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Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?: A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain

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Even if you've never seen a zombie movie or television show, you could identify an undead ghoul if you saw one. With their endless wandering, lumbering gait, insatiable hunger, antisocial behavior, and apparently memory-less existence, zombies are the walking nightmares of our deepest fears. What do these characteristic behaviors reveal about the inner workings of the zombie mind? Could we diagnose zombism as a neurological condition by studying their behavior? In "Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?," neuroscientists and zombie enthusiasts Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek apply their neuro-know-how to dissect the puzzle of what has happened to the zombie brain to make the undead act differently than their human prey.

Combining tongue-in-cheek analysis with modern neuroscientific principles, Verstynen and Voytek show how zombism can be understood in terms of current knowledge regarding how the brain works. In each chapter, the authors draw on zombie popular culture and identify a characteristic zombie behavior that can be explained using neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and brain-behavior relationships. Through this exploration they shed light on fundamental neuroscientific questions such as: How does the brain function during sleeping and waking? What neural systems control movement? What is the nature of sensory perception?

Walking an ingenious line between seriousness and satire, " Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?" leverages the popularity of zombie culture in order to give readers a solid foundation in neuroscience.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2014

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Timothy Verstynen

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5 stars
119 (33%)
4 stars
156 (43%)
3 stars
66 (18%)
2 stars
12 (3%)
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4 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 47 reviews
Profile Image for Anastasia.
134 reviews68 followers
June 27, 2016
4/4 stars. I was assigned this book for my Honors Biology course, and I have to say it was hilarious. The authors are fantastic, they give you all of the neurological facts and then put it in a zombie apocalypse scenario we all can understand. This helped the book flow well and read easier. I have to say it was a bit dense in a few chapters but over all an informative and interesting read. If you are into zombies you should definitely pick this one up! No full review since this book was basically a biology textbook...
Profile Image for Brian Clegg.
Author 153 books2,468 followers
October 20, 2014
When I first opened this book I was a little unsure. My idea of a great horror film is the 1945 classic Dead of Night, which is not just genuinely spooky and unsettling but is surely the only horror film ever to inspire a major cosmological theory (the steady state theory). There is no gore in the movie, and as far as I'm concerned that makes it a much better film than any zombie tripe. I don't want to see blood and guts, thank you. The only zombie movie I've ever seen was Sean of the Dead, and though, like all Simon Pegg's output, it's entertaining, frankly the violent bits make me feel sick.

I don't understand the appeal of zombies per se. So given that, the authors' idea that they can make biology more appealing by using zombies as the way of explaining the interactions between the brain and the body isn't really my cup of tea. It's not even the first biology-via-zombies book I've come across, following on from (though not acknowledging) Dr Austin's Zombie Science 1Z. But having said all that, Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep isn't half bad.

What the book does is to take us through many of the brain's significant systems, showing how they deal with various aspects of keeping us going, from movement to memory. The context in which this is done is to look at the ways in which zombies appear to have problems with various aspects of their brains, which could produce, for instance, their shuffling gait, or their usual inability to vocalise beyond a grunts and groans. However, Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek do this in such a way that around three quarters of what we read is actually about normal brains, so providing the 'real' educative part of the book, leaving a fragment dealing with zombies to keep the title afloat. This is helped by the way that a lot we have found out about brain function is through patients who have various problems with and damage of the brain - making parallels with the zombie condition easier.

Although bits of it were fascinating, I couldn't help reflect on the great physicist, Richard Feynman and his experience while taking biology as a side course while at university. Feynman had to do a presentation on the nervous system of the cat, and started off displaying a 'map' of the cat, giving names to various parts. He was told he didn't need to bother, because they had to learn the names. Feynman mused that this must be why it took three years to get a biology degree - because they had to spend so much time learning labels. And when it comes down to it, an awful lot of the content here is telling us the labels for various bits of the brain and nervous system that don't really matter to us. But when we get a feel for the remarkable complexity and sometimes counterintuitive operation of the brain, we can see beyond this - even if it is often to discover the shuffling approach of a brain-eating zombie.

Overall, then, I was never going to be totally thrilled by the book, but I was pleasantly surprised on a number of occasions. It won't persuade me to start watching zombie films, though.
Profile Image for Lada Moskalets.
303 reviews40 followers
January 1, 2017
Розкішна науково-популярна книжка для тих, хто як я прогуляв у школі всю біологію. Книжка пробує поставити діагноз зомбі і пояснити їхній стан, по дорозі пояснюючи як працює людський мозок, рефлекси, пам'ять, сон та інше. Перестаєш дивитися на себе як на диво природи і розумієш, наскільки наше життя і наша свідомість залежить від банальної фізіології. Дуже багато цитат з фільмів і книжок, що будуть милі серцю шанувальникам, а ще практичні поради, як врятуватися від зомбі, базовані власне на особливостях уражень їхнього мозку
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,375 reviews240 followers
January 18, 2015
Something that sounds like it could be jump on the bandwagon filler turns out to be an informative and accessible introduction to neuroscience. Authors Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek are both neuroscientists and zombie fanboys and they decided to combine their personal and professional interests in order to educate. Plus it’s a fun look at zombies to try and explain them with science.

Before they start to explain zombie brains, they go over the basics of what happens in the human brain. I hesitate to say healthy human brain there as a huge amount of what we know come from studying damaged brains, from injury and illness. They go into motor control, language, our senses, attention spans, how we sleep and more. Then they compare zombie characteristics (or symptoms) to human conditions.

It’s probably got a bit of a niche audience though. You need to be interested in the inner workings of the brain; there’s a lot about human brains that is not directly about zombies. Some of the biology is still hard to grasp if you have no understanding to start with. The brain is a complex thing and even neuroscientists struggle to understand some of its workings. If you’re confused by the average episode of House, you might find a lot of the science going over your head.

However if you’re just interested in the neuroscience, the references to zombies might be off-putting. It’s pretty impressive how they manage to explain most zombie traits, however unlikely. Ash’s zombie hand? Well that could be alien hand syndrome combined with zombie syndrome (yes, an actual thing although it does have a more medical name as well). Our brains are odd.

A tiny gripe is that they didn't achknowledge the excellent Warm Bodies as a book, just as a film. It's not like it was just looking at zombie films, Mira Grant's Feed is mentioned and World War Z references are mostly pointing to the book. I did appreciate the spoiler warning with a list of films/books at the beginning of the book though. More of that please!

Some of the jokey talk-to-the-reader “banter” didn’t quite work for me. Maybe it was taken from their talks at cons, where there is a little audience feedback in the way of laughter and groans. However it’s few and far enough between that it didn’t take too much away from what turned out to be a fascinating read.
Profile Image for Nuffy.
161 reviews1 follower
July 24, 2022
This is a really fun idea that is actually executed pretty well. At first you see that it’s focusing on zombies, and you think, ‘oh this is going to be silly,’ but it’s legit neuroscience and educational.

I felt like I was back in my psychology class in high school or Principles of Behavior in college, both classes that went pretty deep into neurology (and this is a good thing; I loved both of those classes). The book breaks down how an actual brain works and then what specifically would need to go wrong to get zombie-like behavior. It’s written in a mostly fun, easy to follow, style, and the examples to clarify what they mean stick to the zombie apocalypse theme, which I found super fun.
Profile Image for Shay.
14 reviews
June 14, 2020
This is how you get a layman interested in one of the most intriguing yet difficult fields of science: by explaining it like you would to a 5 years old.

Thanks for holding my hand through the zombie field.
Profile Image for Maria Blindiuk.
165 reviews73 followers
June 20, 2021
це справді дослідження двох нейронауковців мозку зомбі – його порушень, гіпотетичних змін і можливих способів скорегувати їхню поведінку. а ще підказки, як вижити під час зомбі-апокаліпсису. поставлю собі на видне місце і зроблю помітки – про всяк.
228 reviews6 followers
January 11, 2023
Whoa! This had A LOT of technical information. If you're a nerd like me and had to grab this because the title grabbed your attention, be warned that this is a bunch of science with some zombie thrown in. Don't worry though, if you get a little confused along the way, the final chapter will put everything neat and tidy for you. Worth the read, if you can get through the science.
Profile Image for Kayson Fakhar.
130 reviews23 followers
May 1, 2019
As a neuroscientist it was a bit boring but I do recommend it to both brain and zombie enthusiasts. The science was pretty accurate and enough simplified for general audience.
9 reviews
January 2, 2015
Surprisingly good introduction/refresher to current neuroscience. Worked for even a non-zombie-geek like me. Describes a tongue-in-cheek zombie phenotype as a thought experiment for thinking about the neuroscience of movement, vision, sleep, emotion, etc. Would recommend highly.
Profile Image for Lea Dokter.
281 reviews10 followers
August 21, 2016
Cleverly written, humorous and scientific; this book made me laugh and gave me a decent introduction into neuroscience. The technical terms were very well-explained (though science is still not my forté) and the angle was entertaining. A brilliant mix of seriousness and comedy, science and fiction.
Profile Image for Melissa.
367 reviews6 followers
October 31, 2014
Fun way to learn about neuroscience. Surprisingly believable, if one suspends other knowledge of the nervous system.
Profile Image for Eric.
108 reviews15 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
February 16, 2015
I picked this up mostly for the title, but quickly realized that I don't have enough interest in neuroscience to make it worth the read.
Profile Image for Raquel (Silver Valkyrie Reads).
1,268 reviews38 followers
July 12, 2020
This was a lot of fun! I initially rated it four stars because I thoroughly enjoyed most of it, but felt some of the technical bits were hard to follow, and kept me from really absorbing the information. However, I decided to bump the rating up to the 4.5 to 5 stars range, because not only did I really enjoy it, but multiple times was reminded of something in the book and was telling my husband interesting facts about brains, which means I must have absorbed a fair amount of it.

My one real annoyance with the book was the frequent references to different evolutionary 'ages' of different parts of the brain. (I did enjoy a laugh when they were forced to say 'nothing in the brain seems to be constructed by pure chance'--that statement I could completely get behind.)

I'd recommend this one for anyone who's interested in how the brain works, and enjoys zombie stories enough to get a kick out of the references, though in general I'd say only for mid-teens and up. While rarely very graphic, there are many zombie movies references to death and dismemberment and such (some of which are gross enough that I regretted trying to read while eating lunch) and also casual scientific mentions of reproductive activities (in the context of everything from humans to microbes).
Profile Image for Danny.
24 reviews10 followers
January 29, 2018
This book is a great introduction to neurology, explaining the anatomy and functions of the brain in the context of a post-apocalyptic zombie world. Readers should have a strong interest in neurology and at least a little background knowledge in zombie pop-culture in order to understand the references.

4/5 stars because at some points it starts to read like a textbook. It can be very dense with terminology, but the zombie anecdotes often help balance it out with a bit of humor.
Profile Image for Jillian.
17 reviews3 followers
December 14, 2020
I was assigned this book for my Neuroscience 32o class and it is definitely not your run of the mill textbook. My main issue is that it wasn't always easy to keep track of what they were saying and I wish there were more images of the anatomy they were referencing as well as diagrams of some mechanisms, but overall this book presented the source material in a really interesting way and kept me captivated.
Profile Image for Emily Mehlman.
88 reviews2 followers
July 10, 2017
As a neuroscientist and zombie enthusiast I found this book hilarious, fascinating, and engaging. It accurately describes multiple neurological systems and connects these systems with specific deficits that define Zombism. Historical facts, anecdotes, and case studies make this a fun and accessible read for all levels. Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Sam S.
37 reviews41 followers
April 21, 2019
I wish I'd read this before studying neuroscience as it uses zombies as a great way to teach the basic parts and processes in the brain. A fun read with fascinating insights into the historical development of the current idea of zombies, loads of references for horror fans, and of course a solid overview of specific parts of the brain (as they relate to humans and zombies).
Profile Image for Nachtreich.
175 reviews11 followers
November 29, 2020
Guarda te se uno dei libri di divulgazione più accurati in circolazione deve usare i non-morti come punto di riferimento per parlare del sistema nervoso.
Tutte le informazioni sono corrette, spesso più di quelle proposte da altri autori in testi ben più seri. Presenti un paio di cazzate quando si parla di organismi non umani (es.: tunicati che arrivano alla fase adulta senza un sistema nervoso).
Profile Image for Daneel Lynn.
850 reviews54 followers
April 13, 2022
作者統整知名電影/小說裡的喪屍行為後,煞有其事地依據腦神經科學的現有知識,從功能面向逐一剖析,最後形成統整性的「研究」,完成度(及爽度)頗高。

這些被一一拆解的「功能面」,其實就是作者所要傳遞的科普知識;每一項都從基礎介紹開始講起,先讓讀者了解正常人腦袋如何運作,然後再指出哪些部位的損壞造成的影響與病症,與案例中殭屍的外顯表現有多少的符合程度。

後者是娛樂泡泡沒錯,但重點就在於讀者也真想了解的話得先弄懂前者,於是閱讀的目的就達成了。
Profile Image for Hanna.
392 reviews
July 27, 2017
Very tech-y. If you are wanting the real low down on what's truly up with the possibilities of the undead, then check this out.
Profile Image for Toofan.
965 reviews18 followers
January 31, 2019
I expected some Neuroscience and a lot of Zombies but got the exact opposite. Still it was well written, informative and partially entertaining.
Profile Image for Beelzefuzz.
568 reviews1 follower
July 17, 2019
A very fun way to introduce neuroscience vocabulary and ideas for further research.
Profile Image for Scott Cinsavich.
41 reviews3 followers
June 25, 2015
Well not exactly a mash-up in the vein of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" but close enough. This book is an excellent introduction to higher brain functions with amusing references to how zombies behave when the functions are damaged. In fact, the details make "zombie disorder" or as the authors define it, Consciousness Deficit Hypoactivity Disorder (CDHD),worthy of inclusion in the DSM-V (The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual, used to define psychiatric disorders). I can imagine a viral origin that causes deterioration of the higher order cortical areas that underlie CDHD.

Here is a quote from the book defining CDHD:


Symptoms: CDHD is an acquired syndrome whereby patients present with a lack of intentional control over their actions, lethargic and fatigued movements (akinesthesia), loss of a sense of pleasure (anhedonia), general language dysfunction (aphasia), memory impairments (amnesias), and an inability to suppress appetitive actions such as eating or aggressive “fight-or-flight” behaviors. Patients with CDHD often present with severe difficulty in recognizing familiar objects or individuals (agnosias) and persistent sleep disturbances reflected as chronic insomnia that results in a subsequent “waking delirium” state. CDHD patients also present antisocial behavioral patterns (e.g., trying to bite or consume people) and these typically violent behaviors are strictly targeted at living humans. Indeed, a very strong pro-social behavior is expressed toward other infected individuals, as evidenced by the clustering and “swarm intelligence” of groups of infected individuals. Subtypes: CDHD-1, also known as “slow zombies,” present with more severe akinesthesia resulting in very slow and uncoordinated movements. CDHD-2, also known as “fast zombies,” do not present with akinesthesia at all.

Verstynen, Timothy; Voytek, Bradley (2014-09-22). Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?: A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain (pp. 203-204). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

I recommend it to those with knowledge of neuroscience or newbies.
Profile Image for Andy Taylor.
91 reviews
February 21, 2015
If you're curious about neuroscience and love zombies, than this book for you. Geeks and neuroscientists, authors Timothty Verstyen and Bradley Voytek combined their love of both in this creative examination of what might be going on inside your average zombie's brain to make them act the way they do. While heavy on the science, the book does a good job of keeping the tone light and making sure you don't get lost along the way. I could have easily pictured myself signing up for a course on Zombies and Neuroscience just to hear these "lectures" delivered in person. They include lots of pop culture references to Zombie behaviour in the "real world" from classics such as Night of the Living Dead, to Shaun of the Dead, to the Walking Dead and everything in between.

I listened to this on audio-book and have to say the narration by Scott Aiello was fabulous. You'd swear that Scott was one of the authors based on how flawless his delivery of the material was and how comfortable he sounded delivering the material.

If the clever title of the book, a play on PKD novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", wasn't enough to sell me on the book I have to thank author Robert J. Sawyer for recommending the audio-book. A+
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
100 reviews
December 16, 2014
This was a phenomenally fun look at neuroscience. While it would probably help to have some sort of basic anatomy knowledge, the book is actually very accessible, exploring the functions (and dysfunctions) of the brain with quite a novel base.
Because, of course, zombies aren't real, there's some conflicting speculation about how something would or wouldn't work but the explanations about the different part of the brain are very well done.
It's worth a read if you find yourself at the cross roads of science and a loathing for the undead
236 reviews17 followers
September 24, 2015
Awesome book! A fan of all things undead, this book was suggested to me by a coworker. It was an interesting and entertaining take on brain science. Although I probably won't be using the scientific language in my daily conversations, i feel like I have a better understanding of how the brain works. I would take the class this book is the required reading for. Each chapter is well- organized, generally easily understood, and followed by a reference list. The book has an impressive index and glossary. "Zombie Nerds Unite" indeed!
February 9, 2017
A very good concept - introduces the reader to a wide range of neuroscientific principles through a very interesting application! The book covers everything from cellular level to system level - something I appreciate and feels gives the reader an understanding of the complexity of the brain. I feel as though this is a great example of sci comms, and is accessible (& recommended!) for those new to the field.
Profile Image for Srinivas Kowtal.
21 reviews3 followers
June 21, 2015
If you want to get a good understanding of how the brain works this is the book to read. Not only you get to learn stuff you will also have fun reading the book. Writing style is simple and witty. The line about hitting some one and telling oxytocin made you do it made me laugh out loud for at least 30 seconds. All in all an enjoyable book to read.
Profile Image for Eena.
46 reviews
July 2, 2021
An excellent, extremely readable introduction into basic neuroscience within the context of diagnosing a zombie. Highly recommend for anyone that needs a refresher on some neuroanatomy or is just curious about how the brain works.

(Also - shameless plug because it was written by my current PhD advisor!)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 47 reviews

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