The Real Walking Dead
Beware. Zombies are in your midst. This is not a joke. This is reality. Scientists call it Cotard delusion. We call it crazy awesome.
At the start of this spectacular spook-fest we at WTFreud call Halloween Week, we described a condition known to psychologists as Capgras, in which sufferers believe all of their loved one’s have been replaced by look-and-sound-alike imposters. Today we describe an equally harrowing tale of brains, guts, and spider-web-like neural connections, in which delusions are focused not outward, but inward.
The name of the game is Cotard delusion. But, this is no jovial competition best suited for a Sunday afternoon’s picnic. This is a viciously viscous battle of electricity and force—in someone’s head. Neurons are firing like cannons, and now one just isn’t thinking like they used to. No. Now they end up reenacting a scene from AMC’s The Walking Dead. Kidding aside, people are walking around right now believing they are Zombies—that they are deceased. Or, at the very least that their body is severely damaged, when in reality it’s not. But, no amount of argumentation can persuade the zombified. They really believe it.
Person with Cotard’s: “I am dead.”
Someone else: “Well then how are you talking to me?”
Person with Cotard’s: “I don’t know, but I’m definitely dead.”
Ever tried to argue with a zombie? It goes NOWHERE!
The condition is rare and involves different possibilities for expression, of course one being where people come to believe that they are actually dead. Toast! Extinct! Zombified! Across most cases is the concept of self-negation and nihilistic beliefs, where someone literally denies the existence of part or all of their physical form. For example, some deny the existence of their arms, their soul, or even the entire world. Unfortunately, pointing out that these things are right in front of their eyes (including the penis in some poor individuals) does little to help someone with this disorder.
Person with Cotard’s: “My legs are missing.”
Someone else: “No, your legs are right there.”
Person with Cotard’s: “Those are definitely not my legs.”
What causes these delusions and should you be worried about waking up dead tomorrow? For one, there is a link between Cotard delusions and suffering from other issues like severe depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia. So, if you are a generally healthy and psychologically balanced individual, you might not have to worry about this developing organically. But, there are cases of Cotard’s developing as a result of brain trauma, which we are all susceptible to, from time to time, but especially you [enter name of any occupation that requires the use of a helmet].
Renowned neuroscientist Vilayanur Subramanian Ramachandran, in his new book, talks about a guy with Cotard delusions who likes to study philosophy. This essentially changes everything we previously knew! It turns out that modern zombies are quite articulate and some even have a penchant for literature!
Here is some more technical information. Knowing that many of these patients suffer from other related issues, researchers believe the delusions to have specific neurological and cultural roots. For example, the amygdala and areas of the prefrontal cortex (which work as emotion control centers) may be working overtime in these individuals. Their brains are frying. Couple that with whatever might be playing at your culture’s local Cineplex, and you can get zombies with no arms walking around town.
Given the complexity of such a rare disorder, how do we fix these people? It might surprise you to learn that it is NOT advised to attack them a la every zombie movie ever. Mentally speaking, these people’s worst fears could come true. They probably need some major help. One line of research is dedicated to pharmaceutical means, which does show some signs of benefit. Either way, zombies are in your midst.