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From: Stephen Wolfram, A New Kind of Science
Notes for Chapter 12: The Principle of Computational Equivalence
Section: Historical Perspectives
Page 1195

Animism. Belief in animism remains strong in perhaps several hundred million indigenous people around the world. In its typical form, it involves not only explaining natural phenomena by analogy to human behavior but also assuming that they can be influenced as humans might be, say by offerings or worship. (See also page 1185.)

Particularly since Edward Tylor in 1871 animism has often been thought of as the earliest identifiable form of religion. Polytheism is then assumed to arise when the idea of localized spirits associated with individual natural objects is generalized to the idea of gods associated with types of objects or concepts (as for example in many Roman beliefs). Following their rejection in favor of monotheism by Judaism - and later Christianity and Islam - such ideas have however tended to be considered primitive and pagan. In Europe through the Middle Ages there nevertheless remained widespread belief in animistic kinds of explanations. And even today some Western superstitions center on animism, as do rituals in countries like Japan.

Stephen Wolfram, A New Kind of Science (Wolfram Media, 2002), page 1195.
© 2002, Stephen Wolfram, LLC