the word.  But researchers will often impart human attributes to diseases to get their complex messages across to the layperson.

The imparting of human attributes to non-human entities is called anthropomorphism: the “attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being.”  It is pretty common for people to map human characteristics onto animals and inanimate objects.  It’s what makes us see things like consciousness in our pets, and faces in the rocks on Mars* (it is possible these may exist, but we have no proof).  In both cases, the opinion is mostly emotional, and not scientific.

Could the real horror behind zombies and the zombie craze be the anthropomorphizing of disease itself?  For the most part, when we think of disease and ultimately death, we picture something unseen.  We can witness the results of disease, but disease is largely invisible.  And when the disease that should be smouldering away in a hospital bed, or worse yet, rotting away in a casket… gets up and starts lumbering toward you, that is truly terrifying indeed!


While anthropomorphizing diseases such as cancer has been regarded as beneficial** by putting a “face” to the enemy, when the disease is clearly visible in the form of an entire human body, it can not be seen as anything but perverse.  I maintain that the anthropomorphizing of disease actually creates zombies (of a sort), imbuing disease with the ability to act like a human (walk, hunger, eat), but still not be alive.  It is a perversion of life, like the Frankenstein monster.

Just as the single celled organism forms mindless “partnerships” to spread infections in hospitals, so does the individual zombie form mindless hordes to spread their infection.  There is no malice there, just as there is none with single celled organisms.  There is just a single purpose.  And like the single celled organism, they CAN NOT stop until they have fulfilled that single purpose.


* Seing faces in everything, is incidentally, called pareidolia.  Scientists believe that this psychological phenomenon is caused by eons of natural selection, weeding out those that could not quickly ascertain the mood or mental state of a stranger.  Even the simplified images like “happy faces”, and more recently, emoticons, that barely resemble real faces illicit a physiological response.
** I saw a great example of this in an online banner ad which read: “If cancer was standing in front of you, what would you do?”

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