Naturalistic Animism, Part II

Here is a simpler argument for a notion I have I call “Naturalistic Animism,” which is a nod to Spinoza‘s “Naturalistic Pantheism.” My earlier post was here. It’s also referred to in Bron Taylor’s writings on “Dark Green Religion,” meaning the idea itself isn’t my invention, though at one point I thought it might be.

There is no supernatural spark, no dual nature to make a thing have life rather than not. There also isn’t a specific definition of life that is universally accepted in the scientific community, though there are characteristics we can observe – many orders of magnitude more complex and organized than non-life, being able to maintain homeostasis and being able to reproduce and evolve. There are other, more specific chemical characteristics, but they may not be universal to all life, though they may be for all terrestrial life. In any event, what we have isn’t a strict definition, but some general characteristics that some non-life could be said to have, but just to a lesser degree. We know of entities such as prions and viruses, though their origins are with what we generally recognize to be life (bacterium or rogue DNA sequences that become parasitic). However, if we go back to the beginning of life (where things get more speculative, of course), there would have been non-life becoming more and more like life and then life becoming less and less like non-life.

Life and non-life, then, are of the same substance and type, differing only in degree. This is an important realization as it may turn out, for example, that universes are subject to a crude form of evolution, with more stable universes such as ours becoming more common in time (this notion is known as the hard anthropic principle). Certainly, entities that are inherently more stable persist and those that don’t, don’t. Who knows what whacky particles were there at the big bang for just a few gazillionths of a second? This is so obvious, it’s hardly worth mentioning except for the fact that this basic property of matter is the first step it always must take towards becoming life. The universe weeds out the unstable. Evolvability evolves and when it reaches a certain threshold, what we all agree to be life then begins. This is when an entity can create copies of itself with unprecedented accuracy, though it only gets better at doing this as time goes on.

Now, we like to think there is something special about life and that, all other considerations being equal, it should deserve consideration. It seems we live in a world like what Zoroaster described, except we know that in the end it is instead the wicked Ahriman who prevails – our universe is doomed to a thermodynamic death where no life is possible. The fact that I just depressed you with that analogy means that you, too, see value in life! Even if we humans become extinct, we hope that life on our planet or somewhere else can at least give birth to some other beings that can contemplate the universe and be depressed by it.

The problem we run into is that the laws of physics tell us that life isn’t anything special (well, it kind of is, but only in the sense that humans are special – we’re simply more intelligent, more social – the “spark” is a difference in degree!). This basic notion is what is called hylozoism (everything is alive or life and non-life are indistinguishable – this term is a doozy and it’s really only defined in a few writings, most of which seem to be attacking the notion). Reality is however the fuck it wants to be, but how we describe reality is up to us, so long as we’re not misleading or lying to ourselves (like religion tends to, almost without exception). Whether we say that life is nothing or whether we elevate the non-life to the status of living – animism – is a spiritual, not scientific question and I make the claim that it is not deception to say that the universe is alive or that it is at least filled with proto-life and pseudo-life everywhere. I would almost go as far to say that it is an enlightening idea that will let us see intuitively what will one day be known concretely about the universe.

Spirituality through nature. It’s not just for dirty hippies, weirdoes and head hunters.