Talking to the Dead/ Zombie Apcalypse

Hosted byGeorge Knapp

Talking to the Dead/ Zombie Apcalypse

About the show

Researcher and author Bill Birnes has uncovered another bitter Edison vs. Tesla rivalry and discussed how Edison’s little-known near-death experience formed his theory that animate life forms don’t die, but rather change the nature of their composition - with Tesla monitoring Edison’s paranormal work, both men raced to create a device that picked up the frequencies of spirits that would allow us to speak to the dead. In the first half, Birnes described Edison as the "Bill Gates of his time" with wealth and influence to whatever he wanted. In 1930 he retired from inventing and concentrated on his other interests such as extraterrestrials and psychic phenomena, which was later edited out of his diaries by his family. He believed that the living could communicate the dead by use of electrical patterns of the brain that Edison thought survived physical death, and which he called "life units."

Nikola Tesla (who had proven Edison wrong about the usefulness of AC current) thought that the universe is composed of an infinite variety of sound and electromagnetic waves, and that if you could zero in on the right ones, you could hear the voices of the departed. His idea for a "spirit phone" would use this theory. Birnes also described how Edison (who didn’t believe in psychics) actually used them to test his spirit device on a "dark and stormy night" in the fall of 1920. Unlike Edison, who went though countless sessions of trial and error, Birnes pointed out that Tesla’s ideas came to him fully formed. He added that both had ideas that were "a hundred years ahead of their time."


When humankind faces what it perceives as a threat to its very existence, a macabre thing happens in art, literature, and culture. The dead walked in the fourteenth century, when the Black Death and other catastrophes roiled Europe. They walked in images from World War I, when a generation died horribly in the trenches. They walked in art inspired by the Holocaust and by the atomic attacks on Japan. Now, in the early twenty-first century, the dead walk in stories of the zombie apocalypse. In the second half, Greg Garrett, author and Baylor University professor, discussed how this "apocalypse" became an archetypal narrative for the contemporary world and how these stories can also offer us wisdom about living in a community with real-world ethical solutions, and invite us into conversation about the value and costs of survival.

Garrett said that he was surprised to learn that the TV show "The Walking Dead" was one of the most popular in the world and wondered what contributed to its fame, although he said "it’s in our DNA that we’re always going to be wondering how the world’s going to end." He said that a producer for the show told him that the stories are not about zombies, but about human beings and how they deal with extreme adversity. Garrett says this mirrors the fears that people have about the present world situation. Garrett also said that shows and stories about an apocalypse often illustrate the choices people make that people make that can "make them inhuman." Garrett concluded that these stories are often "like an ethics laboratory for us."

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