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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Anthropomorphism, May 12, 2002
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This review is from: Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion (Paperback)
This is an excellent, scholarly summary of the concept of anthropomorphism in human experience. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to non-human things or events. It turns out that the human brain is designed to project human characteristics on the world around us (Hence, the title "Faces in the Clouds", a reference to the human propensity to see human faces everywhere in the world.)
Guthrie is at his best showing the reader exactly how pervasive our anthropomorphic projections are. He is careful to develop the philosophical underpinnings as well as to demonstrate with numerous examples the way that anthropomorhism pervades our perceptions. In examples drawn from art, literature and advertising, Guthrie shows the universality of the anthropomorphic model.
Guthrie is compelling when he shows that anthropomorphism is actually a "smart" Darwinian strategy as well. Guthrie quite rightly rejects some of the obvious explanations advanced to explain anthropomorphism in favor of an explanation that makes anthropomorphism a valuable diagnostic tool for our environment. Guthrie's contention (and it is probably correct) is that the perception of human activity is the most important of the various interpretions that we can impose on our environment. Because of its central importance, it makes sense to apply that model as broadly as possible. Where other authors have seen anthropomorphism as some sort of embarrassing error pattern, Guthrie makes it central to a successful coping strategy. Further, it is clear that anthropomorphism does not impose a substantial fitness penalty, even when applied inappropriately. Guthrie make a compelling case that anthropomorphism is the single most important cognitive interpretive model.
Strangely, the weakest part of this book is the portion that deals with the subject matter of the subtitle: "A New Theory of Religion." Having built a compelling case that anthropomorphism is THE fundamental cognitive strategy for humankind to understand and interpret its environment, Guthrie devotes a single strategy to the contention that this phenomenon explains religion as well. Guthrie may well be right, but it this is, as he claims, the central thesis of his book, it deserves a more detailed presentation.
Read this book for an eye opening discussion of the importance of anthropomorphism as a cognitive strategy, not for a "new theory of religion."
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Location: Salt Lake City, UT USA

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