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Dr. Tarnas’s Intellectual Bag of Stars

2006, Richard Tarnas, PhD and professor of philosophy and psychology, releases a work that would have necessarily changed his career…

This is to be a short article on my personal response to what I’ve read so far of Tarnas’s magnitudinous book, Cosmos and Psyche. And for those of you who are already familiar with it, yes, I’ve passed the point where Tarnas drops the ball and reveals the true nature and purpose of his work. Let us begin.

History of the Cosmic Worldview

Richard Tarnas is known for his work as a cultural historian, among other things (which we will get to), and in the first few sections of his book, that is exactly what he does*. Tarnas draws the reader to notice and ponder a certain concept: that the shift from a geocentric solar system to a heliocentric one (with the sun in the centre) changed not only our view of the cosmos, but also our view of the world itself and how it functions. He argued that this “Copernican revolution,” realizing that the universe didn’t revolve around a stationary earth, actually reverberated in the minds of scholars and radically changed how they (and the rest of us) approached things. That’s where it started.

And if this seems a little dry and academic, or perhaps distant and grand, I think that is exactly what Tarnas was going for. He wanted the first eighth of 560-page book to read very intelligently, very professionally. The reason? The book needs to build a good rapport for its big and perhaps controversial reveal. But before I get to it, let me work out a couple more of the book’s ideas for us so that when I do reveal its secret, it actually hits right and makes sense (and perhaps disappoints some of you). In a way, I am trying to recreate the effect that Tarnas himself delivered, but with more open tension. Actually, I will not be making the big reveal until part 2. Unfortunately, any readers will have to wait until I release it if I haven’t already by the time you read this, or you could search for Cosmos and Psyche on your own and check its categories for yourself before then. Regardless, let’s continue.

How the Enlightenment Constricted the Cosmos

Tarnas moves from the Copernican discovery of heliocentrism in the 1500s to the Enlightenment movement of (around) the 1700s. See, apparently there was a lingering ancient notion of reality that we had held on to in small ways, and this notion was incompatible with the Enlightenment worldview, and was thus lost from popular favour. I’m speaking of what Tarnas fancifully calls the “anima mundi,” on which Wikipedia, the great luminary of virtual wisdom, states:

The anima mundi is, according to several systems of thought, an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet, which relates to the world in much the same way as the soul is connected to the human body.

– Whoever wrote this entry on Wikipedia

Tarnas himself describes it as the idea that things in the world have some intrinsic meaning; that the entire universe is meaningful in some way. It’s a very romantic idea, and in fact, during the Enlightenment, the Romanticist thinkers and poets were the ones who kept it alive. They would go out into the world, out into nature, to have deep meditative experiences, and then take those experiences back home and turn this inspiration into art. On the other hand, the Enlightenment pushed a dead, empty, rational view of the world. And the universe? Empty space. Any meaning we see in it must be subjective, that is, all in our head and simply projected out into nature and the cosmos. In a mechanistic, scientific world, how could it possibly be any other way?

Fascinating, right? This idea of an intrinsically meaningful universe that, he argues, we’ve lost sight of due to the narrow worldview of science and the Enlightenment. And it’s necessarily true too. In the search of objective measurable facts, we must logically lose sight of that which is difficult to measure; difficult to see through this historically new lens of science.

On the writing of the book itself, to be honest, I’m kind of inspired by the dense, ornate prose Tarnas uses throughout the book. I think it’s meant to make him and his argument seem important and academic. But actually, as someone who has studied rhetoric in university myself, I find that there’s an issue in his idea to use “high” or “ornamental” rhetorical style all the time. One reason is that it’s tiring. Can you imagine how annoying this article would be to read if I never took my language down a couple of notches and just spoke, as the rhetoricians would say, plainly? The purpose of plain style is so that the message is easy to understand, and isn’t lost.

Consider the above two paragraphs on the Enlightenment. The first was ornate, though not even as ornate as Tarnas’s in his book. In the second, where I open with, “Fascinating, right?” I took the language down and restated the previous ideas in a more easy to digest way. Why? So that I could try to make sure that you are following along with key points. And this is one thing that bothered me about Cosmos and Psyche; very rarely does the book take a moment to restate the huge important ideas it has in regular and precise simple language. Rather, I found myself frequently backing up and going over the same key sentences multiple times.

Teaser: Jung and Depth Psychology,
And the Beginning of my Apprehensions

In the next and final section before the big reveal, we move into the 20th century, and Richard Tarnas unfortunately started to lose, or at least frustrate me. The reason? I have a long history of annoyances with Carl Jung. He’s a famous, or more accurately, infamous early psychologist. In fact, he wasn’t a psychologist at all—the field didn’t exist back then. He was something of a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst; a student of Sigmund Freud. If you know of the concept of introversion and extroversion, that came from Jung, or at least was largely developed by him. There was always the idea of more or less outgoing and sociable people, and further, Jung used the terms quite differently than we do now.

This section on Jung, I will continue and open with in part 2 of this article, which I hope to release in a couple of weeks. (If you’re reading this and it’s already out, I’ll edit a link to it at the bottom.) But I’ll leave you with some key points.

Of Jung’s psychological ideas, the one’s that fascinate me most are those of his unconscious. The Self, Ego, Shadow, etc. I also enjoy researching his personality model, or psychological types, which was used as the foundation for the popular 16 personalities of the MBTI system. The aspects of Jung I am most highly skeptical of are his theory of universal archetypes, and his notion of meaningful synchronicities. And it isn’t just me, science has found, for example, MBTI to be largely inaccurate, and synchronicities and archetypes to be highly untestable due to their subjective nature. And guess which two Jungian ideas Tarnas uses to further his book’s argument…synchronicity and archetypes.

Until Next Time…

In part 2, I will explain what those two Jungian ideas are, criticisms against them (including my own), and how Tarnas sort of, but not completely, brings me around to them. Kind of. I still struggle with the Jungianisms, but Tarnas gives enough information and argument for me to hold some suspension of disbelief and continue on. Plus, I really appreciate his effort making such a grand and difficult case, and I kind of want him to win me over to a certain degree.

So next time, expect some less dry historical philosophy, and more Jung and also more of my personal response. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you again soon.

Daniel Triumph.

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