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The New Anthropocentrism

The end of anthropocentrism is one of the signature achievements of science; starting with Copernicus, we have progressively shifted the center of the universe away from human beings. As of now, we are just yet another species in yet another planet in yet another solar system in yet another galaxy (not yet another universe, though that might happen too). Human beings are no more than one object among an infinite array of non-human objects. We can think of the human location as an unexceptionable position in two nested hierarchies:

  1. Me → Earth → Solar System → Galaxy → Universe.
  2. Strings → Particles → Atoms → Cells → Me.

Nicolaus Copernicus portrait from Town Hall in...

When it comes to subjectivity, the same logic leads us in the exactly the opposite direction. As Descartes pointed out a while ago, the push towards objectivity is mirrored by a push towards certainty which leads us inexorably towards cogito ergo sum. In other words, the totally objective universe is mirrored and represented in my completely isolated and subjective consciousness. There is a dialectical relationship between objectivity and subjectivity. The more we dethrone anthropocentrism in the name of objectivity, the more we introduce subjectivity through the back door via consciousness and first person experience.

Portrait of René Descartes, dubbed the "F...

I think it is time to reintroduce a common-sense anthropocentrism. For one, it is obvious that I view the world through my eyes, not someone else’s. The best we can obtain in terms of objectivity is positional objectivity; i.e., the maximally objective position from where I am. Secondly, our embodied knowledge systems — as opposed to the abstract Cartesian one — are designed to know the world here and now. From this perspectives, there is a genuine sense in which we can reverse the arrows in 1 and 2 above to read:

  1. Universe → Galaxy → Solar System → Earth → Me.
  2. Me → Cells → Atoms → Particles → Strings.

The Self is the pre-eminent locus at the heart of the embodied universe.

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