Did Gronk see a zombie?




Imagine the scene of man obviously mortally wounded and smelling of rotted flesh staggering his way toward a man from the mid Paleolithic Period[1], about 1.5 million years ago. We shall for purposes of argument refer to the rotting man as a “zombie” and the Paleolithic man as “Gronk”. The ensuing conversation follows:


Zombie: “oooooo,” moaning flatly.



Going along with the zombie model, zombie’s verbal expression might correspond to “meat” as that is the only motivation driving the beast.  Gronk’s response “hmmmmm” is also an acronym for “holistic, manipulative, multi-modal, musical, and mimetic[3],” elements of a basic pre-lingusitic system used in various forms until roughly 100 thousand years ago (tya) when genetic representations of more advanced use of the tongue, lips, and larynx appear[4], allowing more advanced ability to make subtle sound nuances and the likelihood of oral communication. But here Gronk’s “hmmmmm” may have been used defensively a more mimetic variation on a growl.


The apparent adversarial nature of this meeting in which zombie advances showing his teeth and moaning would likely result in Gronk, much quicker and goal-directed than zombie, running away to safety. Note that Gronk, although living half-way through the Paleolithic Period would have no weapons – that wouldn’t happen for another million to a million and a half years.


Yes this was also the Stone Age, and although Gronk was familiar stones but not yet as a weapon other than perhaps frightening off certain smaller animals from a distance by tossing small stones at them. And he did not carry stone around with him.


Nor would Paleoman be interested in the zombie as a food source.  Although there was some degree of opportunistic scavenging of meat after 250 tya, it wasn’t until about 40 tya – or 1.4 % of the end of the Paleolithic Period – that Homo Sapiens could even primitively hunt; and that was merely a supplement to their whole food plant based dietary pattern[5].


Is Gronk crazy?


Now imagine hypothetically that you are a psychiatric intern and are assigned the task of establishing whether or no Gronk is psychotic based on the following information presented to you.


History of present Illness:  Gronk claims the above incident happened several days ago. 


Past psychiatric history: No other claims of encounters with zombies.


Past medical history: No major medical illnesses, seizures, black-outs or head injuries that are know.  No known drug allergies.


Social history: Gronk lives within 5 miles of the stated incident and is associated with about 15 others; he has fathered three children by two different females.  His interests include eating, foraging for food, showing his prowess by providing food for “the others”. He has been exploring today for additional plant sources of food, roots, seeds, nuts, and leaves.


Laboratory: routine urine test did not revels typical drugs of abuse; all other labs non-contributory.


Physical exam: This is an 18 year old adult male who looks roughly his stated age; height about 5 feet tall, weight 110 lbs.  Appears in excellent physical condition.  Vitals: within normal limits. 


Mental status exam: Patient cooperative, rather passive in no apparent distress.  Appeared somewhat suspicious or curious of me and my instruments.  While the patient does not posses expressive language, he was not aggressive and did not appear to be responding to internal stimuli, i.e. actively hallucinating.  He appeared neither depressed nor manic, although he was somewhat hyperactive.




A close encounter with a flesh eating zombie could by some standards in some societies be the basis for a mental health compromise, perhaps Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or some other anxiety disorder.  Flashbacks of such a traumatic event could seem so real as to be visual and/ or audio hallucninations.


This is not the case for Gronk for several reasons.  Firstly, Gronk had no real language nor capacity for rational thought and conceptualization.  At his disposal were instinct, sense memory, pattern recognition, very rudimentary forms of intelligence.  Without the concept of the past, there were no depressing or terrifying thoughts that would revisit his consciousness; without the concept of the future, there were none of fears and anxieties associated with the future. 


With the supposition that there are and never were such creatures as zombies, we must assume that Gronk experienced a psychotic episode.  This is peculiar because


·      We have no information concerning a similar previous episode.

·      He does not appear psychotic to our exam.

·      Psychotic disorders 1.5 million years ago would be unlikely, certainly not genetically driven or they would have been eradicated by natural selection.


Secondly, there were no mental illnesses at that time in history.  There couldn’t have been.  Not only for the fact Gronk was a non-thinking hominid but based on the fact that no genetic material that could lead to one’s destruction could be expressed and passed on for thousands of millennia. 


Conclusion: Gronk most likely hallucinated after consuming an unknown toxic plant.



[1] The Paleolithic Period spanned 2.5 million years ago to about 10 thousand years ago; this roughly also spans the Stone Age, which is estimated to have lasted 3.5 million years ago to about 5,000 years ago.

[2] Gronk is a name assigned in popular literature to a typical man who lived in the Paleolithic Period

[3] Mithen, Steven J. (2006). The singing neanderthals: The origins of music, language, mind, and body. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

[4] Jakobson, R. and M. Halle 1956. Fundamentals of Language. The Hague: Mouton.

[5] Aiken, R.C. (2105) The new ancestral diet p 41, Go-Ahead Publishing.