Zombies resemble deceased human beings. That’s what they are really. Except that reanimation thing and the drive to eat the living. What do we make of this? It’s a spark, isn’t it? Of something beyond? Just enough to get them going and send them in a direction? The transcendent is very tenacious; we just can’t seem to shake it. Zombies don’t have consciousness, but this spark of beyond might be an indicator that they might not be 100% material. And if they aren’t, perhaps we aren’t either.
In many zombie narratives, including The Walking Dead, the walkers exhibit more complex behavior than we often give them credit for. They gather into herds. It seems as if some stimulus, perhaps a sound, will bring a few individuals to move in the same direction. The concord of this small group will serve as a stimulus for other walkers to move in the same direction—to join the group. In this way, more and more zombies will merge, forming a large herd. A lone zombie is fairly easy to dispatch, but as a horde they are difficult to stop even with weapons. This grouping behavior will increase the chances of their success to eat living human flesh. This seems to be the purpose of this behavior.
Eugene offers an explanation of how zombie herding behavior increases their deadliness:
Zombies in a herd are a force of nature. They don’t operate on logic or reason. If one of them even so much as brushes a hand against your door [behind which you are hiding]–and another one sees that, mistakes that as an attempt to get in–it’s over. That one starts trying to get in–the one who did the accidental tap thinks something’s inside all of a sudden–he starts beating on the door with him. They would kill you all.
(Issue 60. Page 21)
Zombie herding and hunting behavior suggests they are purposive. They are directed toward need-fulfilling ends. They are not conscious of these ends, spiders aren’t of theirs either, but we can make sense of zombie behavior by thinking about it as a series of responses to changing contexts. The horn blares and the herd turns. The zombies recognize and respond to changes in their environment. They engage in adaptive behavior. They will attempt to clutch a living person and draw their victims toward their mouth. If their arms are taken off with a machete, they will adapt and attack with their teeth. If their legs are blown off, they will crawl. If decapitated, they will wait patiently for some incredible event that brings living human flesh to its mouth. This is not simply reflexive behavior. Perhaps the zombies have a bite reflex or herd instinct, but these particular impulses are a part of a coordinated and generally purposive action and they cannot be understood in isolation, only as they help to achieve the zombie’s end-purpose.
If zombies have an inherent purpose toward which their behavior aims, then the materialists may have a problem. I’m not saying it is an insurmountable problem, perhaps it is, but it poses a question that must be answered at some point for materialism to be a legitimate description of reality. Stephen L. Talbot makes this argument about all living things—even individual cells. To say, “It’s all instinctive” is an inadequate response, Talbot says. He says, that for living things, the end is more constant than the means, and this “requires an active intelligence.”
Eugene’s description of zombie behavior has the second zombie interpreting the first zombie’s brush up against the door handle as an attempt to get in. Even with its compromised senses, the interpreting zombie is not simply interacting with meaningless matter—it is perceiving and interpreting the world. It is difficult to explain this behavior in materialist terms. Why does this zombie interpret the movement of a door handle as possibly significant, rather than as a certainly meaningless event in series of random events? A form of intelligent awareness is necessary to differentiate a door from a wall, and a possibly meaningful movement of a door handle from the thousand other sounds and movements in the zombie’s immediate surroundings.
The presence of this intelligent awareness in this degraded effigy of humanity (and in all living organisms) strongly suggests that we sense that the materialist understandings of reality are perhaps inadequate.The presence of zombie active intelligence is evidence that we doubt the absence of our own.