Donate to EOS

We aim to build a network of experimental sustainable communities to demonstrate that we do have a sustainable alternative to our current socioeconomic system. Want to help us build for a sustainable future? Please donate what you can:

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Understand the world in anthropomorphic terms

I am going to start with what might appear as dogmatic statements but I do have a reasoning behind these:

  1. People have a very wrong, intuitive, understanding of how the world works.
  2. Nature does not care.

People have a very wrong, intuitive, understanding of how the world works
Hunter gather; the type of society we have evolved to live in.

Essentially, human beings have evolved as hunter gathers, living in small communities.  We have evolved a number of characteristic behaviours that help us lived in such groups.  We understand each other in emotional terms; “love”, “hate”, “hope” etc., the dictionary has many words that help us to describe the emotional state and motivations of other people.   We project ourselves outwards as we try to understand others (and then get surprised when people do things we would not do)

To a limited degree, this intuitive understanding of other people helps us understand the world around us.  We project our human understanding into the world around us and understand the world in anthropomorphic terms; “Jack Frost”, “Death”, “spirits”, “wights”, The Earth goddess Gaia etc., mythology has many examples of creatures that we create to explain the world around us.  Extending this idea further we end up with religion were we explain the world around us as “divine will”.  Yet, we have it wrong when trying to understand the world in such terms because …

Nature does not care

Animals inflict suffering on other animals; nature doesn't care! (photo: jeffrey sohn)

We tend to have this impression of nature as a “caring and loving mother” (because we do care), and use other anthropomorphic understandings of the world.  We see mother nature as nurturing us (an example of our anthropomorphic understanding of the world) .  Yet, if we were to go out and explore the world we can see that nature does not care.  Animals inflict suffering and harm on other animals, cats torment their prey, diseases inflict suffering.  Perhaps you have to live in a survival situation to understand how little nature cares; make a mistake and you can die. We have a recent example of how nature doesn't care in the nuclear accident in Japan.

Building a future world

This understanding of the world causes us many problems.  In a way, the problems we have today result from a lack of understanding of how nature works; as if we see ourselves as something special and exempt from laws of nature.  I also see this same problem reoccurring when people talk about solutions to our current problem.  

Essentially we have to deal with the real world.  We have physical resources, energy and physical needs.  We need to manage these within the limits that nature provides.  To do so, we have to understand nature not in anthropomorphic terms of “mother nature” but as a real physical system and work with nature. 
However, instead of working with nature, I see people proposing solutions based on our erroneous anthropomorphic understanding of the world.  So we get things like “we need a love economy” or a “gift economy”. 
Instead, EOS proposes a different way of dealing with this; treat people as people and nature as nature.  Let people deal with each other in our anthropomorphic terms which works so well when dealing with human relationships but when it comes to dealing with the physical world we use an approach based in how nature actually works not in our emotional anthropomorphic understanding of the world. 

So, on one side we have communities of people managing their own affairs on the other side we have people with the knowledge and skills and understanding of the natural world to manage the natural systems in this world.


  1. I agree with you that we need to have an economic system based on "managing resources within the limits of nature".
    I think you would agree with me that socially, people who ("irrationally") care about each other and give what we call "love", are more desireable to live with.

    So how can we integrate the two? There has already been a system that tried to thoroughly "manage resources" of nature: Fascism.

  2. I have thought initially that you have attempted to bridge terminology with this blog post, but I see you have not. :)

    Understanding the world in anthropomorphic terms might not be able to give you an accurate and complete logical image of our reality, but it does go a long way towards explaining natural mechanisms to people (who are not sufficiently interested to dwell into the more accurate scientific explanation).

    I think with a little careful wording, you could translate a lot of the science into terms which are trivial to understand for people.

  3. I don't think I'm that good at "bridging". I think it takes some skill to get "correct" things in terms people will understand.

  4. Flo,

    We don’t integrate the two. We see society as composed of people and technology and we aim to let people be people and manage themselves and then have technical experts manage the technical side of society.