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Animism

The human cognitive system tends to group entities on the basis of some form of similarity. The object categories that humans create can be described at varying levels of abstraction, with what is called ontological categories at the top of this hierarchy. Ontological categories consist of extremely general categories such as “object” and “abstract idea.” This entry provides a review of the concept of animism, or the erroneous belief that inanimate objects are alive.

The entry starts with an introduction to the concept of animacy, or the distinction between living and nonliving entities. This fundamental distinction arises early in infancy, has a unique signature in the brain, and is universal. Any creature that could not distinguish the animate and inanimate world would be seriously impaired. However, ...

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