The return of animism in science

Abstract: Do things own their image? They were at the beginning of knowledge, with animism, lost this spirit with monotheism and then naturalism, its ontological equivalent. They are now regaining their autonomous image with the pragmatic scientist, who attributes specific models to them, after having abandoned transcendental theories.

From animism to monotheism then to naturalism

The history of knowledge has gone like this: Humans have granted autonomy to the things of the world by endowing them with minds of their own. Animism. Then they reduce this autonomy by bringing them together using categories, which are controlled by more powerful entities. Polytheism. Finally, humans regain ownership of things through an omnipotent intermediary, creator of all things, who has given them a privileged place. Monotheism.

The transfer of power from religion to science is done without changing this exceptional place. The Creator is simply replaced by Nature. A part of humans now refuses any intermediary for the ownership of things. It is their theories that ensure this role. Always influenced by monotheism, generations of scientists seek its equivalent in Nature: the Theory of Everything, the fundamental generator of all reality. To find it is finally to fully appropriate the world. It would be entirely subject to the one who knows the Theory and can thus shape it to her liking.

Without Theory of Everything…

Such hope has faded. Difficult to merge the disciplines, the micro and the macroscopic in physics, not to mention the physical sciences with the human ones. Suppose an ultimate equation is found at the origin of the world. A Theory of Everything confined to physics would be far from sufficient to explain the whole of the contemporary world. It would have no transcendental value. We lack a universal principle to unify knowledge.

Pragmatic scientists have learned to stay within the limits of their models. Most have abandoned strong reductionism, which consists in bringing everything back to its most intimate mechanisms. From now on, the models are only reduced to each other if one derives entirely from the other, without experimental derogation. What is rare, more and more rare as the scale of complexity of things rises.

…back to animism

The complex entities are thus described by models which again become specific to them. They have, in a way, regained ownership of their constitution. This property is natural, based on their ontology. But when our ancestors endowed them with specific spirits, was their gait less natural?

I conclude, with a dose of irony, that knowledge has continued to evolve into a new animism, scientific this time. Science again comes into sharp conflict with religion, because the latter continues its anchorage in monotheism. Religion of course refuses to grant a soul to things. Ownership of their identity does not suit monotheism. I guess in this conflict the new disfavor that science encounters in circles strongly impacted by beliefs.

The world of believers dismantled

This disadvantage seems incomprehensible in the so-called culturally advanced countries, whose education system constantly refers to science. Moreover, contemporary science is more agnostic than atheist with respect to religions, compared to the previous century. The conflict should have eased. The great shepherds of monotheism were favorable to it. John Paul II said the theory of evolution is “more than a hypothesis” and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences seeks to adapt sacred texts to scientific findings.

But the population of believers is not so easily counted. The majority of them are (un)conscious that giving back their autonomy to the things of the world is to lose control of them. It is to be reduced to the small place where the habits of the believer are not contested. The rest escapes them: the machines, the AIs, the vaccines, the genetic manipulations, the transgenders, etc., each take a part of their traditional world and tear it apart. The believer finds refuge in new sects, independent of the great monotheistic currents, but which seem to them to better reflect the purity of the religion.

Cooler researchers

This is how conspiratorial groups proliferate, targeting specific scientific models and the autonomy they confer on the world. The platists want to reclaim the image of the Earth, the antivax their health, the creationists their ancestors. It’s not the researchers’ fault. They’ve grown pretty cool! Less peremptory models and less conquering interpretations. Nothing is certain. But the room left for doubt is the subject of a precise evaluation. Doubt is quantified, it is a door opened with measure, when the believer would like to open it wide, in order to force their gargantuan speculation into it.

The entities of the world do not accept any belief. Their spirit produces data, telling the experimenter how much truth to claim. Scientific animism makes it possible to get closer to the essence of complex things.

Waiting for the transcendental principle

Perhaps humans will find this famous transcendental principle which would again allow them to tighten the categories of things and disciplines of knowledge into a single one, a meta-metaphysics capable of explaining everything. But right now animating things with our specific models is the closest we get to it. We increase our power over them.

To act on something or someone, what is it but to know its particular language well?


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