This is one of those weird-little-thought-I-had posts. This time my weird little thought originated from an article I read in Harvard Magazine called “Thinking Conceptually” by Sophia Nyugen. In the article Nyugen sums up the research of Deborah Zaitchik and Susan Carey who have found that very young children, under age 5, and those who suffer from diseases like Alzheimer’s both have problems distinguishing what is alive form what isn’t. They will, for instance, say that the sun is alive because it moves across the sky but that plants are not because they do not move.
What this made me think is that it is not so surprising that ancient peoples should have assumed that the sun and moon were living beings. Of course we are talking about adults not children but we must also take into account that they would not have had nay accurate idea of what these heavenly bodies were made of and that humanity’s conceptions of what life is have changed over time as well. There was a time when a person was declared dead is they were not breathing. Then a beating heart became the test and now we speak of brain death as the be-all and end-all.
So before we are too hard on our predecessors let us consider if we would have made any better sense of things if we had had the information they had.