is my vocabulary word for today (via). It's one of those things I feel I ought to have known many years ago. Wikipedia says:
Hylozoism is the philosophical conjecture that all or some material things possess life, or that all life is inseparable from matter.I was unusually moved to make some Wikipedia edits, and added two of my favorite intellectual weirdos to the list of contemporary hylozoics:
Architect Christopher Alexander has put forth a theory of the living universe, where life is viewed as a pervasive patterning that extends to what is normally considered non-living things, notably buildings. He wrote a four-volume work called The Nature of Order which explicates this theory in detail.And I see animism has a homepage.
Bruno Latour's actor-network theory, based in the sociology of science, treats non-living things as active agents and thus bears some resemblance to hylozoism. This work has spawned a movement called Object-oriented philosophy which promotes the idea of a "democracy of objects".
I find myself attracted and repelled by these ideas; partly out of intellectual naughtiness -- they are very much not in the spirit of the nerdy materialist culture I was educated in. On the other hand, they aren't that far apart either -- you can see both strands of thought (mechanistic AI style and squishy panpsychic California style) intermingle over the years, for instance at the historical Macy conferences.
And of course, I'm a victim of the same tendency I criticized in this post on the Singulatarians. For some reason, everybody thinks its very important to get metaphysics straight, to know for certain whether mind or matter or life or god or whatever is the ultimate foundation of reality. On my better days I know this is a dumb question, dumb because unanswerable, and the question itself is just a reflection of the limited metaphors we use to construct our models of the universe. Perhaps the real foundation of the universe is status, and the real reason we are so eager to fight for our particular metaphysics is so that the intellectual tribe we identify with (eg, physicists, anthropologists, theologians...) can thump its chest and declare itself more important than the rest.
[update: this earlier post is on related themes...which I realize now probably falls under the rubric scientific romanticism. Here's no less a light than Freeman Dyson:
Is it possible that we are now entering a new Romantic Age, extending over the first half of the twenty-first century, with the technological billionaires of today playing roles similar to the enlightened aristocrats of the eighteenth century? ... a new Age of Wonder would be a shift backward in the culture of science, from organizations to individuals, from professionals to amateurs, from programs of research to works of art...If the new Romantic Age is real, it will be centered on biology and computers, as the old one was centered on chemistry and poetry.]