Naturalistic Animism…

Here is an idea that I’ve been swirling around in my head for awhile. I feel that it isn’t quite cooked up yet, but has great potential. But let me know what you think! And be brutal, but don’t be dumb (unless you are dumb, in which case you can’t help it and I’ll allow it).

Spinoza layed outa quasi-religious, yet non-supernatural (one could say, Atheistic) system called naturalistic pantheism. Naturalistic pantheism approaches spirituality through nature from a Judeo-Christian starting point (the way I see it; his audience was Christian). Spinoza begins with the all-powerful God of the Hebrews and ends with an all-powerful, consisting of all things, logical, unthinking “God” (you can just call “him” the universe if you want).

Spinoza’s views have been very influential. Albert Einstein, Arne Næss (founder of the deep ecology movement), Steven Hawkings and countless philosophers have been influenced by Spinoza’s naturalistic pantheism. It has been used as a way to understand human behavior and the universe. Our brains aren’t general-purpose calculators, so there is power in phrases such as “I want to read God’s thoughts.”

I propose a biocentric spirituality that is to animism what Spinoza’s views are to pantheism and deism.

The way is to look at the nature of life itself, which leads us to realize that more things are living than those that have DNA, are carbon-based or eat and shit. I do not speak of extraterrestrials (though I do hope I can meet an alien, even if it’s single-celled, in my lifetime, so long as it’s not murderous), but to a wall that astrobiologists constantly run into.

How do we define life? When going to other planets in search for life (what life chauvanists we are), all we know to look for is something carbon-based (since carbon bonds with, like, everything) and that’s based on water (high specific heat capacity, low freezing point, high melting point, our understanding of pH is based on it, hydrogen stops oxygenation, etc…). However, the truly fascinating thing about astrobiology is that distant lifeforms can be stranger than we ever imagined. That leads us to propose more generic ideas of what life is, but depeding on how we word it, we can exclude things like virii and prions or include things like entire ecosystems or social movements (in extremely broad cases).

I would say something is living if it has an ability to maintain homeostasis in a chaotic environment and adapt (even if the individual can’t, if it can reproduce, then that counts as adapting since even simple asexual reproduction allows a slow sort of evolution). But just as a multicellular organism is made up not only of countless cells, but also a symbiosis of bacterium in the case of animals (you’ve probably heard this before, but bacterial cells outnumber human cells in your body 10 to 1 – that’s probably the main way you keep bad guys out most of the time), an ecosystem containing individual species can itself be a lifeform (please see Lovelock’s work.. this idea isn’t as crazy as it sounds). When we get broad like this, it might seem silly, but it’s just because of what you’ve been taught.

I would accept a broad definition of life, but then lay down an important dividing line – if the lifeform exists within a specific substance and has a clear boundary, within which only it maintains homeostatis, then I say it is a true lifeform (examples: ladybugs, whales, acetobacter). If it exists throughout time and place and has no definite boundary, then it is a spirit (examples: the Earth’s ecosphere, various ecosystems, religious movements).

What Hegel calls a gheist, what Smith calls the invisible hand, what Lovelock calls Gaia, what Jung calls an archetype, these are all spirits. ‘Wait’, you might say, ‘these are radically different concepts, you nit-wit!’ Ah, but cyanobacteria is a very different concept from a flying snake. So there. I know there are holes in this idea and maybe something essential is missing that would improve it greatly. So, have at it, folks!

Asimov and Animism

I had an idea yesterday when scrambling to make sure I didn’t lose any Mexican jumping beans from a bag I spilled. I was concerned about their safety even more than my future ability to hassle these clicking owl-heads. And lord knows I like to hassle those who can’t fight back! (just ask my baby half-brother, mwa-ha-ha)

Here’s the idea: in I, Robot, there was talk about how some little girl was treating ill her robot. She told him to do all sorts of things without considering the bot’s robo-feelings. Though there were no direct ill consequences of this (the robots are programmed to enjoy this!), the idea was that she would learn to treat other humans the same way. So, what’s the consequence of us treating objects as mere objects?

Traditional cultures had/have a worldview in which everything is alive and in which other animals are our (humanity’s) brothers and sisters. Even things that weren’t strictly living had spirits (like rocks, rivers, etc.) Is our seeing of this as all false inadvertently making us just a little less civil, a little more cold in our dealings with other people?