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Book Review: Cosmos & Psyche: Intimations of a New World View

May 8, 2012

By Armand Diaz   

Just what kind of universe do we live in? With the rise of science, the Western world has become increasingly materialistic in its outlook, and the very notion that there is any meaning inherent in the cosmos has become laughable – a leftover vestige of primitive thinking. Modern people have worked hard to move away from the dark cloak of superstition and the choking grasp of religious dogma, with the result that sophisticated thinkers have settled on the belief that life, love, and meaning are merely the outcomes of random interactions among inert matter bound by physical law. As Richard Tarnas describes it, a “disenchanted” cosmos.

In Cosmos & Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, Tarnas opens up the possibility of a meaningful cosmos, one in which consciousness is just as much a part of the overall picture as matter. Recognizing the size of his task, he starts out slowly, reviewing the history of Western thought and noting the problems with our materialistic conception of the universe. Tarnas then begins to introduce the idea that meaning may be present throughout the cosmos – suggesting the existence of something more than a human interpretation of physical events. He approaches the task with the utmost caution, aware that he is moving outside of a worldview that has been accepted since the 19th century.

Synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, is at the heart of the approach Tarnas takes. The term was coined by psychologist Carl Jung in the middle of the 20th century, and it has since become of great interest to physicists like David Bohm and F. David Peat, who see parallels with the worldview emerging in contemporary physics. The idea of a meaningful cosmos becomes somewhat more palatable when physicists (champions of the material world, after all) give a nod in its direction.

But what evidence do we have to support this view? Tarnas takes the bold step of introducing astrology as the primary witness in the case for re-enchanting the cosmos. Most of Cosmos & Psyche is devoted to an explanation of how the cycles of the five outer planets of our solar system, and their angular relationships to each other, correlate with social and political change. We see how the same themes emerge time and again here on Earth as the planets repeat the movements of their dance in the sky.

Always aware that he is writing for an audience that is very likely to be skeptical, Tarnas takes great pains to distance his message from the astrology most people know – that of the tabloid sun-sign columns. He doesn’t even use the “A” word until page 61. Yet the astrology he presents is some of the best thinking on the subject available to a contemporary person. It is sophisticated, insightful, and balanced. Happily for those without prior astrological knowledge, Tarnas explains things clearly and avoids unnecessary complexity, making for a very readable book.

It is unlikely that Cosmos & Psyche will convince any die-hard materialists that we live in a meaningful cosmos, and the use of astrology as a form of proof will seem a very weak argument to many. Yet for the person who has long felt that there is something beyond the material but has not been sure how to approach it, this book is a valuable introduction. Tarnas, author of the highly acclaimed book The Passion of the Western Mind (which is widely used in colleges throughout the country), shows that you don’t need to leave your critical thinking skills at the door to escape the dark nihilism of the materialist worldview.

Cosmos & Psyche
By Richard Tarnas
Viking, 2006

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