Steven Schlozman begins his presentation with an important caveat: Zombies do not exist.
Common sense, you might think, but Schlozman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, always makes this clear at the outset. He then proceeds to present a compelling case for how zombies could exist, a medically plausible zombie apocalypse scenario.
Schlozman, who entertained a small but enthusiastic crowd at Shriver Hall earlier this month as part of the annual Fall Fest celebration at Johns Hopkins, is the author of The Zombie Autopsies, a strikingly realistic work of fiction that makes you wonder if a zombie apocalypse is more than mere horror genre fantasy.
The book is written as a secret journal kept by a neuroscientist and zombie expert who is attempting to figure out the true neurobiology of zombies. The root cause, Schlozman writes, is ataxic neurodegenerative satiety deficiency syndrome, or ANSD, an airborne virus that slowly decomposes the body, causes the brain to swell, and instills that telltale taste for human flesh.
As the brain swells, the body mutates, Schlozman explains during his Shriver Hall lecture. Look out for exploding octopi, he cautions, because since they don't have skulls to contain their expanding brains, eventually they would just pop. That's a prime signal that zombies are coming your way. Another indicator, Schlozman says: decaying humans slowly chasing you.
Schlozman suggests eight helpful tips to keep in mind if you see signs of the ANSD virus spreading in your area. Among them—Walk fast! Zombies are slow creatures, in more ways than one. Don't bother running; just speed walk away. Also, always carry a snack. Cooked chicken works great and could save your life. Toss the zombies a bone to keep them preoccupied while you make your getaway.
Schlozman, a sci-fi aficionado himself, believes that the realistic way his subject matter is presented can interest his audience in the actual science behind the fiction.
"I've had people come up to me—young people, one as young as 12—come up to me and tell me that the book made them passionate about neurobiology," he says.
"The book doubles as a way to involve my students," Schlozman adds. He shows two pictures of the brain, one your typical textbook image, the other a zombified rendition courtesy of his book's illustrator. "Which are you more willing to look at, the normal picture everyone's seen a thousand times, or something new?"
Schlozman's lecture is engaging and accessible. As a doctor, he has the ability to make the science behind his argument sound logical. But he also mixes in pop culture references—Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, and even Canadian zomcom Fido all make appearances, along with zombie thriller Night of the Living Dead—to appeal to the nonscientists in the audience.
The result is a surprisingly funny presentation that is just the right blend of geeky know-how and scientific plausibility.
Just remember, zombies still do not exist. Yet.
Gemma Zigman is a sophomore Writing Seminars major from Jersey City, N.J.