Neurologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran addresses this phenomenon in his "Zombie In The Brain" theory. According to Dr. Ramachandran, the brain is not "like a computer," as the popular description goes. Instead, the brain is highly decentralized, consisting of specialized regions that make specific interconnections. Despite the common understanding that a single function (seeing, for example) involves several anatomical structures and brain regions, he describes the brain as being far more complex than we have previously imagined.
Using the example of vision, there are evolutionarily "old" centers and pathways - such as those that recognize and interpret movement - that operate independently from "newer" mechanisms (those that interpret the movement and form a response). These old pathways are located deep in the center of the brain and brain stem and direct our life experience in ways that we are unaware of as long as the newer pathways are operable. This "old" brain is Ramachandran's "zombie."
What sorts of things does the zombie do best? It seems that orienting the body in space is a primary function. Ramachandran points out that a task as simple as reaching for and grasping something requires significantly refined sensory-motor coordination. In neurology patients whose whose centers for conscious processing of objects is damaged, this skill remains intact (they can't identify a banana or a block of wood, but they can accurately grasp and handle the "unknown" object). Once a baby's zombie systems are up and running (literally), they hum along for most of a lifetime, mobilizing the body through a myriad of activity.
For the monk, subduing the conscious feedback loop restores both physical existence and mental life to its innate simplicity.
The Master doesn't think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.- Lao Tzu
For the kicker and other athletes, the temporary suspension of the conscious feedback mechanism allows the zombie to perform a learned action without interference.
"It’s when you start thinking you get in trouble. At that point, if you can’t turn off your mind and simply operate on muscle memory you’re screwed. The doubt will 99.9% of the time get the best of you."
- kicker Tyler Fredrickson
For the actual zombie, things are pretty straight-forward.
" Brains, brains, brains...."- anonymous zombie