Learning About Animism

Unhappy (very) being cloistered in a woman’s school, I transferred as quickly as I could to the University of Colorado Boulder, attracted by physicist George Gamov. In those days I was exceedingly interested in astronomy, rocketry and all things physics, my major.

It wasn’t terribly long before I segued to mathematics (with a reason) and then soon after (with a reason) into sociology and, when my required Little Sister went on the lam, psychology. I was late getting there but found it a perfect fit. I can’t imagine writing my novels without some of that background.

Some memories stand out (besides the escapee — and I’d earlier sacrificed a day’s sanity to ride the roller-coaster with her because she insisted).

Come back to college with me for these three weeks. I’ll do my best to make them pass quickly.

Required to perform tests for my psych classes, I learned youngsters can’t complete an eight-piece jigsaw puzzle if all the pieces are the same color and one is flipped over. I spent a lot of time (and many semesters) arguing against the masculinity-femininity tests in vogue in those days. It seemed to me that one extreme was a muscle-bound monster and the other a rag doll. Don’t we all fit pretty close to the center?

I also had an ongoing argument with a visiting professor who claimed to have devised a test to winnow those college students destined to fail. I had no problem with his testing the young men but felt no female student would ever make it through. I remember coming home after each of his classes so enraged by what I saw as his blindness and, yes, stupidity. Thus so motivated, I worked out each of his equations and consulted other similar studies. Yes, a pointless challenge but I’ve always enjoyed that kind of thing.

I recall studying with a friend (but can’t recall the friend) for his class. Would he ask about his test? she asked. Hardly. It wasn’t even germane to the subject of his class, whatever it was he was supposed to be teaching. Well, surprise! The entire final examination was on his test. Never have I written so much so fast for I knew that subject frontwards and back. So incensed that he would do that, I never stopped to think what I was doing to my grade. Supposing his ego was huge, he could easily have failed me for being so presumptuous. Grades for that class were mailed out . . . eventually.

A+++. (That was the second time I’d overstepped the boundaries set by a teacher — and come out on top. One learns many things in school!)

I was particularly intrigued by animism which my big dictionary now defines as “the belief that natural objects have souls.” Let’s leave theology out of it and just say that it’s the belief that inanimate objects have life. What do we — you? I? — consider alive? I plead guilty for apologizing to a chair if I stumble over it tho’ insist that’s simply habit from having pets, not a fear of upsetting the chair.

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist known for his work with child development. Born in 1896, he died in 1980, long after my studies were completed. “If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society.” He stressed the education of children, “only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent or gradual.” Pretty wise man.

Piaget originated animism, finding four stages in children. The final stage was supposed to be reached around the age of twelve when all would recognize that only plants and animals have life. Later studies by other individuals found high degrees of animism present in college students and, then, adults of every age.

Let’s see how you do. The questions were asked verbally and never changed with each followed by a “why?”

1. Is a match alive? Now write why you think so.

2. Is a lighted match alive? Why?

3. Is an electric clock alive. Why?

4. Is the sun alive? Why?

5. Is the wind alive? Why?

6. Is a five-cent piece alive? Why?

7. Is a pearl alive? Why?

8. Is gasoline alive? Why?

9. Is the ocean alive? Why?

10. Many ships are lost at the bottom of the sea. We cannot find them. Do you think the sea itself knows where they are? Why?

11. The pearl was once in a shell in the sea. When the water moved, could the pearl feel the movement of the water? Why?

12. The tides are caused by the pull of the moon upon the ocean. Do you think the ocean can feel the pull of the moon which causes high tides?


What do you think?

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts following in 2014. Both novels are now available at Lakewood’s Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.