Anthropomorphism or personification is any attribution of human characteristics (or characteristics assumed to belong only to humans) to other animals, non-living things, phenomena, material states, objects or abstract concepts, such as organizations, governments, spirits or deities. The term was coined in the mid-1700s. Examples include animals and plants and forces of nature such as winds, rain or the sun depicted as creatures with human motivations, and/or the abilities to reason and converse. The term derives from the combination of the Greek ἄνθρωπος (ánthrōpos), "human" and μορφή (morphē), "shape" or "form".
As a literary device, anthropomorphism is strongly associated with art and storytelling where it has ancient roots. Most cultures possess a long-standing fable tradition with anthropomorphised animals as characters that can stand as commonly recognised types of human behavior. In contrast to this, conventional Western science, as well as such religious doctrines as the Christian Great Chain of Being propound the opposite, anthropocentric belief that animals, plants and non-living things, unlike humans, lack spiritual and mental attributes, immortal souls, and anything other than relatively limited awareness.
From the beginnings of human behavioural modernity in the Upper Paleolithic, about 40,000 years ago, examples of zoomorphic (animal-shaped) works of art occur that may represent the earliest evidence we have of anthropomorphism. One of the oldest known is an ivory sculpture, the Lion man of the Hohlenstein Stadel, Germany, a human-shaped figurine with a lion's head, determined to be about 32,000 years old.
It is not possible to say what exactly these prehistoric artworks represent. A more recent example is The Sorcerer, an enigmatic cave painting from the Trois-Frères Cave, Ariège, France: the figure's significance is unknown, but it is usually interpreted as some kind of great spirit or master of the animals. In either case there is an element of anthropomorphism.
This anthropomorphic art has been linked by archaeologist Steven Mithen with the emergence of more systematic hunting practices in the Upper Palaeolithic (Mithen 1998). He proposes that these are the product of a change in the architecture of the human mind, an increasing fluidity between the natural history and social intelligences, where anthropomorphism allowed hunters to empathetically identify with hunted animals and better predict their movements.
In religion and mythology, anthropomorphism refers to the perception of a divine being or beings in human form, or the recognition of human qualities in these beings.
Ancient mythologies frequently represented the divine as a god or gods with human forms and qualities. These gods resemble human beings not only in appearance and personality; they exhibited many human behaviors which were used to explain natural phenomena, creation, and historical events. The gods fell in love, married, had children, fought battles, wielded weapons, and rode horses and chariots. They feasted on special foods, and sometimes required sacrifices of food, beverage, and sacred objects to be made by human beings. Some anthropomorphic gods represented specific human concepts, such as love, war, fertility, beauty, or the seasons. Anthropomorphic gods exhibited human qualities such as beauty, wisdom, and power, and sometimes human weaknesses such as greed, hatred, jealousy, and uncontrollable anger. Greek gods such as Zeus and Apollo were often depicted in human form exhibiting both commendable and despicable human traits.
Anthropomorphism in this case is referred to as anthropotheism.
From the perspective of adherents to religions in which humans were created in the form of the divine, the phenomenon may be considered theomorphism, or the giving of divine qualities to humans.
Anthropomorphism has cropped up as a Christian heresy, particularly prominently with the Audians in third century Syria, but also in fourth century Egypt and tenth Century Italy. This often was based on a literal interpretation of Genesis 1:27: "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them".
Some religions, scholars, and philosophers found objections to anthropomorphic deities. The Greek philosopher Xenophanes (570–480 BCE) said that "the greatest god" resembles man "neither in form nor in mind". Anthropomorphism of God is rejected by Judaism and Islam, which both believe that God is beyond human limits of comprehension. Judaism's rejection grew during the Hasmonean period (circa 300 BCE) due to Greek philosophy becoming incorporated in Jewish belief. Judaism's rejection grew further following the Muslim Renaissance (10 century AD) later codified in 13 principles of Jewish faith authored by Maimonides in the 12th century.
Hindus do not reject the concept of God in the abstract unmanifested but note problems; Lord Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12, Verse 5, that it is much more difficult to focus on God as the unmanifested than God with form, i.e., using anthropomorphic icons (murtis), due to human beings' need to perceive via the senses.
In his book Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion, Stewart Guthrie theorizes that all religions are anthropomorphisms that originate due to the brain's tendency to detect the presence or vestiges of other humans in natural phenomena.
Anthropomorphism, sometimes referred to as personification, is a well established literary device from ancient times. It extends back to before Aesop's Fables in 6th century BC Greece and the collections of linked fables from India, the Jataka Tales and Panchatantra, which employ anthropomorphised animals to illustrate principles of life. Many of the stereotypes of animals that are recognised today, such as the wiley fox and the proud lion, can be found in these collections. Aesop's anthropomorphisms were so familiar by the 1st century AD that they coloured the thinking of at least one philosopher:
And there is another charm about him, namely, that he puts animals in a pleasing light and makes them interesting to mankind. For after being brought up from childhood with these stories, and after being as it were nursed by them from babyhood, we acquire certain opinions of the several animals and think of some of them as royal animals, of others as silly, of others as witty, and others as innocent.—Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius noted that the fable was created to teach wisdom through fictions that are meant to be taken as fictions, contrasting them favourably with the poets' stories of the gods that are sometimes taken literally. Aesop, "by announcing a story which everyone knows not to be true, told the truth by the very fact that he did not claim to be relating real events". The same consciousness of the fable as fiction is to be found in other examples across the world, one example being a traditional Ashanti way of beginning tales of the anthropomorphic trickster-spider Anansi: "We do not really mean, we do not really mean that what we are about to say is true. A story, a story; let it come, let it go."
Anthropomorphic motifs have been common in fairy tales from the earliest ancient examples set in a mythological context to the great collections of the Brothers Grimm and Perrault. The Tale of Two Brothers (Egypt, 13th century BC) features several talking cows and in Cupid and Psyche (Rome, 2nd century AD) Zephyrus, the west wind, carries Psyche away. Later an ant feels sorry for her and helps her in her quest.
Building on the popularity of fables and fairy tales, specifically children's literature began to emerge in the 19th century with works such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll, The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) by Carlo Collodi and The Jungle Book (1894) by Rudyard Kipling, all employing anthropomorphic elements. This continued in the 20th century with many of the most popular titles having anthropomorphic characters, examples being The Tales of Beatrix Potter (1901 onwards), The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) by A. A. Milne. In many of these stories the animals can be seen as representing facets of human personality and character. As John Rowe Townsend remarks, discussing The Jungle Book in which the boy Mowgli must rely on his new friends the bear Baloo and the black panther Bagheera, "The world of the jungle is in fact both itself and our world as well". Another notable work is George Orwell's Animal Farm.
The fantasy genre developed from mythological, fairy tale and Romance motifs and characters, sometimes with anthropomorphic animals. The best-selling examples of the genre are The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954–1955), both by J. R. R. Tolkien, books peopled with talking creatures such as ravens, spiders and the dragon Smaug and a multitude of anthropomorphic goblins and elves. John D. Rateliff calls this the "Doctor Dolittle Theme" in his book The History of the Hobbit and Tolkien saw this anthropomorphism as closely linked to the emergence of human language and myth: "...The first men to talk of 'trees and stars' saw things very differently. To them, the world was alive with mythological beings... To them the whole of creation was "myth-woven and elf-patterned".'
In the 20th century, the children's picture book market expanded massively. Perhaps a majority of picture books have some kind of anthropomorphism, with popular examples being The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969) by Eric Carle and The Gruffalo (1999) by Julia Donaldson.
Anthropomorphism in literature and other media led to a sub-culture known as Furry fandom, which promotes and creates stories and artwork involving anthropomorphic animals, and the examination and interpretation of humanity through anthropomorphism.
Various Japanese manga have used anthropomorphism as the basis of their story. Examples include Squid Girl (anthropomorphised squid), Hetalia: Axis Powers (humanised countries) and Upotte!! (humanised guns).
Some of the most notable examples are the Walt Disney characters, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit; the Looney Tunes characters, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig; and an array of others from the 1920s to present day.
Since the 1960s, anthropomorphism has also been represented in various animated TV shows such as Biker Mice From Mars (1993–1996) and SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron (1993–1995). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, first aired in 1987, features four pizza-loving anthropomorphic turtles with a great knowledge of ninjutsu, led by their anthropomorphic rat sensei, Master Splinter.
TUGS (1988) is a British children's series, set in the 1920s, featuring anthropomorphic tugboats. They moved like real boats but would sometimes perform certain actions without the aid of humans although not seen. Like real boats they obeyed maritime laws but would sometimes perform actions of their own will.
Sonic the Hedgehog, a game released in 1991, features a speedy blue hedgehog as the protagonist. This series' characters are almost all anthropomorphic animals such as foxes, cats, and other hedgehogs who are able to speak and walk on their hind legs like normal humans. As with most anthropomorphisms of animals, clothing is of little or no importance, where some characters may be fully clothed while some only wear shoes and gloves.
Another example in video games is "Super Mario Bros.", which was released in 1985. Some of the characters include Yoshi, a dinosaur who is able to talk, run and jump, and Bowser, a "Koopa" that is able to perform most human characteristics, with some exceptions, as he can breathe fire.
In the American animated TV series Family Guy, one of the show's main characters, Brian, is a dog. Brian shows many human characteristics – he walks upright, talks, smokes and drinks Martinis – but also acts like a normal dog in other ways; for example he cannot resist chasing a ball.
A Canadian-New Zealand-American animated TV show called Turbo Dogs (2008) starred anthro dog characters. In 2010, a French-American animated TV show The Mysteries of Alfred Hedgehog was mostly consisted of woodland anthropomorphic characters.
In the films Cars (2006) and Cars 2 (2011), all the characters are anthropomorphized vehicles.
A British TV series, Thomas and Friends, features anthropomorphised trains, airplanes, helicopters and cars.
In the motion picture Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), most of the characters are anthropomorphic animals very similar to the style seen in the Furry Fandom. They are given especially human characteristics such as body shape, hands and clothing, among other things.
Claes Oldenburg's soft sculptures are commonly described as anthropomorphic. Depicting common household objects, Oldenburg's sculptures were considered Pop Art. Reproducing these objects, often at a greater size than the original, Oldenburg created his sculptures out of soft materials. The anthropomorphic qualities of the sculptures were mainly in their sagging and malleable exterior which mirrored the not so idealistic forms of the human body. In "Soft Light Switches" Oldenburg creates a household light switch out of Vinyl. The two identical switches, in a dulled orange, insinuate nipples. The soft vinyl references the aging process as the sculpture wrinkles and sinks with time.
In the essay "Art and Objecthood", Michael Fried makes the case that "Literalist art" (Minimalism) becomes theatrical by means of anthropomorphism. The viewer engages the minimalist work, not as an autonomous art object, but as a theatrical interaction. Fried references a conversation in which Tony Smith answers questions about his "six-foot cube, Die."
Q: Why didn't you make it larger so that it would loom over the observer? A: I was not making a monument. Q: then why didn't you make it smaller so that the observer could see over the top? A: I was not making an object.
Fried implies an anthropomorphic connection by means of "a surrogate person-that is, a kind of statue."
The minimalist decision of "hollowness" in much of their work, was also considered by Fried, to be "blatantly anthropomorphic." This "hollowness" contributes to the idea of a separate inside; an idea mirrored in the human form. Fried considers the Literalist art's "hollowness" to be "biomorphic" as it references a living organism.
Curator Lucy Lippard's Eccentric Abstraction show, in 1966, sets up Briony Fer's writing of a post minimalist anthropomorphism. Reacting to Fried's interpretation of minimalist art's "looming presence of objects which appear as actors might on a stage", Fer interprets the artists in Eccentric Abstraction to a new form of anthropomorphism. She puts forth the thoughts of Surrealist writer Roger Caillous, who speaks of the "spacial lure of the subject, the way in which the subject could inhabit their surroundings." Caillous uses the example of an insect who "through camouflage does so in order to become invisible... and loses its distinctness." For Fer, the anthropomorphic qualities of imitation found in the erotic, organic sculptures of artists Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois, are not necessarily for strictly "mimetic" purposes. Instead, like the insect, the work must come into being in the "scopic field... which we cannot view from outside."
In the scientific community, the use of anthropomorphic language that suggests animals have intentions and emotions has traditionally been deprecated as indicating a lack of objectivity. Biologists have been warned to avoid assumptions that animals share any of the same mental, social, and emotional capacities of humans, and to rely instead on strictly observable evidence. In 1927 Ivan Pavlov wrote that animals should be considered "without any need to resort to fantastic speculations as to the existence of any possible subjective states". More recently, The Oxford companion to animal behaviour (1987) advised that "one is well advised to study the behaviour rather than attempting to get at any underlying emotion". Some scientists, like William M Wheeler (writing apologetically of his use of anthropormorphism in 1911), have used anthropomorphic language in metaphor to make subjects more humanly comprehensible or memorable.
Despite the impact of Charles Darwin's ideas in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (Konrad Lorenz in 1965 called him a "patron saint" of ethology) ethology has generally focused on behaviour, not on emotion in animals. Though in other ways Darwin was and is the epitome of science, his acceptance of anecdote and anthropomorphism stands out in sharp contrast to the lengths to which later scientists would go to overlook apparent mindedness, selfhood, individuality and agency:
|“||"Even insects play together, as has been described by that excellent observer, P. Huber, who saw ants chasing and pretending to bite each other, like so many puppies."||”|
—Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man
The study of great apes in their own environment has changed attitudes to anthropomorphism. In the 1960s the three so-called "Leakey's Angels", Jane Goodall studying chimpanzees, Dian Fossey studying gorillas and Biruté Galdikas studying orangutans, were all accused of "that worst of ethological sins – anthropomorphism". The charge was brought about by their descriptions of the great apes in the field; it is now more widely accepted that empathy has an important part to play in research.
Frans de Waal wrote: "To endow animals with human emotions has long been a scientific taboo. But if we do not, we risk missing something fundamental, about both animals and us." Alongside this has come increasing awareness of the linguistic abilities of the great apes and the recognition that they are tool-makers and have individuality 
Writing of cats in 1992, veterinarian Bruce Fogle points to the fact that "both humans and cats have identical neurochemicals and regions in the brain responsible for emotion" as proof that "it is not anthropomorphic to credit cats with emotions such as jealousy".
In the context of the sciences, the term anthropomorphism has been deprecated to the point that, when applied to a scientist, the term functions as a pejorative (see above). However, there is also a risk of straying off the path of objectivity when scientists choose to assume that only humans possess any degree of certain traits. This assumption is called anthropocentrism, practitioners of which either believe in or unintentionally form an outlook of human exceptionalism. Darwin - to the chagrin of many religious philosophers - dismissed these ideas of human exceptionalism in his book The Descent of Man by saying that our differences are "only in degree, and not in kind".
Anthropomorphic animals are often used as mascots for sports teams or sporting events.
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