The Human Heart of Inanimate Objects: Exploring Anthropomorphization and Mourning

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Once upon a time, in a cozy suburban home, there lived a peculiar yet cherished pet – a humble pet rock named Steve. Despite being made of mere stone with no sentient capabilities, Steve was more than just an inanimate object to his six-year-old owner. His presence brought the boy joy, comfort, and an unexpected sense of companionship. The boy’s parents, however, were not as enthused. They thought Steve was an unhygienic addition to an otherwise clean household, and so they decided to do away with the unwelcome object. It was not alive, after all. How unfortunate. After all, Steve might not have been real, but their son's emotional attachment to the piece of inanimate rock certainly was, as was the period of mourning that followed. And there is value in that, of course. Scientific value, for the pain the boy felt for something over something that had never existed, provides us insight into the nature of human connection.

1. The Tale of Steve and Anthropomorphization:

Anthropomorphization, which is a cognitive process ingrained within human nature, involves attributing human-like traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. In the case of Steve, his owner found himself conferring feelings of companionship, affection, and even a sense of personality onto this simple rock, endowing it with a name, a role, and a place within the family. While the boy, as a 6-year-old child, did this to an unsuspecting rock, more mature minds make ‘human’ connections in the same way. We connect to others because we think they are like us: human. And that gives us the power to feel for them. This feeling is, of course, called empathy.

2. The Human Brain's Capacity for Empathy:

The human brain possesses an extraordinary ability to empathize and connect with the world around us, even transcending the boundaries between animate and inanimate objects in some cases. Studies in neuroscience reveal that the same brain regions responsible for processing emotions and social interactions in human-to-human relationships can also light up when individuals anthropomorphize objects or animals.

3. Mourning for Inanimate Objects:

Remarkably, the human capacity for empathy extends to mourning the loss of inanimate objects. When an item with sentimental value, like a childhood toy or a cherished possession, is lost or damaged beyond repair, individuals often experience genuine feelings of grief and loss. This emotional response stems from the deep emotional connection formed through anthropomorphization.

4. Understanding the Psychological Implications:

Anthropomorphization and mourning for inanimate objects offer a fascinating glimpse into the complexities of human cognition and emotion. These phenomena highlight the depth of human empathy, the significance of sentimental attachments, and the intricate ways our brains navigate and process emotional experiences.

The heartwarming tale of Steve, the pet rock, serves as a poignant reminder of the profound depth of human emotions and our capacity to form meaningful connections, even with inanimate objects. Anthropomorphization and the ability to mourn for these objects illustrate the intricate workings of the human brain and the multifaceted nature of human empathy.

But it also brings with it a question. If we human beings have the capacity to feel real feelings for things that are not human or even sentient by mere virtue of thinking they are sentient, then we do not have the ability to also do the opposite?

What is the opposite of anthropomorphization? 

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