lördag 21 januari 2012

The truth about zombies

Why Ezra Klein (and his co-bloggers – or sub-bloggers, since he's the boss? – like Suzy Khimm) is invaluable: Where else but on his Wonkblog would you find a link to an article about three actual medical case studies of real zombies?

The cases studies were reported by British anthropologist Roland Littlewood and Haitian doctor Chavannes Douyon and concerned three individuals identified as zombies after they had apparently passed away. (...) 

[O]n the cultural level, zombies are identified by specific characteristics – they cannot lift up their heads, have a nasal intonation, a fixed staring expression, they carry repeated purposeless actions and have limited and repetitive speech.

This means that they are easily identified by the community and Littlewood and Douyon’s study was a medical investigation into three ‘returned zombies’ – each of which was identified as a member of the family who had died and who had returned with the characteristic features. (...) 

FI showed no neurological damage but was diagnosed with catatonic schizophrenia, a very withdrawn form of psychosis. WD was found to have brain damage, probably from lack of oxygen, and epilepsy, which could be treated with drugs. MM was found to a developmental learning disability, probably caused by her alcoholism when her mother was pregnant with her.

And not only does that article describe this actual multiple case study, it also links to an article on the potential role of neurotoxins in zombiefication:

Davis hypothesized that the main ingredient of the coupe poudre was tetrodotoxin, ingestion of which usually causes death by paralysis. In sub-lethal doses, however, it causes a significant reduction in heart rate and metabolic activity, and puts one into a state in which they are completely paralysed but fully conscious. (...)

According to Davis, the irritant contained in the powder causes small wounds on the skin surface, through which the tetrodotoxin enters the bloodstream. The victim is pronounced dead, and buried alive. A few days later, the sorcerer returns to the burial site and disinters the "body".

The sorcerer then administers another cocktail of drugs that leaves the victim in a permanent state of delirium and disorientation. This second powder is thought to contain atropine and scopolamine, toxic and dissociative hallucinogenic compounds derived from the plants Datura stramonium (left) and Datura metel (both of which are known in Haiti as the "zombie cucumber"). (...)

Some see the hypothesis proposed by Davis as the only plausible explanation for zombification. Others, however, are critical of Davis' methods, and sceptical of his findings. It has been argued, for example, that the coupe poudre samples obtained by Davis did not contain sufficient amounts of tetrodotoxin to have any effect on humans. 

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