What Zombies Can Teach Us About Psychopaths

Is a psychopath conscious?

First, what does it mean to be conscious?

Consciousness is our subjective experience. It’s the feeling of being inside your own head, looking out.

The philospher David Chalmers explores “the hard problem of consciousness, or, to use the kind of language that might give a neuroscientist an aneurysm, of having a soul.” So far, no one has been able to figure it out. It’s our normal way of being so most of us take it for granted and seldom think about it, but it is one of the greatest mysteries of human life.

Chalmers asks, ‘why should all our complicated brain processes feel like anything from the inside? Why aren’t we just brilliant robots, capable of retaining information, of responding to noises and smells and hot saucepans, but dark inside, lacking an inner life? And how does the brain manage it?’ He theorizes that consciousness somehow falls outside the domain of the physical. That might seem believable to you, but these academics need evidence and proof.

Chalmers’ ideas come across as ‘wildly improbable’ to his colleagues, but he takes it in stride. At philosophy conferences, he is fond of climbing on stage to sing The Zombie Blues, a lament about the miseries of having no consciousness:

I act like you act,
I do what you do,
But I don’t know
What it’s like to be you,
Wouldn’t it be a drag to be a zombie?
Consciousness is what makes life worth living,
and I don’t even have that;
I’ve got the zombie blues.

That doesn’t sound ‘wildly improbable’ to me. As I read those lyrics, I thought of one thing: A psychopath.


I actually read the musings of a psychopath who wondered what the difference was between being alive and being dead. To me, the difference is clearly consciousness. There were no ‘blues’ involved in the psychopath’s musings. There was no sadness or suicidal ideation expressed — it was merely a question he or she pondered. Several others chimed in and said they often wondered the same thing. Psychopaths exist in a ‘zero state’ — emotionless, empty without feelings of despair, along with a chronic sense of bored restlessness.

“It would be poetic – albeit deeply frustrating – were it ultimately to prove that the one thing the human mind is incapable of comprehending is itself. An answer must be out there somewhere. And finding it matters: indeed, one could argue that nothing else could ever matter more – since anything at all that matters, in life, only does so as a consequence of its impact on conscious brains.”

Nothing matters to psychopaths. Nothing has any inherent meaning, value, or worth to them, nor do they assign any. They live in a world of meaningless inanimate objects they care nothing about. Self-gratification is their only goal.

Is a psychopath conscious? They don’t seem ‘human’ because of their lack of emotion (and their bizarre way of thinking, as a result of that), so perhaps consciousness is what’s missing. And maybe consciousness arises from emotion, or emotion arises from consciousness.  Because of our ability to feel emotion, we feel connected to others and to life, and they feel meaningful to us. The psychopath, on the other hand, feels no emotion, no connection, and no sense of meaning.

Chalmers stated, “Look, I’m not a zombie, and I pray that you’re not a zombie, but the point is that evolution could have produced zombies instead of conscious creatures – and it didn’t!”

Is that so?


“The zombie scenario goes as follows: Imagine that you have a doppelgänger. This person physically resembles you in every respect, and behaves identically to you; he or she holds conversations, eats and sleeps, looks happy or anxious precisely as you do. The sole difference is that the doppelgänger has no consciousness.  This – as opposed to a groaning, blood-spattered walking corpse from a movie – is what philosophers mean by a ‘zombie.’ Such non-conscious humanoids don’t exist, of course.”

Of course.

All quotes in this post are from The Guardian article, ‘Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness?’ by Oliver Burkeman.

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9 thoughts on “What Zombies Can Teach Us About Psychopaths”

  1. Nearlybel

    Oh wow, now we’re talking Admin :) that sends shivers up my spine. bp ( before psycho) I only came across zombies in those terrible but good ‘B’ movies. But they became a part of my life, it was one of his favourite names to call the children, not so much me, I was the parasite, but zombie was part of the lexicon of our home. And the children went through a zombie phase, zombie films and zombie games, ‘kill the zombie, kill the zombie by shooting him in the head’ was the song they sung as they chased and ran from them. Zombies eat brains. Psychopaths do the same, they consume our very being, our soul our consciousness.
    They empty our heads, our hearts and our pockets. And I believe,
    They do know exactly what they’re doing. Evil personified.
    And they infect and zombify all who they are able to victimise.
    If you resist, challenge and fight their abuse, you will suffer the consequences and so the infection takes hold and flourishes and you become an extension of him, your thoughts always being filtered with his malignancy. Your hopes and dreams and plans and wishes are stolen from you, but you shared them willingly with him, so how can they be stolen? He ensures your fears and worse nightmares become your reality.
    How did that happen?
    What is wrong with me?
    I must be soooo sick/mad.
    I trusted and loved a psychopath, I did became that zombie. Who could believe it? Oh yuk
    But I’m better now :) and we are all safe away from him and every day gets better.
    He is the zombie and we know he will always be that zombie.
    Here’s to the human race, and the identification and exposure of these malign beings. xxx

    1. Admin

      As I read that article about consciousness, I just kept seeing a parallel!
      “And they infect and zombify all who they are able to victimise.” Yep, and that’s the only way they can keep feeding on us. “Oh yuk.”
      The good thing is victimized people can recover from that infection. And it really does feel like an infection of some sort.
      He was the zombie all along!
      Here’s to the human race and to you, Nearlybel XXX

      1. Admin

        A description of a virus also reminded me of psychopaths: “It is alive yet dead, simple yet complex, mindless yet prophetic, seemingly able to anticipate our every move.”

    2. Marianne

      Beautifully written. He called my eldest boy a zombie! I once told him he was evil. Then he took that label and projected it on to the children. They were evil, evil evil, he said. But not me. He wanted a cardboard cutout audience that didn’t talk, didn’t think and was restrained by his manacled hand around my wrist, butts firmly planted on the couch at night. Every time a kid would try to come downstairs, he’d say something terrible to them and send them running back upstairs. We left more than a year ago–domestic violence shelter and the hell of a broken system. In an email to my attorney–discard phase activated–I have become “an evil, manipulative monster” now. How dare I deny him his property? If the shoe fits…

      1. Admin

        I’m so sorry to hear of what you and your children went through, and what you’re dealing with now. I’m glad to hear you got away from him. Someone else here in the comments — Nearlybel — also said her ex called the kids zombies. They project their sickness onto others. Everything they called us and thought of us is actually what they themselves are. I hope the situation will soon improve for you and the children, Marianne. Stay strong and be well.

  2. Nearlybel

    Hey, just a thought and after re reading, and something that bothers me, their sense of smell, or more to the point their lack of it.
    Can zombies smell?

    1. Admin

      I don’t know, Nearlybel, and your question is a challenging one! I’ll give it a try, though:

      You would think that a good sense of smell would help a zombie (psychopath) because they’re predators, and a sense of smell is vital to a predator. But their ability to smell is greatly diminished. Perhaps because of their keen ability to “sniff out” victims using psychological means, other predatory abilities and senses were not necessary and dwindled over the course of their evolution.

      But sense of smell is important for other reasons — for example, to be able to tell if food is safe to eat. I recently read an excerpt from M.E. Thomas’s book, ‘Confessions of a Sociopath,’ and she said she’s gotten food poisoning countless times from eating spoiled and rotten food. She attributes it to a lack of concern about her own safety, but I think it’s from her lousy sense of smell. Maybe nature built in a poor sense of smell to keep their population in check. I’d love to see some statistics showing how many psychopaths die from food poisoning.

      How was it that this zombie/consciousness theory made you think of a psychopath’s poor sense of smell?

  3. camabelu

    Do you know, I think I may be making some real progress here. One of the (if not THE) biggest problems I have with labelling someone a psychopath and understanding that I need to then take the next healthy step of eradicating them from my life, comes as a direct result of my own very non-psychopathic mind and soul. You’ve mentioned it several times yourself, Admin – you have written about coming up against people (notably including therapists) who insist on attributing qualities to psychopaths that just aren’t there – that they somehow feel guilty about their inability to feel guilty, to explain it very poorly. But you may have just touched on the key in this posting; for me at least. Because I’m human, I cannot bring myself to simply exclude another person from mattering. After all, s/he’s HUMAN and to do this – to eradicate him from my life would surely be to behave as though I were psychopathic myself, wouldn’t it? It’s been a conundrum for me and I know from your blog that I’m not alone with this dilemma. But. As I continue taking in fully the fact that “to be conscious and in a human form is to be human” is NOT a given, I can begin to see a hint of potential for letting go of this incredibly frustrating problem. It used to be that imagining machines-as-humans was the stuff of science fiction. As we move further and deeper down the path of high technology, this becomes evermore easy to visualize. As I begin to grasp how “intelligent” computers really have become and how that grows in leaps and bounds with (literally) every passing day, I am more and more able to imagine not just machines-as-humans, but humans-as-machines. As its sense of abstractness diminishes and I can more easily picture something with soft skin, expressive eyes and voice, and everything else that used to make the distinctions between man and machine clear, I can also more easily get my mind around the concept that PSYCHOPATHS REALLY ARE NOT HUMAN. Is it really such a big surprise, after all, to imagine that nature created this before were able to, using our technology? Nature is brilliant. There’s no denying that in my eyes.
    So I’m almost there. I can almost hold the notion of psychopaths being exactly like me and exactly unlike me at the same time. How ironic that I’ve long held it to be a fact that Truth (or God, or Nature, or whatever you want to call it) is always found in paradox.
    Thank you, thank you and one more time, thank you.

    1. Admin

      “you may have just touched on the key in this posting; for me at least.”

      I’m glad you finally found your key. It’s the one that will open the door to the cell the psychopath has you locked in.

      “I can almost hold the notion of psychopaths being exactly like me and exactly unlike me at the same time.” And that paradox is their key, the one that enables them to lock us up in the first place.

      You’re welcome, camebula. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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