Page 10 - Spokes 2-1: The Web of Life - Microbes, Fungi, & Plants
P. 10

2                    Spokes 2: The Web of Life



               Historically, there have been 3 schools of thought on what
           makes life special: matterism, hylomorphism, and vitalism.
           Another school, animism, discounts life as extraordinary.
               Animism considers all objects and bodies, animate or oth-
           erwise, spiritually imbued; there is no meaningful separation
           between the material and metaphysical. Any perceptible en-
           tity possesses a spirit, including rocks, mountains, and riv-
           ers. Animism is not especially concerned with defining life,
           as all of Nature is holy.
               Variants of animism form the core of various religions,
           including Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Jainism, and other
           belief systems labeled pantheistic, where reality is identical
           with  divinity.  English  anthropologist  Edward  Tylor  called
           animism "one of anthropology's earliest concepts, if not the
           first."
               Matterism,  embraced  by  Democritus  and  revived  by
           French  philosopher  René  Descartes  in  the  17th  century,
           makes life out to be a complex arrangement of materiality.
           To Descartes, soul was a matter of matter.
               Aristotle, the ancient Greek master abstractor, concocted
           hylomorphism: that all things are a combination of matter
           and form. The form of life is in the soul.
               Aristotle  posited  3  kinds  of  souls:  vegetative  soul  for
           plants, which could not move or experience sensation; animal
           soul, where moving and feeling are part of the package; and
           rational soul, found only in humans.
               Aristotle  believed  the  relationship  between  matter  and
           soul is asymmetrical: matter can exist without form, but form
           cannot exist without matter. Therefore, the soul cannot exist
           without the body. Aristotle believed that purpose was the fi-
           nal cause of life.
               Vitalism  posits  that  living  organisms  possess  a  funda-
           mental ingredient which distinguishes them from inanimate
           matter.  The  missing  element  is  the  spark  of  life,  often
           equated with a soul.
               The  idea  of  vitalism  is  prehistoric.  Ancient  Egyptians
           wrote of vitalism. In the 3rd century, Greek anatomist Galen
           of Pergamon, the most accomplished medical researcher  of
           antiquity, held that vital spirits were necessary for life.
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