Everyone is familiar with the undead (cue zombie moaning and shambling). But what makes something undead as opposed to alive or simply dead? Philosophers have puzzled over this question and what (if anything) undeath suggests about our categories of life and death. If the philosophers are right–that lots of things are indeed quasi-living–contemporary biology suggests that the undead are extraordinarily common. It turns out that life and death aren’t binary conditions but complicated “cluster” states that can be had in greater and lesser degrees. Not so scary after all, huh, George Romero?
Diego is a research entomologist at UC Santa Cruz. Manuel is a professor of philosophy and law at the University of San Francisco.