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Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View Paperback – April 24, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
According to Tarnas, acclaimed author of The Passion of the Western Mind, history is on the verge of a major shift, comparable to the one wrought by Copernicus and Galileo, but a seemingly antiscientific one: an astrological turn that can only be understood thorough chronicling planetary alignments as they correlate to the rise of the modern mind over the last 500 years. Understanding planetary alignments, for Tarnas, is crucial to the world's future and requires "a genuine dialogue" with the cosmos, by "opening ourselves more fully" to "the other," to ancient and indigenous epistemologies, even "to other forms of life, other modes of the universe's self-disclosure." Filled with philosophical, religious, literary and scientific thinking ranging from Luther and Kepler through Hemingway and even Hitchcock and Dylan, Tarnas's book is not only sweeping in subject but dense and sometimes painfully slow going. It requires at once a strong background in the history of modern thought, an advanced knowledge of astrology, a willingness to withhold skepticism about the role of planetary alignments of the past in understanding life today and the avoidance of imminent world catastrophe. Tarnas's call to redefine what we consider as "legitimate knowledge" will resonate in some sectors, but it will be a tough sell with the more scientifically hardheaded. (Jan. 23)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
World history is vast and confusing. How to find coherence? Tarnas thinks the answer lies in astrology. Possessing a tremendous amount of historical knowledge, the author correlates human history's big events and personalities with the orbits of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Why only Pluto, but not Pluto-size objects (or, for that matter, extrasolar planets) recently discovered, should reign over us goes unexamined, but be that as it may, Tarnas discusses charts, planetary alignments, and archetypal personality traits embodied by the planets so aligned. Reaching into mythology and Jungian psychology, Tarnas associates history makers with, for example, a Neptune-Pluto conjunction. Averring an empirical basis to his research, Tarnas proves a determined writer whose fortress of connected dates, historical trends, and philosophical thought defies would-be challengers to his cosmic viewpoint. Casual astrology buffs and readers of the daily horoscope may find this volume heavy going. This is a book for those who are as intrigued by and as convinced of astrology's validity as Tarnas. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Let me take these issues in order. I will also briefly comment on the much-lauded "Mars Effect" at the end.
HITS, BUT NO MISSES
A few years ago I heard Tarnas at the Jung Institute in San Francisco point out the correlation between the Uranus/Pluto alignment and both the French Revolution and the 1960's. He does so again at p. 144 et seq. But how many tumultuous events do not fit Tarnas' scheme? Without this information, his correlations are worthless.
Calvin and Augustine both have Saturn and Pluto in square alignment. (p.246.) But why did Tarnas pick these two? Why not Luther and Augustine? Calvin and Aquinas? Can it be that Calvin and Augustine fit Tarnas' theory and the others didn't? (Tarnas' claim that Augustine and Calvin were "the most influential theologians" in Catholicism and Protestantism respectively is controversial at best and it illustrates how much freedom he allows himself to engage in selection bias.)
Tarnas says that his accumulated correlations hit "a critical mass" (pp. 107-108.) But numbers only reach critical mass within some specified context. And Tarnas never gives us that context. Indeed, he seems unaware of the need for such context. Consider this: there have been 1000 occasions in which I thought about my mother and she then called me within 5 minutes. We may choose to find something deeply metaphysical here. But we should really assign zero meaning to the data until we know how many times I thought of my mother and she did not call, and how many times she called when I was not thinking about her. (Perhaps I think about my mother constantly and/or she calls me constantly.) Without that information the reported phenomenon is an uninteresting correlation. To find otherwise is to suffer from apophenia.
Tarnas book is little more than an exercise in amassing such correlations. And nobody should be impressed by hits until we know about the misses. Without that information, Tarnas' laborious undertaking is quite uninformative.
VAGUENESS OF "ARCHETYPES"
Tarnas (and Jung) repeatedly remind us of the "fluid," "indescribable," "intangible" "multivalent" etc. etc. nature of "archetypes." (ex., pp. 89, 105, 522.) This is so (conveniently!) vague that it enables archetypal cosmologists to support nearly any conclusion they may desire. Consider Saturn, the first planetary "archetype" Tarnas discusses. (p. 87.) This planet, per Tarnas, expresses itself as judgment, old age, tradition, oppression, time, mortality, depression, discipline, gravity in the sense of weight, and gravity in the sense of seriousness and dignity. It seems to me that no matter what kind of person you are, and no matter what has transpired in your life, if you have Saturn in your natal chart any astrologer will be able to find Saturn "expressed" in your life.
Jung speaks of the "almost limitless wealth of reference" of archetypes. (p.87.) The problem, of course, is that anything that refers to almost everything refers to almost nothing. Information is only informative if it excludes possibilities. The more it excludes, the more informative it is. The fact that "archetypes" exclude very little renders them quite uninformative. Archetypal cosmology, it seems, is a non-starter. It tells us much about the archetypal cosmologist and almost nothing about the cosmos.
Tarnas' discussion of the Mars Effect (the alleged positive correlation between Mars in a birth chart and athletic eminence) disturbs me. He tells us of the "positive results of Gaugelin's study and their replication by others." (p.76.) But interested readers should google and read the very thorough article "Is the Mars Effect Genuine?" It was published in 1997 (nine years before Cosmos and Psyche) in the Journal of Scientific Exploration and is quite devastating to Gaugelin and his methods. Whatever one feels about its conclusions, the fact that Tarnas does not mention this article is troubling.
Finally, Tarnas' failure to provide citations for his numerous and often lengthy quotations is just plain odd, not to mention annoying. He has 40 pages of small-print endnotes, but no citations for the quotes. Was he just lazy?
Although it was thirty years in the making, Cosmos and Psyche falls far short of making a case for an animated cosmos. The critical reader will be very unimpressed by Tarnas' 500+ pages of extremely vague principles supported by large piles of carefully selected anecdotes.
As well as the Harry Potter book is selling, I think the real Blockbuster book of the summer is Richard Tarnas' new book, "Cosmos and Psyche." If you, one of your children, or one or more of your grandchildren has taken a "History of Civilization" course in College in the last fifteen years, chances are the text for the course was Tarnas' remarkable book, "The Passion of the Western Mind." Having taught various such courses over the years, I was bowled over a few years ago when Joe McGrath used the book for a year-long course I took at the U. of Arizona SAGE program. The book does a brilliant job of highlighting how the two streams of modern western civilization, Hebraic religion and Greek rationalism, met, and cross-fertilized each other, and in some real sense gave rise to what has become modern western culture. The book sold more than 300,000 copies, and in an age of abundant new text books, has managed to outsell all its rivals.
All the more stunning is Richard Tarnas' long-awaited new book, "Cosmos and Psyche." It is not merely a follow-up to the previous book, it is the summary of Tarnas' own work over the past thirty years on the interaction between the external world, the cosmos, and the internal world, the psyche. Tarnas accurately describes the aftermath of the Copernican revolution as generating a "disenchantment" of the world, as the world was seen as mechanical instead of animated, impersonal and material, instead of inhabited by some kind of spirit.
Now, as one might expect, Tarnas offers a remedy for overcoming that disenchantment, that distancing of self and world, that the scientific revolution brought about. But prepare yourself for a shock. This scholar, with outstanding credentials and a huge following, claims the way to overcome this breach between self and world, can take place only by rehabilitating the much disgraced science of astrology. Not the newspaper or fortune teller version of astrology, he says, but the real astrology, that which was subscribed to by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Plotinus, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Kepler, Goethe, Yeats, and Jung. Yes, C.G. Jung, the founder of that "depth psychology" that Tarnas says is the one true royal road into understanding the subconscious.
Tarnas' opening quotation, in the attempt to document his case, comes from Jung: "Our psyche is set up in accord with the structure of the universe, and what happens in the macrocosm likewise happens in the infinitesimal and most objective reaches of the psyche." Tarnas claims the works of Jung alone give us an acceptable alternative to the blunt materialism proclaimed by the likes of the physicist Steven Weinberg: "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." What Jung and the astrological tradition offers is the antithesis to the godless theme of the materialistic evolutionists like Jacques Monod: "Man knows at last that he is alone in the universe's unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance."
Unless we return to the wisdom of the astrological tradition, Tarnas claims we risk negating the spiritual dimension of the empirical universe, and thereby lose "any publicly affirmable ground for moral wisdom and restraint." Tarnas again turns to Jung for support: "We have not understood yet that the discovery of the unconscious means an enormous spiritual task, which must be accomplished if we wish to preserve our civilization." No mean task this, but the very preservation of our civilization!
A central tenet of Jung's depth psychology is the experience of synchronicity, those apparently incredibly unlikely simultaneous events, that had less than a one in a million chance of happening at the same time, --like meeting your long-lost lover at the train station, or having your lucky number show up when you really need the money. It is the experience of such synchronicities that turn skeptics into true believers, as happens with physicist Victor Mansfield: "I have encountered too many synchronistic experiences to ignore them. Yet these surprisingly common experiences pose tremendous psychological and philosophical challenges for our worldview. They are especially troubling experiences for me as a physicist trained within the culture of scientific materialism."
Even the committed skeptic would be brought up short by the journal entry of C.G. Jung: "My evenings are taken up very largely with astrology. I make horoscopic calculations in order to find a clue to the core of psychological truth. Some remarkable things have turned up..."
Given this background, Tarnas says he turned to the study of the astrology practiced by the likes of Kepler and Newton, which brought him to this conclusion: "The coincidence between planetary positions and appropriate biographical and psychological phenomena was in general so precise and consistent as to make it altogether impossible for me to regard the intricate patterning as merely the product of chance."
So what conclusions does Tarnas reach? "Together with many colleagues and students, I have now steadily pursued this research for three decades. What I have found far surpassed my expectations. I have become convinced that there does in fact exist a highly significant--indeed a pervasive--correspondence between planetary movements and human affairs, and that the modern assumption to the contrary has been erroneous."
Personally, I am left speechless. When I picked up this book, the last thing I expected was an ardent defense of astrology, however far removed from the newspaper horoscopes, and however authoritatively documented with quotations from Plato and Aristotle, Plotinus and Aquinas, Galileo and Kepler. So I pose this question to you: are you open-minded enough to want to read the "evidence" that Tarnas offers, or do you dismiss such reflections as simply beyond the pale of the possible? Would you regard as credible someone who told you your birth chart could predict the climactic events of your life, or that planetary conjunctions decisively influence your most important decisions?
As I always say, tell me what your first principles are, and I will tell you what your most logical conclusions should be. My mind is simply boggled by the fact that a scholar of Tarnas' eminence should propose astrology as a legitimate science, or that he should conclude this remarkable book with a chapter entitled: "Observations on Future Planetary Alignments." I take this to be one of the most paradigm-breaking books I have ever read, for I take the basic thesis to be completely nuts. And yet, that a scholar of this eminence would appear to be so completely convinced....