on September 14, 1999
This book is a criticism of the Cartesian scientific worldview, which during the past 400 years has reduced the world (including ourselves) to a mere collection of alienated objects, with disastrous social, psychological and ecological consequences. The Re-enchantment of the World is the beginnings of an attempt to create an epistemology of participating consciousness, i.e., experiencing the world sensuously and viscerally as well as rationally. Such an experience (largely now foreign to our scientific, industrial culture) infuses life with meaning and a deep sense of belonging.
Drawing on quantum mechanics and the work of Gregory Bateson, Berman argues that Cartesianism is inaccurate as well as outdated. With a PhD in the History of Science from Johns Hopkins, he demonstrates that modern science, far from being a beacon of emerging ultimate truth, is part of a cultural gestalt that evolved together with the rise of capitalism. In a particularly fascinating part of the book, Berman makes the case that Isaac Newton's repressions, neuroses and inner conflicts became those of the world he influenced so profoundly.
This book is not an argument for mysticism or "naive animism", but for a more mature, holistic, benign science. Berman's scholarship is rigorous, and I am in awe of his research ability. A challenging, rewarding, important book that charts a pathway to a better future.
on March 19, 1998
firstname.lastname@example.org from Bendigo Australia, 03/19/98, rating=8: Towards a New Metaphysic by Ian Irvine, for 'The Animist' Electronic Journal, email@example.com This ambitious and thought provoking work redefines two concepts few modern Westerners would recognise to be central to both the past and the future of the human species. The two concepts are 'enchantment' and 'disenchantment'. In Berman's text, these concepts carry much more weight than they do to the average person on the street. In the text they are defined and juxtaposed in relation to an overview of human psycho-history from primitivity to the present. In this sense, 'enchantment' relates to the inner perception of self, community and cosmos as 'animated', 'alive', replete with 'soul' and 'meaning'. In an less positive sense, 'disenchantment', according to Berman, is the condition of percieving those same things from a narrow 'materialistic' perspective alone. The disenchanted mind reduces/explains away people, animals, plants, community, nature etc. as mere chance events, chemical reactions, in short, as 'matter without soul or mind'. As you can see, Berman is hard indeed on the Cartesian worlview, critiquing it for the psycho-spiritual poverty and soul instability it fosters. To rectify the problem, Berman calls for a 'new animism' or 'pantheism'. To this end, he reworks Reichian, Batesonian/Cybernetic and, to a lesser extent, Jungian, insights, in an attempt to give birth to a less alienated worldview which might better serve our species into the new millenium. His own contributions to that outlook he labels 'A Prolegomena to a new Metaphysic.' Berman's critique is excellent and his aim is commendable and timely, however, one ends up feeling that the new 'animism without god' he outlines remains trapped, if not in materialistic paradigms, certainly in other paradigms arising out of the Western Enlightenment. The mind side of the Descartean dualism seems to dominate (as a corrective to the 'matter' obsessions of the scientist), however, the mind described strikes me as itself disenchanted. A paradoxical outcome given Berman's laudable intentions. The problem arises from his over-reliance on Reich and Bateson; two wonderful thinkers, certainly, but thinkers who themselves never quite addressed the full limitations of the scientific method. Despite these minor critiques, the book is clearly a classic critique of the 'philosophy of modernity', and as such will gain more publicity as the crisis of the postmodern deepens into the new millennium. The text deals with some of the great philosophical and psychological issues of the age, and one gets the impression that behind every sentence is a thinker fully conscious of the gravity of the times. Berman is an adventurous writer and is fully prepared to risk all for the sake of blazing new trails of thought that might shock us out of outdated, even noxious, worldviews. A must to read.
on May 10, 2011
In this book, Berman accurately assesses the essential problem or dysfunctionality of the Cartesian approach to the world, and suggests that a "re-enchantment" of the world is needed. The problem is, he ultimately cannot humble his intellect sufficiently in order to allow such a re-enchantment to occur for himself, or those he would guide. I differ completely from those reviewers who feel that Berman is too "emotional" in this book (hardly!), or is "anti-scientific." He is "scientific" from beginning to end, and that is the problem!
Berman describes the inherent problem in the mechanistic, atomistic Cartesian worldview, which came into prominence in the late 1500's: its arrogance that the observer could be separated from that which is observed, indeed its INSISTENCE on such an artificial separation. He argues that animist and even medieval alchemical worldviews contained more of the necessary "original participation" to allow for a "sensuous intellect" to be cultivated, where things could be learned through the manner that modern science actually shows IS the way that we learn: "through osmosis" or tacit knowing. Yet, Berman regards both Carl Jung and William Reich, whose works he feels transcended the Cartesian paradigm (pg 156) as inadequate to present us with a model forward. He felt Jung took an anti-intellectual approach and would have us return to "naive animism." He also felt Reich was anti-intellectual. He tidily and with enormous dismissive condescension sums up all present-day mystical and occult "philosophies" as "winding up dispensing with thought altogether", and turns to cultural anthropologist Gregory Bateson to provide his final complicated scientific "answer" to re-enchanting the world.
What I think it all comes down to, for Berman and the rest of us, is: how much of our domination by intellect are we willing to sacrifice or humble, in order to find re-enchantment? Berman is wrong in thinking that mystical and occult approaches simply end up dispensing with thought: that type of superficial prejudice is really unworthy of a man who's proved himself so capable of complex thought. The truth is that mystical or occult, animistic or magical "re-enchantment" don't dispsense with thinking, they just put it in its proper place: and its proper place is not as the high and mighty ruler of the realm. A magical world view allows the rekindling of a childlike awe and wonder, and innocence, something that comes prior to intellectualizing, as does intuition and emotion. Intuition and emotion aren't irrational, as so many men have thought, and so many women have suffered being devalued for what women really seem to do so much better than men. Intuition and emotion are actually types of reasoning.
Yet I think that even non-mystical, non-occult paths of Buddhism and Hinduism, forms of spirituality which cultivate presence and mindfulness, will also reveal that the more a person cultivates presence, the more their thinking and intellect becomes "purifed" and brought into the proper place: a place which is secondary to presence, not dominating over it.
We don't actually have to search long and far for re-enchantment, nor is the way to an innocent and simple way of life found only through negotiating a complex explanation of the metaphysics and epistemology of a cultural anthropologist. All we have to do is wake up and just start to experience an authentic, open relationship with the world around us. Enchantment comes naturally to those who open their hearts.
on June 17, 2001
Far from being antiscientific, with definitive precision Berman demonstrates the neurotic distortions that the Cartesian paradigm has set in motion, revealing his visionary comprehension of the human experience and his insight into the entire Man, mind, body and soul.
He treats Newton with all fairness, unmoved by the applause of the sterile masses of University elite which have elevated the man to Godhood throughout the centuries. As the psalmist says, "What is Man but a breath that passes?...Where were you when I laid the foundations of the deep?"
Any world veiw that forgets this human composition must necessarily lead to severe disruption of the human family. Science, divorced from reason, wisdom tradition, and high theology, and the objective methods upon which it was founded, will lead to an impoverishing rationalism that starves the soul. It will become a sort of false magic entrancing men with debasing theories, desecting Man into a mere biologic product. Hence the rise of mass genocides in the 20th century.
This was an excellent read which deeply effected the course of my studies for years.
on January 9, 2007
I first read this book while on a teaching assignment in Taiwan and I have since re-read the work more than once. As a student of philosophy I find it a brilliant study of the history of science and epistemology. Berman backs his work with hundreds of references to ancient texts and modern works on psychology from some of the foremost thinkers in their fields and ties his narrative together with interesting historical anecdotes that you hardly believe (For instance, that Isaac Newton started his career as an alchemist). In "The Reenchantment of the World" Morris lays out his theories of how our understanding of the world in Western Civilization has changed from one of a participating consciousness to hollow detachment and some of the undesirable consequences that have come about as a result.
The Reenchantment is the first book in a marvelous trilogy I would recommend to anyone interested in the cutting edges of philosophy, psychology and ethics today. Never before or since have I read such a compelling call to change in the way civilization is evolving and the only criticism I may make of this work is that it doesn't lay out clearly enough in practical terms the steps that we can take to correct our course and avert a disater for humanity, perhaps because this may not be possible given our current state of affairs.
on January 28, 2016
I have been (derogatorily) described as a scientific materialist, which I guess means I believe in a "billiard ball" universe. While that isn't quite true, I have certainly spent much more time developing my rational capabilities than my spiritual ones. Morris Berman thinks that puts me in the vast majority of humans today, and that is the crux of nearly all of our problems. Berman argues that prior to the scientific revolution, the world view held by the majority of humanity was much more integrated with the natural world (although that is a great understatement - you'll have to read the book to really get the feel for what Berman thinks about the previous world view).
OK, I'm interested in that premise. The problem (for me) was that after the first few chapters where Berman painted his vision of the pre-scientific world view and then a few chapters on the current scientific world view, I was ready for what changes he recommended. But the last half of the book was a summary of Bateson's work, and I didn't follow most of it, and when I did follow it, I thought Berman spent 20 pages describing what could have been better described in 2 pages. Maybe I just didn't get it.
I recently read Ken Wilber's "A Brief History of Everything" and IMO he is much easier to understand and does a much better job of explaining his recommended path forward. I am glad I read Berman, and his book definitely gave me some things to think about. But I would read Wilber first.
on August 28, 2011
Morris Berman's book "The Re-enchantment of the World" is broadly Green and even more broadly spiritual. While the author doesn't seem to be explicitly religious, he does have a soft spot for Carl Gustav Jung, Robert Fludd, Carlos Castaneda and (surprise) Owen Barfield. A less spiritual favourite is Wilhelm Reich. Berman also references R.D. Laing and devotes three entire chapters to Gregory Bateson.
Berman argues that the modern worldview with its scientific knowledge and subject-object dualism isn't really "objective", but rather an alienated and almost psychotic perspective. Drawing on Barfield, the author believes that humanity originally had an animistic consciousness of deep immersion in the surrounding nature. This state of "original participation" was characterized by the lack of a real ego, and the absence of a body-mind duality. For some reason, the ancient Jews and Greeks eventually broke with this form of consciousness and started to evolve towards a real ego-consciousness. However, this process wasn't completed until circa AD 1600, and coincided with the arrival of capitalism and modern commercial civilization. And, of course, modern science. Berman's main whipping boys are Francis Bacon and René Descartes. He is also intensely hostile to Isaac Newton, who in the author's opinion was downright clinical (I admit that his dissing of Newton is great fun!). Instead, he extols William Blake.
Today, our alienation from Nature and Body is threatening our civilization with collapse, and Berman hopes for a Green, decentralized, de-industrialized, non-hierarchic society. His vision includes the mastering of parapsychological powers and a high aesthetics. (Berman admits that the art and literature of the Early Modern period was more advanced than that of earlier epochs, but somewhat curiously also likes Surrealism.)
Unfortunately, Berman doesn't really know how to bring this happy state of affairs to fruition, but then, who can blame him? The last chapters of "The Re-enchantment of the World" are therefore less coherent than the earlier ones. The diagnosis is easier than the prescription, it seems. Interestingly, Berman does not call for a simple return to archaic consciousness, which he at several points dubs "naïve animism". After all, original participation was non-reflective. Berman, on the other hand, reflects on both archaic and modern consciousness, which means that he is "modern" at least in this respect. (I'm reminded of Ken Wilber's distinction between prepersonal and transpersonal here, although I suspect Wilber would nevertheless consider Berman too "Green", in the Wilberian sense of that term.) Instead, Berman wants a holistic science that can somehow combine scientific and discursive thinking with a kind of immediate participation that does away with the subject-object dichotomy. He believes that Bateman was on to something in this respect.
In many ways, Berman's book is an easier-to-read version of Barfield's weird classic "Saving the appearances". It may therefore be of considerable interest to admirers of this particular thinker. In a sense, it's a virtual Barfieldian extravaganza! Deep ecologists are another obvious audience for this work, and so are New Age believers. I found it to be quite interesting myself, but I had to read it twice! And yes, I noticed certain similarities with Neil Evernden's books, although Evernden sounds more Existentialist and hence "alienated" from Berman's perspective. (Frankly, who doesn't?)
People who will heartily hate "The Re-enchantment of the World" include positivists, behaviourists, sociobiologists, the Wise Use movement, the Royal Society and (arguably) the Revolutionary Communist Party.
on December 21, 2001
This is the first "New Age" book I read - in 1990 or so - so alot of the concepts were new to me then. I would recommend this book if you are interested in the history of ideas, since Berman paints a pretty stark picture of the world as a machine versus the world as an organism, or something alive. I particularly enjoyed reading about Newton's role as an alchemist. There are some streches here, but even if you don't "buy into" those stretches it still makes compelling reading. The book is well illustrated. The cover of the first edition paperback, by the way, is much more interesting than the new cover.
on June 8, 2001
...then I would highly recommend that you read "Maps of Meaning" by Jordan B Peterson.
on December 21, 2001
This is the first "New Age" book I read - in 1990 or so - so alot of the concepts were new to me then. I would recommend this book if you are interested in the history of ideas, since Berman paints a pretty stark picture of the world as a machine versus the world as a organisms, or something alive. I particularly enjoyed reading about Newton's role as an alchemist. There are some streches here, but even if you don't "buy into" those stretches it still makes compelling reading. The book is well illustrated. The cover of the first edition paperback, by the way, is much more interesting than the new cover.