Looks like the Madore brothers have done it again, releasing the second research paper in what I hope is a series of scientific articles on zombies. I reviewed their first paper and was lucky enough to get an interview with the authors, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Their second paper is titled “The Physics of Zombies II: Madore’s Rules of Zombie Vision and Visual Target Confirmation“, and it deals with trying to scientifically discern how it is that zombies are able to determine the difference between prey and non-prey. The Madore brothers had a hypothesis that perhaps there is something different in the visual system of a zombie, and their paper comes up with an explanation that is very plausible. The article presents exiting ideas about zombie vision and I believe they are on to something that may change the landscape of zombie research.
The entire article is available for download, and in this paper the authors have included a summary of each scientific explanation for those who don’t want all the math and physics. The paper starts with an introduction regarding what is meant by “zombie vision”, and introduces two axioms that the article will investigate and prove:
A) If necessary, a zombie can tell the difference between a fellow zombie and a human using vision alone.
B) There must be something in the visual signal that a zombie can utilize to discern
that even though an object is shaped and/or moves like a zombie, it is actually a
The idea of target morphology is introduced in the second section, and examples are given of how humans identify targets – such as a hunter targeting deer – using human vision and morphological clues such as the form and shape of a deer vs. that of a fellow hunter. Examples are then used to show that something other than normal visual morphology must be used by zombies in acquiring targets. For example, a freshly turned Wall Street executive is known to the zombie as not being prey, where a normal human Wall Street executive is perceived as prey, and yet they look the same – same clothes, hair, briefcase, etc. A long-homeless person may look like a zombie – battered, scarred, missing teeth, sores, etc., and yet the zombie knows the homeless person is prey and not a fellow zombie. Several other examples are given to show that something must exist in the zombie vision system to differentiate these targets.
The authors move on to section three, where they explain the concept of a target heat signature that is different between humans and zombies. Generally, a human’s temperature will be around 98.6 degrees where that of the zombie will be close to the ambient temperature of the environment. Here the idea is presented that zombies must somehow detect this temperature difference using some kind of thermal imaging or infrared radiation sensor inherent in the makeup of the zombie vision system.
Section four gets into the hard science of how this might work, beginning with an introduction to rhodopsin, a type of opsin pigment in the human eye, which, believe it or not allows humans to see infrared radiation in low-light conditions, but only for a few femtoseconds before the rhodopsin gets “bleached out” by direct light. If we close our eyes for a half hour or so, we can regenerate enough rhodopsin to see infrared for another couple of femtoseconds which is pretty useless. The authors believe that in zombies, rhodopsin is present in a higher level or different state than humans, thereby giving them the ability to distinguish between different target heat signatures.
Now the paper presents the idea that there must be an increase in the production of rhodopsin as a human turns zombie due either to a viral or baterial transformation. Whether there are viral or bacterial catalysts causing this is up for debate and more study is needed – indeed, though, there must be a transformation. It is known that microbial rhodopsin is capable of modifying photo-receptors in retinal cells, and perhaps this is the most plausible explanation given the huge amounts and types of bacteria present in a decomposing zombie.
The rest of section four gets into some heavy science, but again the authors have provided summaries along the way for those who don’t want to get bogged down in numbers. The idea of cell inversion of the rods in the eyes taking place is presented, and since many mammals with good IR vision have such inversions, it is probable that this is the case in zombie vision. The authors believe that the zombie rhodopsin has the remarkable property of emitting and receiving energy through proteins, creating a self-sustaining production of stable rhodopsin. [Indeed, scientists have found microbial rhodposins that has both photochemical sensing properties and proton-pumping properties (See PubMed article 21135094)].
In section five, the concept of target detection and confirmation is explained through the use of a formula, ΔPM = (Bμ + Tμ) / (Bμ – Tμ), where ΔPM is change in Panoramic Morphology, Bμ is background infrared, and Tμ is target infrared. In other words, the zombies are combining inputs from the background infrared and the target infrared. This is very similar to the standard formula for target detection by humans where Bμ and Tμ represent the left and right eye, however here the authors have applied this formula to each zombie eye because of the added heat detection capability of the zombie eye. Fascinating!
Overall, this is another great study in zombie physiology research by two leading necropolgists, and should generate a lot of discussion. More research needs to be done, however, and hopefully this can generate enough interest in the field for other researchers to verify, modify, and improve the knowledge base of what we know about zombie vision.