My Little Animists

Supposedly I teach writing, but sometimes it turns out I teach philosophy and astronomy and people-are-not-for-hitting, which is actually a fairly profound subject in and of itself and should be required for every political nominee. This is what happens: you sit down to teach some kids a Latin word root or something, and the world pours in. Language is so intertwined with life.

I teach them the word root anima — breathe, soul, life.  Like animal, you know? That’s easy, but inanimate — what does that even mean? Is a rock inanimate? They don’t think so, and neither do I. This makes us all some kind of proto-animists, though I don’t tell them this directly because some of them have other religions or no-religions. What about a thing on the internet, they want to know — is that an inanimate object? I don’t know. A table is, they are pretty sure. But a peach? The universe? And what about the time before 1560, when English got the word inanimate: did people have another word for it, or did they not even think about the world that way?

Speaking of the universe, what if it’s actually a multiverse? Did you ever think, they want to know, about how electrons circle their nucleus just like planets circle their sun? And black holes: why are scientists scared of them? All of those people that fell in them, they probably just went through a portal.


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