I am currently reading Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon . It's a very interesting read on the origin and evolution of religion, approaching it from a scientific perspective. In it he discusses animism. Merriam-Webster defines animism this way:
While Dennett discusses animism as it relates to assigning objects either supernatural powers, or having human like attributes, as I was reading I stumbled onto something that got me thinking about my own susceptibility toward imbuing objects with "something more", something beyond their bland objective reality. The highlight definition above is the aspect I'm going to proffer we are all guilty of buying into, consciously or unconsciously.
What value would you place on an 18th century American made maple desk? I'm no furniture or antiques expert so I wouldn't even venture an actual dollar value. But if that otherwise nondescript, albeit well made desk, has a provenance proving that it was once owned by Thomas Jefferson, and was the very desk he used to compose the Virginia Constitution, and the famous letter to the Danbury Baptists reaffirming the importance of the "separation of church and state", my guess is you'd assess a much much higher value than you would for the desk's twin that did not have such an honored past.
Another example: would you not increase the valuation of a pristine Kentucky rifle of the early 19th century, if the rifle was known to be owned by Davey Crockett? If you were a gun collector you sure would.
Why should a diamond owned by Liz Taylor have more intrinsic value than the identical diamond owned by your aunt Tilly?
Our first instinct would be to proclaim the enhanced value is due to it being a part of our history; directly traceable to a notable personality who made a singular contribution of some sort. Well, yes... that sounds perfectly reasonable - we think. But if the desk, or the rifle, or diamond were indistinguishable from any other example, exactly what specifically contributes to the perhaps ten, twenty, one-hundred fold enhanced value of the inanimate object in question?
This, I proffer, is where we are unconsciously imbuing an object with, for lack of a better word ... a spiritual quality. Something in that object enhances its value because it was touched, handled, employed by a famous person even though it feels, looks and works the same as its twin that has no famous provenance.
Does touching, viewing, owning that object bring us "closer" to it's noble owner? Does the object carry with it a spark of what that person stood for? Does that object border on our accepting some concept of quasi-soul or consciousness of the inanimate than we as atheists and freethinkers are comfortable admitting? What is this if not an "attribution of conscious life to ... inanimate objects"?
I've tried to rationalize why this is. I keep trying to tell myself "It's, it's, it's because it's part of history, and thus is deserved of a special value!" But, that's emotion , that's "the heart speaking" (as a Christian might say). It's not thinking in purely rational and reasoned terms with the brain.
The fact is the supernatural meme, handed down from generation to generation, is alive in all of us to a degree we may not want to acknowledge. On the upside, in this benign form it doesn't make us behead people, persecute them, or drive us to teach our young lies. I can accept that.