Anthropomorphism: The Pathetic Fallacy

Wall-EEsther Inglis-Arkell writes on io9:

It starts when you’re young. In fact, it’s encouraged when you’re young. You’re given stuffed animals or little dolls. You’re asked to name things around your house. Things are explained to you in terms of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’. For example, I was told that the toilet dislikes having all my clothes flushed down it — apparently, that makes it ‘sick’. The world is sketched out for you in terms of relationships, and inanimate objects have relationships as readily as humans do.

And then one day it stops. Thinking that a Christmas tree left out on the side of the road is ‘sad’ or that you owe an old pair of sneakers better than just dumping them in a trash can isn’t indicative of a childlike sense of wonder, a lot of empathy, or a good imagination; it’s just needlessly crazy. There’s even a psychological disorder to describe the problem: Anthropomorphism.


The pathetic fallacy:
The term was invented by Greek philosopher Xenophanes, who used it to describe the way that people thought their gods — the most unknowable things imaginable — resembled them and had their motivations. He noticed the way that Greek gods tended to be fair-skinned and blue eyed, while African gods had darker skin and darker eyes. People naturally gave their own characteristics to other things. As years progressed, this behavior fell from the heavens and came down to earth. Anthropomorphism wasn’t just for the gods, it was for anything and everything around humans…

For more information, see original article.

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  • quartz99

    Um… Anthropomorphism is not a disorder. It’s just a description. Our natural impulse to anthropomorphize inanimate objects is based on a need to make things more like us in order for us to understand them. Understanding them more, you feel a greater sense of control over things that are inherently uncontrollable. It’s not any more a mental disorder than matrixing (forming patterns and faces in totally random noise) or empathy.

    • Andrew

      It’s a wrong description.

      • quartz99

        No, the word is an accurate description of a psychological process of attempting to understand the world. It literally means “changing to human”, as in, the mental process attempts to make whatever is being anthropomorphized more like the self and less “other” by making it seem more human. There are disorders where excessive anthropomorphism can be a symptom, but in and of itself, it’s just a description of a mental process that we _all_ possess.

  • Anonymous

    Um… Anthropomorphism is not a disorder. It’s just a description. Our natural impulse to anthropomorphize inanimate objects is based on a need to make things more like us in order for us to understand them. Understanding them more, you feel a greater sense of control over things that are inherently uncontrollable. It’s not any more a mental disorder than matrixing (forming patterns and faces in totally random noise) or empathy.

  • Andrew

    It’s a wrong description.

  • Brttcm8

    Yeah, all those little things that make us human are HORRIBLE.. If we ever find the soul we should cauterize it.

    • Anarchy Pony

      You are just another animal. deal with it. Learn to empathize a little better with your fellow organisms, and a little less with human built techno garbage.

  • Brttcm8

    Yeah, all those little things that make us human are HORRIBLE.. If we ever find the soul we should cauterize it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C5SV3Y6GG7GRK3NBX64IXAXDGM Jessica Hurst

    It may be logically incorrect, but it’s caused little to no harm and quite a great deal of art.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C5SV3Y6GG7GRK3NBX64IXAXDGM Jessica Hurst

    It may be logically incorrect, but it’s caused little to no harm and quite a great deal of art.

    • dirty johnny

      Logic?
      A great deal of art, yes. I doubt we can ascertain the harm.

  • Gregory

    Wow, what a wrong headed article. Anthropomorphism is a disorder? Wow. It’s only natural for us to look at the world through the filters of our humanity and when it comes to spiritual beings, we also naturally relate to them upon a communicative level that we can understand, given our limited sensory apparatus and our particular frames of reference.

    I find it fascinating, these articles. Their arguments almost always include very purple attacks on the philosophical ideas in question and the words “irrational,” “pathetic,” “crazy” are sowed around, showing not a professional desire to seek Truth, but a very immature and juvenile mind that seeks to tear others down in order to lift up their own point of view. It’s just bullying others who make you nervous, they way gays are bullied in schools and in society in general because it makes you question your own sexuality, so it is also true with atheists. Atheism, like bullying, is really cowardice in the face of something you don’t understand. Bullies do what they do because attacking the thing they don’t understand, because of their upbringing, etc, is safer than trying to come to terms with it because it’s usually your culture that determines what you can accept and can’t and if something comes along to threaten that worldview, the easiest thing is to simply try to make it go away. Atheism, like homophobia, is learned from western culture, a culture based on materialism, carnality, scientific pursuits and nearly bereft of spiritual understanding, only giving lip service to religion and what religion there is seems only to be a system of controlling others for the sake of the privileged few.

    What’s most fascinating about atheists’ attitudes toward spiritual beings, in that they are “the most unknowable things imaginable” and yet ask these great thinkers to prove their own existence as a unique expression of consciousness, and they cannot. Mostly because they appear to have lost the ability to use their imagination…which means “image making.” We mold gods into forms we can associate with, so we CAN know them.

    Ask an atheist how much their mind weighs, or what elements from the periodic table it is made from, or how it reacts to chemical compounds, something like that. The mind is invisible. We are each our own invisible friend, we are ourselves “sky fairies” robed in flesh and bone and the rest of the icky stuff. Atheists are against anything that science cannot prove exists…therefore atheists appear to not only deny their own existence, but are by definition…mindless.

    We refer to things that appear to have no spirit as he, she and say that tree with all its leaves gone looks sad or that the cat is grumpy this morning or that the hills are alive with the sound of music because all things do have spirit because consciousness is in everything. We humans with our advanced nervous systems are able to reach a point of sophistication where we are not content to just eat, play and lay down on the carpet where the sunbeam hits, but we question what reality is, because we do want to know and understand ourselves. Cats are all zen masters, we are unable to achieve that state as easily because we’re smarter than these animals we call our “fur babies.”

    Unfortunately, due to centuries of being isolated from our ancestral religious traditions with gods and other spiritual beings they could relate to, because you mold your gods in your own image, not vice versa, we have had in the western world centuries of political systems dressed in religious clothing and when that didn’t satisfy us, we turned to materialism and science, which has also failed to fill that god-shaped hole, until we now have atheists, the epitome of centuries of spiritual incompetence. We are spirits ourselves, yet there is a sizable population that no longer realizes that, yet if they’d just take a walk in the woods and sit down and stare into the distance for a quarter hour and quiet their mind…

    And yet, Atheism may be a necessary step, to be tabula rasa, so that we can abandon what made us Scotch/Irish, Italian, German, Scandinavian, etc and so the “local gods” of our ancestors can be assumed into a new system once we understand more simply, but more elusively, what makes us Human, where our culture can be removed as easily as taking off our clothes and we see what we have in common and we can then, when we see one another realize we’re seeing a divine being and we’ll stop calling each other names.

    But until then, atheists will call others crazy, or irrational, or pathetic…and I’ll keep calling them waterheads.

    fiat lux

  • Gregory

    Wow, what a wrong headed article. Anthropomorphism is a disorder? Wow. It’s only natural for us to look at the world through the filters of our humanity and when it comes to spiritual beings, we also naturally relate to them upon a communicative level that we can understand, given our limited sensory apparatus and our particular frames of reference.

    I find it fascinating, these articles. Their arguments almost always include very purple attacks on the philosophical ideas in question and the words “irrational,” “pathetic,” “crazy” are sowed around, showing not a professional desire to seek Truth, but a very immature and juvenile mind that seeks to tear others down in order to lift up their own point of view. It’s just bullying others who make you nervous, they way gays are bullied in schools and in society in general because it makes you question your own sexuality, so it is also true with atheists. Atheism, like bullying, is really cowardice in the face of something you don’t understand. Bullies do what they do because attacking the thing they don’t understand, because of their upbringing, etc, is safer than trying to come to terms with it because it’s usually your culture that determines what you can accept and can’t and if something comes along to threaten that worldview, the easiest thing is to simply try to make it go away. Atheism, like homophobia, is learned from western culture, a culture based on materialism, carnality, scientific pursuits and nearly bereft of spiritual understanding, only giving lip service to religion and what religion there is seems only to be a system of controlling others for the sake of the privileged few.

    What’s most fascinating about atheists’ attitudes toward spiritual beings, in that they are “the most unknowable things imaginable” and yet ask these great thinkers to prove their own existence as a unique expression of consciousness, and they cannot. Mostly because they appear to have lost the ability to use their imagination…which means “image making.” We mold gods into forms we can associate with, so we CAN know them.

    Ask an atheist how much their mind weighs, or what elements from the periodic table it is made from, or how it reacts to chemical compounds, something like that. The mind is invisible. We are each our own invisible friend, we are ourselves “sky fairies” robed in flesh and bone and the rest of the icky stuff. Atheists are against anything that science cannot prove exists…therefore atheists appear to not only deny their own existence, but are by definition…mindless.

    We refer to things that appear to have no spirit as he, she and say that tree with all its leaves gone looks sad or that the cat is grumpy this morning or that the hills are alive with the sound of music because all things do have spirit because consciousness is in everything. We humans with our advanced nervous systems are able to reach a point of sophistication where we are not content to just eat, play and lay down on the carpet where the sunbeam hits, but we question what reality is, because we do want to know and understand ourselves. Cats are all zen masters, we are unable to achieve that state as easily because we’re smarter than these animals we call our “fur babies.”

    Unfortunately, due to centuries of being isolated from our ancestral religious traditions with gods and other spiritual beings they could relate to, because you mold your gods in your own image, not vice versa, we have had in the western world centuries of political systems dressed in religious clothing and when that didn’t satisfy us, we turned to materialism and science, which has also failed to fill that god-shaped hole, until we now have atheists, the epitome of centuries of spiritual incompetence. We are spirits ourselves, yet there is a sizable population that no longer realizes that, yet if they’d just take a walk in the woods and sit down and stare into the distance for a quarter hour and quiet their mind…

    And yet, Atheism may be a necessary step, to be tabula rasa, so that we can abandon what made us Scotch/Irish, Italian, German, Scandinavian, etc and so the “local gods” of our ancestors can be assumed into a new system once we understand more simply, but more elusively, what makes us Human, where our culture can be removed as easily as taking off our clothes and we see what we have in common and we can then, when we see one another realize we’re seeing a divine being and we’ll stop calling each other names.

    But until then, atheists will call others crazy, or irrational, or pathetic…and I’ll keep calling them waterheads.

    fiat lux

    • Andrew

      Logical fallacies in your comment:

      Ad hominem
      Straw men
      Begging the question
      Appeal to emotion
      Naturalistic fallacy
      Negative proof
      Package-deal
      Reification
      And, ironically, Psychologist’s fallacy!

      • lolfail

        Fail.

      • dirty johnny

        You should do this to every post, not just the posts you dislike. Otherwise it’s a little flaccid, isn’t it?

  • Andrew

    Logical fallacies in your comment:

    Ad hominem
    Straw men
    Begging the question
    Appeal to emotion
    Naturalistic fallacy
    Negative proof
    Package-deal
    Reification
    And, ironically, Psychologist’s fallacy!

  • Anonymous

    No, the word is an accurate description of a psychological process of attempting to understand the world. It literally means “changing to human”, as in, the mental process attempts to make whatever is being anthropomorphized more like the self and less “other” by making it seem more human. There are disorders where excessive anthropomorphism can be a symptom, but in and of itself, it’s just a description of a mental process that we _all_ possess.

  • lolfail

    Fail.

  • lolfail

    Fail.

  • lolfail

    Fail.

  • lolfail

    Fail.

  • lolfail

    Fail.

  • dirty johnny

    Wow. This is a really interesting thread. Kind of a half-assed article, but probably the most interesting subject I’ve seen on disinfo in a hot second.

    There is a conundrum, I think. How to see the World, and treat the world, or the Big Ol’ Kaliedascopic Whatchamacallit… with RESPECT. When one respects a thing one tends to start by relating it to oneself. Do unto others as one would have them do unto your own poor little self… Right? But, a great deal of the time this attitude doesn’t work. Because what you would have them do is often in direct contradiction with what others would have them do. Respect is just as much about observing differences so as not to assume or offend. So that’s a conundrum, as I see it.

    It’s bad enough when you’re negotiating between radically different cultural “square ones.” It’s worse when the culture doing most of the talking/posting has all the nukes and cultural capital and monetary mojo. This problem is multiplied exponentially when you start talking about shit that isn’t people. The best part of the article was the science bits.

    Gas doesn’t want. Gas might tend towards, but even that might be an approximation. Most people making use of the internet and reading this, myself included, have a poisonous relationship to non-human biotic lifeforms and matter in general. Not ALL, but most. (Save your “I live on a commune and recycle placenta into non-sweatshop shoelaces” posts. Just do your thing, make a constructive suggestion and rock on.)

    Think of that swarming plurality we mostly think of as a singular: Nature. Now think of her as a mail-order bride from somewhere east of Prussia. It doesn’t matter how familiar-yet-foriegn, or enchantingly-inscrutable we find her, we are still doing her violence with our own desire. To… what? Use her? Save her? Know her? The problem here is that it is nearly impossible to touch the world without raping it in some way we cannot even predict. If we “anthropomorphize” her too much we just wind up ignoring her manifest suchness, her individuality and dignity. If we fail to relate her to ourselves at all, we orientalize her. We make her a puzzle for unravelling, like a rare ape cadaver.

    I know this is a disgusting metaphor, but it is not a metaphor that practitioners of the religion of science can ignore. It cannot be denied by Judao-Xristo-Mohammadians or their apostic orphans either. I can only speak from, if not for, the “West”, but I suspect this difficulty of knowing and acting extends beyond the brutality of our time and place. I have a sneaking suspicion this is what all the monks are “monking on about.”

    I can’t wrap this one up at all. There’s nothing conclusive to quip. It’s most definitely not as simple a subject as some the posters seem to take it. It’s right at the crux of knowing and relating to the … “world.”

    For anyone that dug the general direction of this article, but wanted something a lil less bloggy…. check out Dr. Donna Haraway. Specifically: “Primate Visions” and “The Companion Species Manifesto”.

    Sorry folks. I might have to get back at this one. It’s too much for me to really get down in one gander, y’know?

  • dirty johnny

    Wow. This is a really interesting thread. Kind of a half-assed article, but probably the most interesting subject I’ve seen on disinfo in a hot second.

    There is a conundrum, I think. How to see the World, and treat the world, or the Big Ol’ Kaliedascopic Whatchamacallit… with RESPECT. When one respects a thing one tends to start by relating it to oneself. Do unto others as one would have them do unto your own poor little self… Right? But, a great deal of the time this attitude doesn’t work. Because what you would have them do is often in direct contradiction with what others would have them do. Respect is just as much about observing differences so as not to assume or offend. So that’s a conundrum, as I see it.

    It’s bad enough when you’re negotiating between radically different cultural “square ones.” It’s worse when the culture doing most of the talking/posting has all the nukes and cultural capital and monetary mojo. This problem is multiplied exponentially when you start talking about shit that isn’t people. The best part of the article was the science bits.

    Gas doesn’t want. Gas might tend towards, but even that might be an approximation. Most people making use of the internet and reading this, myself included, have a poisonous relationship to non-human biotic lifeforms and matter in general. Not ALL, but most. (Save your “I live on a commune and recycle placenta into non-sweatshop shoelaces” posts. Just do your thing, make a constructive suggestion and rock on.)

    Think of that swarming plurality we mostly think of as a singular: Nature. Now think of her as a mail-order bride from somewhere east of Prussia. It doesn’t matter how familiar-yet-foriegn, or enchantingly-inscrutable we find her, we are still doing her violence with our own desire. To… what? Use her? Save her? Know her? The problem here is that it is nearly impossible to touch the world without raping it in some way we cannot even predict. If we “anthropomorphize” her too much we just wind up ignoring her manifest suchness, her individuality and dignity. If we fail to relate her to ourselves at all, we orientalize her. We make her a puzzle for unravelling, like a rare ape cadaver.

    I know this is a disgusting metaphor, but it is not a metaphor that practitioners of the religion of science can ignore. It cannot be denied by Judao-Xristo-Mohammadians or their apostic orphans either. I can only speak from, if not for, the “West”, but I suspect this difficulty of knowing and acting extends beyond the brutality of our time and place. I have a sneaking suspicion this is what all the monks are “monking on about.”

    I can’t wrap this one up at all. There’s nothing conclusive to quip. It’s most definitely not as simple a subject as some the posters seem to take it. It’s right at the crux of knowing and relating to the … “world.”

    For anyone that dug the general direction of this article, but wanted something a lil less bloggy…. check out Dr. Donna Haraway. Specifically: “Primate Visions” and “The Companion Species Manifesto”.

    Sorry folks. I might have to get back at this one. It’s too much for me to really get down in one gander, y’know?

  • dirty johnny

    Logic?
    A great deal of art, yes. I doubt we can ascertain the harm.

  • dirty johnny

    You should do this to every post, not just the posts you dislike. Otherwise it’s a little flaccid, isn’t it?

  • justagirl

    i suffer from this. :(

  • justagirl

    i suffer from this. :(

  • You Are An Animal

    You are just another animal. deal with it. Learn to empathize a little better with your fellow organisms, and a little less with human built techno garbage.

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