Human Odyssey displays a Tree of Religion showing how religions developed from early animism 100,000 years or so ago. Animism is typically considered the idea of a soul; that all things have a soul. Certainly not the Christianized soul and frankly much more like Plato’s theory of forms, a confusing philosophy at best, since a form is kind of a soul, an idealized, autonomous entity.
“…the worldview that non-human entities (animals, plants, and inanimate objects or phenomena), possess a spiritual essence.
At any rate my first reaction is that this is the expression of Daniel Dennett’s intentional stance.
Here is how it works: first you decide to treat the object whose behavior is to be predicted as a rational agent; then you figure out what beliefs that agent ought to have, given its place in the world and its purpose. Then you figure out what desires it ought to have, on the same considerations, and finally you predict that this rational agent will act to further its goals in the light of its beliefs. A little practical reasoning from the chosen set of beliefs and desires will in most instances yield a decision about what the agent ought to do; that is what you predict the agent will do.
Both are anthropological views best discussed as looking at something from within a world view and then from without, evidencing the difference. Or as Marvin Harris called it, the emic versus the etic.
“The emic approach investigates how local people think” (Kottak, 2006): How they perceive and categorize the world, their rules for behavior, what has meaning for them, and how they imagine and explain things. “The etic (scientist-oriented) approach shifts the focus from local observations, categories, explanations, and interpretations to those of the anthropologist. The etic approach realizes that members of a culture often are too involved in what they are doing to interpret their cultures impartially. When using the etic approach, the ethnographer emphasizes what he or she considers important.”
This rational ability involves personal agency, a sense of agency.
The “sense of agency” (SA) refers to the subjective awareness that one is initiating, executing, and controlling one’s own volitional actions in the world. It is the pre-reflective awareness or implicit sense that it is I who is executing bodily movement(s) or thinking thoughts. In normal, non-pathological experience, the SA is tightly integrated with one’s “sense of ownership” (SO), which is the pre-reflective awareness or implicit sense that one is the owner of an action, movement or thought. If someone else were to move your arm (while you remained passive) you would certainly have sensed that it were your arm that moved and thus a sense of ownership (SO) for that movement. However, you would not have felt that you were the author of the movement; you would not have a sense of agency (SA).
Some see animism as primitive predating fetishism, totemism, pantheism, and so forth. I am not so sure. We talk to our cars, have relationships with our dogs, attribute intent to the weather or the stars, and even call fetuses, corporations, and mosques persons. My old blue collar mechanic mentors talked about respecting the tool or the motor where maintenance and care meant not abusing them, changing the oil on time, and not allowing them to rust. Abusing mechanics was as viscerally evil as abusing a body.
Consciousness seems to be required. Which explains why so many react to the idea that a machine can’t be human. There must be something that allows consciousness or even bacteria to have some kind of freedom, agency. Chemical communication run amuck and scaled incredibly becomes an organ.
When I had the lucky opportunity to talk with Daniel Dennett (always attend pre-conference dinners, cocktails, talks) I asked what his favorite work was and he said “Consciousness Explained.” I thought it to be “Freedom Evolves” because it shows how consciousness is related to freedom and as organisms evolved they became both more conscious and more free. Which to me is actually more interesting than answering what is consciousness though I spend considerable time on that subject as well. The two are entailed.
Of course near everyone admits a jump between the consciousnessness and conscious abilities of even primates compared to humans but happily, finally, accurately it has become a degree of scale and not quality. It has been a long time coming overcoming the idea that humans are gods uniquely different than other beings.
This chain of philosophy is also described in Randall Collins book “The Sociology of Philosophies, a Global Theory of Intellectual Change” a ponderous but informative text of some 1,100 pages. His nonMarxiast view that violence is not the inevitable result of inequity is intriguing.
Collins argues sex, smoking, and social stratification and much else in our social lives are driven by a common force: interaction rituals. Interaction Ritual Chains is a major work of sociological theory that attempts to develop a “radical microsociology.” It proposes that successful rituals create symbols of group membership and pump up individuals with emotional energy, while failed rituals drain emotional energy. Each person flows from situation to situation, drawn to those interactions where their cultural capital gives them the best emotional energy payoff. Thinking, too, can be explained by the internalization of conversations within the flow of situations; individual selves are thoroughly and continually social, constructed from the outside in.
Collins has also argued that violent confrontation goes against human physiological hardwiring. It is the exception, not the rule—regardless of the underlying conditions or motivations. This is in opposition to explanations by social scientists that violence is easy under certain conditions, like poverty, racial or ideological hatreds, or family pathologies.
At any rate when you get pissed at your computer for not cooperating or the program that sabotages you or you thank the pig that gave its life for you to eat consider these roots of world views in animism.
Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com