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Zombies, galaxies among other TEDx topics
February 27, 2013Tweet
Not many people can say that they discovered a correlation between zombies and world politics, but Daniel Drezner can make that claim. Presenting at the TEDxBinghamtonUniversity conference on Feb. 24, Drenzer discussed his book “Theories of International Politics and Zombies.”
“I am here today to talk about the very, very serious and slightly silly topic of zombies,” Drezner said.
Drezner said that his book, which was written two years ago, asked what would different paradigms of international relations predict to happen if the dead returned to prey upon the living.
“The purpose of this book was not really to talk about zombies, it was to talk about world politics,” Drezner said.
He said he believed that the book would be a more “easy and accessible way” of helping the average student − who probably knows more about zombies than foreign affairs − to understand the way the world works.
Drezner said that the use of zombies in his book was an “accident” that stemmed from a reoccurring theme in popular culture. Yet, there was one sidebar that Drezner did not anticipate when he began working on the book.
“I suddenly became a zombie expert,” Drezner said. “I had to do the research; I had to watch all of the zombie movies, read all of the zombie books, and so on and so forth.”
Soon various media outlets were interviewing Drezner, including newspaper columnists and documentary makers. The objective was to understand what would happen if a zombie apocalypse were to potentially occur.
According to Drezner, the questions he receives and the quality of the documentaries have changed. He referenced an interview that he had done for a Discovery Channel documentary last year as an example.
“I noticed that, as I was doing that interview, I got one of those uncomfortable feelings, like ‘They’re taking this way too seriously,’” Drezner said.
He explained that there has been a shift in focus in regard to the topic of zombies.
“Something has changed. Yes, zombies are fun and we can laugh at them. But the tenure of the discourse on it is actually focused more on the apocalypse, and a little less on the zombies,” Drezner said. “The question we’re asked is: Why is that the case?”
Drezner said the first step to answering this question is to define the term that is being examined. In this case, the term is zombies. He said that the three properties that all zombies appear to hold are:
• Zombies cannot be killed unless the brain is destroyed.
• Zombies want to devour human flesh.
• Any human bitten by a zombie will inevitably become one.
Drezner hypothesized that the reason why zombies have garnered so much attention is because they represent a “kind of podium threat” that we think about in current world politics.
“Zombies represent an outstanding sort of stalking force for the other threats that we can’t talk about,” Drezner said. “To some extent, zombies represent what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld referred to as the unknown unknowns in world politics.”
Drezner said that there is a correlation between the production of zombie movies and the incidences of war, recession and epidemics. He also presented a statistical chart that showed a Google trend search of people interested in zombies and vampires. According to the data, there were more Google searches for zombies than there were for vampires.
“A lot of policy entrepreneurs, idea entrepreneurs and even public agencies have latched onto the zombie as a way to try to capture the attention of an increasingly scattered public,” Drezner said.
He gave examples of the uses of the zombie trend in op-ed columns, academia and his own career field.
“I’m certainly guilty of taking the zombie trope and trying to apply it to international relations. But I am hardly the only subfield that has done this.”
Drezner cited many examples of how large corporations have conducted or released zombie preparedness research, and asserts that this trend has both positive and negative attributes.
“The advantage of talking about zombies is that it makes it easier to explain things. Your average 18-year-old knows pretty much about what happens when you talk about zombies,” Drezner said. “They might not understand realism or social constructionism.”
Drezner said that the zombie trend also benefits creativity and genre, but that the belief and analogical reasoning are negative aspects of the trend.
According to Drezner, belief has a viral quality. The more people hear about a theory, the more they start to believe it. He said that analogical reasoning often makes people compare the new to the old.
“If people start thinking that there are these other threats that could be like the zombie apocalypse, the problem is that they might actually believe the analogy, which means they think that humanity can’t cope with these other threats,” Drezner said.
“This is a problem because of the power of belief,” he added. “If we live in a society where we actually don’t have faith in civil society or in government institutions, then believing that we’re going to live in the apocalypse means eventually that we actually do live in the apocalypse.”
Drezner said that this idea underestimates the originality of human beings and the “adaptability of human beings to cope with these situations.”
“Human beings are awesome. We invented duct tape,” Drezner said. “We can cope with the living dead, no problem.”
The conference concluded with a talk from Michelle Thaller, assistant director for science communication and higher education at NASA.
Thaller, who specializes in the life cycle of stars, said that we live in an extravagantly vast universe.
“Take for example a galaxy,” Thaller said. “A galaxy like this is composed of about half a trillion stars.”
Thaller explained the role of size and density in examining galaxies. “There’s about well over 1,000 galaxies in this image,” she said as she referred to one of her slides projected on the screen behind her. “Some of these galaxies are over 12 billion light-years away. And what that means is that light took that long to travel to us.”
Thaller said that looking at galaxies in the sky is the equivalent of looking at “the eye of a needle at arm’s length.”
“So if you look at the eye of a needle in any direction in the sky, you’re going to see between 1,000 and 2,000 galaxies.”
Thaller mentioned the importance of our universe’s energy content. Studies from 10 years ago show that the universe is 73 percent dark energy, which is energy that we know nothing about.
“We believe that everything that’s made up of the stuff that we are made of, regular matter, makes up about 4 percent of the universe,” she said.
Thaller also said that the study showed that the universe is 23 percent of something called “dark matter.”
“This is a new form of matter, that we have no idea what it is,” Thaller said. “Today we’re going to talk about dark matter. How can we possibly believe that everything we see is only about 4% matter?”
Thaller explained the notion that dark matter holds together clusters of galaxies, as well as how scientists have the ability to study it.
“When you think about how much matter is out there in a form that we can’t see, you think about the question: Does the universe have dark matter and the rest of us just don’t?”