Minimally Counterintuitive Concepts

Anatomy of a Counterintuitive Zombie

One typical ‘Person-like being violating biological intuitive expectations’ AKA a ZOMBIE

Zombies are currently enjoying a resurgence in popular culture appearing in a host of popular movies, TV shows, comics, reinterpretations of classical fiction and even computer games fighting with plants. Having just enjoyed/endured the controversial 100th issue of the Walking Dead zombies are also firmly in my mind and as such I’ve thought of another useful purpose they can serve; illustrating the features of a minimally counterintuitive concept.

The field of the Cognitive Science of Religion involves approaching religions and religious beliefs from a scientific perspective and examining whether part of the enduring popularity of religion can be explained by the cognitive features and evolutionary history shared by all humans. A central finding/theory that has emerged from this field, primarily due to the work of Pascal Boyer and Justin Barrett, is that almost all religious dieties and icons, despite their apparent diversity, can be placed into a ‘Minimally Counterintuitive’ (MCI) template. What this means is that they possess most of the expected and intuitive aspects associated with a particular category of things, for instance a zombie like a normal person moves around under its own power, seeks food, is subject to gravity, sees with its eyes and so on. However, MCI concepts also involve one or two violations of our intuitive assumptions, so in the case of zombies this means that the biological assumption of mortality/being susceptible to injury is violated. Zombies are dead and they typically don’t seem that bothered by injuries that would be of significant concern to a normal human. The MCI template then can be presented as:

Intuitive assumptions of an ontological category + 1/2 violations of those assumptions