Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Vampires and Zombies

Vampires, ghosts and zombies are staples of the horror genre. Could they have a basis in reality? Physicist Costas Efthimiou, of the University of Central Florida says "no".

According to an article by the Associated Press:
Efthimiou takes out the calculator to prove that if a vampire sucked one person's blood each month -- turning each victim into an equally hungry vampire -- after a couple of years there would be no people left, just vampires. He started his calculations with just one vampire and 537 million humans on Jan. 1, 1600 and shows that the human population would be down to zero by July 1602.
Of course, the problem with that calculation is that it assumes that vampires need to suck the blood of a different person each month. In Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Count feeds on poor Lucy multiple times. In fact, red blood cells only live about four months, and must be constantly replaced. That's why you can safely donate blood every eight weeks or so. So for vampires to be "realistic", all they need to do is feed off the same people multiple times.

Efthimiou points out that the best known example of zombification, Wilfred Doricent, was actually a case of paralysis due to tetrodotoxin poisoning. Tetrodotoxin is found in the liver of pufferfish, and is the chemical that makes Japanese fugu potentially lethal. The poison causes paralysis while the victim remains fully conscious. Death comes eventually by asphyxiation. People can "wake up" from apparent death after a relatively mild case of tetrodotoxin poisoning. An ex-voodoo priest has apparently confirmed that zombification indeed involves a potion which contains extract from the liver of a Hatian pufferfish.

Other studies have noted that some people considered zombies by their families really have brain damage or suffer from mental disorders such as catatonic schizophrenia.

So while a science-based story could certainly include "vampires" and "zombies", they would have to be different than the way they are depicted in popular horror movies.

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Torbjørn Marø said...

If you haven't done so already, you should read Blindsight (released last month) by biologist/SF author Peter Watts. I haven't done so myself, but I'm told it is really good, hard SF, and it has both a Vampire and a Zombie.

Peggy said...

Thanks for the suggestion, I've put it on my "to read" list.

I've been wracking my brains to try and remember a story I read a long time ago that did have vampire-like aliens, but I can't come up with it. It wasn't Octavia Butler's Fledgling - this would have been published in the 1980's, most likely. I'll come up with it eventually.

Steven Shaviro said...

I second Torbjorn Maro's recommendation. Peter Watt's BLINDSIGHT makes a great effort to create biologically plausible vampires. He also has some of the stuff about vampires online:

Bryan Alexander said...

You might also like this satirical powerpoint presentation, about Big Pharma using vampires.

Thanks for the link!

Peggy said...

Bryan, you might want to check out my post on Biology in Peter Watts' Universe. I link to the FizerPharm presentation as well as some other Watts-related sites.

Anonymous said...

You might also like "Blood for the Living" by Kate Nevermore. Great scifi, and the vampiric aspect seems to fit right in.