Warning: this post contains many run-on sentences. Proceed with caution.
I once watched the movie 28 Days Later right before going to bed. This was a mistake; watching a bunch of fast-moving rage-filled zombies viciously attack and eat people makes it kind of difficult to drift gently off to sleep. Technically, I probably shouldn’t call them zombies, because they’re alive and infected with a disease instead of dead and, you know, zombified — but it says “zombie” right there on the movie poster, and regardless of what they are, you still don’t want one of them biting you, because then you’ll get infected and all you’ll ever want to do is attack and eat people, which will put a huge strain on your personal relationships and also probably make you lose your job because you keep skipping work to go on violent rampages and even when you do show up you spend most of your time biting people even though you’ve already been warned about your company’s no-biting policy several times. And then you won’t have an income, and although your living expenses will go down because you no longer have to buy food because you’re eating people instead, you still won’t be able to pay your rent, which means you’ll have to move in with your parents, which will be even more awkward than you might have imagined because even though your parents never expressed any strong opinions about cannibalism while you were growing up, they turn out to be pretty closed-minded about it. So of course you’ll eat them, which will seem like a good idea at the time but will mean there’s no one left to pay the rent on their house, so you’ll wind up out on the streets and even worse off than before.*
The point is, it’s a scary movie. So I was still a little frightened when I went to bed after watching it — which only got worse when I started hearing frantic scratching and clawing noises right outside my window. I’ve heard these noises before: directly under my bedroom window, there’s a screened-off entry to the crawl space under my house, and I sometimes hear sounds that turn out to be either an animal trying to get into the crawl space for warmth or an axe murderer trying to get into the house to kill me. So far, it’s mostly been animals:
|Type of intruder
||Number of occurrences
Whenever I hear these clawing noises, I remind myself that there haven’t been any confirmed axe murderers so far. But then I think, well, I guess that means we’re due for one, until I remember that probability doesn’t work that way: the likelihood of it being an axe murderer this time is independent of the number of previous axe murderer visits.** But I still haven’t gotten around to looking up axe murder statistics for my neighborhood; all I know is that I’ve never seen a report of one in my local newspaper, which means they must happen so frequently that they’re not considered newsworthy. Often, by the time I finish with that line of reasoning, the noise has stopped, so I count that as “unknown” in my ongoing intruder tally.
But this time is different. This time, I’m not thinking about axe murderers; I’m thinking about zombies. And while I know that zombies don’t exist, that doesn’t make me any less concerned about the possibility that there’s one right outside my window. So I’m lying there in the dark, afraid to look at the window because if I do then whatever is out there will become real. As long as I don’t look, it’s simultaneously a harmless raccoon and a murderous zombie in the same way that Schroedinger’s cat was both alive and dead, or dead and not-dead, which means that whatever’s outside my window is basically a Schroedinger’s zombie, which I can almost deal with except for the fact that “dead and not-dead” also describes a regular garden-variety zombie, which means there’s a zombie in my garden — and as I’m pursuing this train of thought, my cat jumps onto the bed. I’m so startled by this that I leap three feet into the air, still completely horizontal, like a cartoon character,*** which frightens the cat, who jumps even higher, which apparently scares off whoever or whatever is outside. And I suddenly realize that my zombie was an imaginary zombie, just like Schroedinger’s cat was an imaginary cat.
*Some of this is speculation on my part. The movie tends to focus less on long-term economic and social outcomes and more on short-term murderous rampages.
**Well, almost. An individual raccoon or axe murderer’s decision to visit a particular house is likely to be influenced by his or her prior experience with that house, so the events aren’t entirely independent.
***I’m pretty sure that’s impossible. But that’s how it felt.