Richard Tarnas is author of the acclaimed book, “The Passion of The Western Mind’ which describes the transition from one world view to another. Mythologist Joseph Campbell said this book is the “most lucid and concise presentation of the grand lines of what every student should know about history.”
DiCarlo: In the Celestine Prophecy, by James Redfield, there is a sentence that reads, “History is not just the evolution of technology; it is the evolution of thought. By understanding the reality of the people who came before us, we can see why we look at the world the way we do, and what our contribution is toward further progress. We can pinpoint where we come in so to speak, in the longer development of Civilization, and that gives us a sense of where we are going.” Would you care to comment upon that in terms of your book, The Passion of the Western Mind??
Tarnas: The Passion of The Western Mind is a history of Western thought from the ancient Greeks to the postmodern period. I had several different motives in writing the book but one of the motives was this: if we are to understand where we are now in our history, if we are to understand our moment in history and where we are potentially going in the future, we need to know what brought us to this point. That means recovering the sources of our world and our world view. I think the two go together. A world view has a tremendous influence in configuring the way the world turns out to be. The way we approach reality will influence the kind of reality we create. It’s very important to know what are the basic principles and presuppositions in our world view because they will go a long way towards revealing how our world has been constellated. A big motive in writing the book was to understand all the different impulses and strands of thought and cultural influences that have gone into creating the way we look at the world and the way our world has come to be in our time.
One of the paradoxes of the Western intellectual tradition is that though it is seen at any given point as “a tradition” and therefore a tradition of conservative elders with an established, authoritarian and therefore potentially oppressive, or stodgy or too traditional character-in fact the major thinkers who have made up that tradition have all been counter-cultural rebels and revolutionaries in their own time, whether we are talking about Socrates, Descartes, Galileo, Nietzsche, or Freud. The rebel in one generation becomes the ruler in a later generation, just as, archetypally speaking, the son becomes the father. We see in the West’s whole evolution that we are in many ways deeply informed by this tradition, even when we are rebelling against it. The very principle of critical response to an intellectual tradition is absolutely basic to our Western tradition. Even at the moment we rebel against it, we are fulfilling this grand tradition.
One other general point I might make here: The Western intellectual and spiritual tradition, up until this generation, has been a patrilineal tradition. For the most part it’s been constituted by men, who were usually writing for other men. This has had a great influence on the nature of the Western mind and the nature of the Western world view. It has tremendously affected our understanding of the human being, of the relationship of the human being to the world. It’s affected our understanding of the divine and the human being’s relationship to the divine. It’s had a radical influence on our history.
DiCarlo: How would you define a world view? If we are to say that a world view is a paradigm, are there different paradigms for different fields, such as a scientific paradigm let’s say, or is there an over-arching, meta-paradigm that is perhaps more basic, and upon which the others are constructed?
Tarnas: I think there are different levels of paradigms. A world view, which is the most general level, is a set of values, of conceptual structures, of implicit assumptions or pre-suppositions about the nature of reality-about human beings, about the nature of the relationship between human beings and nature, about history, the divine, the cosmos- which constellate an entire culture’s way of being and acting. There are many levels to a world view, many inflections to it and many ways it can be differentiated. So for example, there can be a general scientific paradigm which is allied with and in some ways reflective of this larger cultural world view. There is a give-and-take relationship between the two. It’s not a one way street. Scientific paradigms can affect the cultural world view, but also, the cultural world view can go through shifts such as it is right now, which will in turn affect scientists and how they go about doing their work and how they go about making sense of reality. So it goes both ways.
Not only is there a scientific paradigm, there are many scientific paradigms. There’s a different paradigm, say, operative in evolutionary biology than there is in quantum physics or depth psychology. All of these have claimed to be scientific paradigms, and they may have a more or less conscious relationship with each other, but they are all scientific paradigms. Even within each field, such as depth psychology, or quantum physics, there may be several paradigms within that discipline. For example, there are eight different paradigms of reality in quantum physics that are currently in the arena of discussion. So there can be many different paradigms even within a given field.
I would suggest that at any given time in a culture, in a civilization’s history, there is usually one overarching meta-paradigm that underlies all the rest and that affects all the rest and is in a reciprocal relationship to all the “sub-paradigms,” let’s say, which can be active in science, religion, philosophy and so forth.
DiCarlo: How do world views change?
Tarnas: Many factors are involved in a world-view shift. I believe that you can never say that it’s a specific rational or empirical factor that shifts a world view. For example, let’s say new data comes in through a new scientific instrument, such as the telescope, which revealed the heavens in a new way through Galileo’s interpretations and helped bring about the Copernican revolution. I would say that, generally speaking, it’s never an exclusively empirical or rational process. Many factors converge to make possible the world-view shift. There are sociological changes that take place and make it possible, including things like the death of old-paradigm thinkers in a given field. As they die, their authoritative views disappear with them and the younger thinkers in the field bring with them a more flexible perspective that hasn’t had a life-long investment in a given world view. As a result, what is purely a matter of sociology and demographics has an influence on the cultural world view. There can also be shifts in the religious and psychological orientation of a culture which bring about a shift in world view. There are so many factors that go into it.
For example, in the Copernican revolution, there seems to have been a kind of vast psychological shift that occurred in 15th century Italy, that we now regard as the Humanist Renaissance. This brought with it a certain sense of the world as being numinously alive with divine order and meaning. This helped to create a context within which Copernicus and Kepler’s thinking could develop in such as way that the Copernican revolution was made possible. It included the mathematization of the world, the spiritual exaltation of the sun, and the idea that the cosmos could be best understood as the emanation of a divine intelligence whose language was one of supremely beautiful, mathematical order. These are basic presuppositions that were in the air in Renaissance Italy that affected Copernicus, Kepler, and later Galileo, Newton, and Descartes in such a way that the entire Scientific Revolution was deeply influenced by what many scientists would consider non-scientific factors.
So many factors go into a world-view change. Personally, I believe that world views change when the archetypal configuration of the collective psyche-or the collective unconscious, to use Carl Jung’s term- goes through some fundamental shift. That shift is only partly responsive to human free will. To a great extent it takes place with a certain autonomous, organic power that we as human beings participate in, and are influenced by. Certainly we are not entirely in charge of this process, although I think we play a crucial role and have a crucial responsibility for its unfolding.
DiCarlo: So there’s a shift that takes place at what we would refer to as the unconscious level of the psyche-although unconscious is a misleading term since it is unconscious only in the sense that we are not yet directly aware of these levels-that sort of percolates up to the level of conscious, normal everyday awareness?
Tarnas: That’s right.
DiCarlo: Now you’ve mentioned that a world view would not likely shift simply as a result of the taking in of new scientific data. Expanding on that thought, would you say that a person’s world view might change by reading a book, let’s say on quantum physics, which might cause them to revise their thoughts on a subject. Must such a shift in world view be preceded in some way by a personal experience which reveals to them that “things are not the way they seem?”
Tarnas: I don’t think it necessarily has to be preceded by an experience like that, because sometimes reading a book on quantum physics or on Eastern mysticism can itself suddenly precipitate a shift. But I believe a shift in the individual person’s world view can happen only when there has been a certain development-however hidden it may have been-that has brought that person to a point of preparedness, or readiness, or ripeness. In this sense, the book serves as sort of an activating trigger or impulse.
The book itself can play a major role in precipitating a shift in world view, but that shift is not just a purely intellectual process. In a way, I think it is a moment of grace that uses the book as the efficient cause, but ultimately, it was something that person was ready for. He or she was ready to be drawn forth in that way, ready to be led forth. The original meaning of education was “to be led out from within”-to have one’s own truth be led out from within by skillful teaching. In that sense, education, or a change in a world view is never something that can be simply imposed from without or that takes place simply due to instruction by an external person or book. It is something inside that is ready to emerge, ready to be born within the individual’s consciousness.
DiCarlo: In his ground-breaking work on paradigm shifts, Thomas Kuhn goes so far as to say that a shift in world view is actually a conversion experience. Why is it so profound, seeming to affect an individual at their very core?
Tarnas: A world-view shift is something that reflects a very profound archetypal dynamic in the psyche whereby one goes through what closely resembles a perinatal process-a birth process. One has been within a “womb,” that is, a matrix of thought, a conceptual matrix, a conceptual womb for quite a while. You’ve developed within it, you’ve seen the world by means of it, and you have gotten more and more developed, complex, large, differentiated, until that conceptual matrix is no longer large enough to contain your evolving mind. It becomes seen as a problem, or constriction. It is seen as something to be overcome and a crisis is created. In the course of a very critical period of transition, of tension, of deconstruction, of disorientation, a sudden new birth is precipitated into a new conceptual matrix. There is a sudden revelation of a new Universe, which seems to open up. I think that this experience of a shift in a world view is such that one in many ways has re-experienced one’s own birth on an intellectual level. It involves this very deep archetypal death and re-birth process. So whether it’s a shift in a world view or a religious conversion experience, both participate in this larger perinatal sequence, this archetypal dialectic, which I believe underlies what Kuhn calls “the structure of scientific revolution” and which underlies radical spiritual transformations, such as what St. John of the Cross called “The Dark Night of The Soul” and experiences of spiritual rebirth. A similar death-rebirth process can be recognized in the dissolution of the communist empire in eastern Europe and the sudden euphoric birth after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It can manifest in many different ways.
DiCarlo: Would you say that in terms of human development, we re-capitulate these
historical world views in our maturation from infant, to child, to adolescent and to adult?
Tarnas: Yes. I think that’s another way we can better understand this process, that what a whole culture goes through in some way reflects what each individual goes through. For example, Wordsworth’s great poem “Intimations of Immortality” is a beautiful rendering of a person’s gradual shift in world view, from the numinous, sacralized, enchanted vision of the child, who is born trailing clouds of glory, still having that kind of archetypal consciousness in early infancy and childhood, and then gradually, as one gets to be more and more of an adult, more and more socialized into the conventional ways of looking at the world, of experiencing separation between the human being and the world. There’s a kind of disenchantment of the world to the point where the adult human being looks out on “the light of common day” to use Wordsworth’s terms. So there is a certain way in which this individual process very beautifully describes the trajectory that Western civilization has traveled.
It has gone from the enchanted world view of the pre-Greek indigenous cultures, and even to a great extent the Greeks-the Homeric sensibility-where we can find a certain sense that heaven and earth were not totally separated in the Greek consciousness. In both ancient Judaism and Christianity, and even in the medieval period, there is a certain enchantment of the world. But as the Western mind develops, as in the eighteenth century Enlightenment, with the sovereignty of the rational and scientific-there is a gradual and thorough disenchantment which eventually leads to the crisis in world view in our own century-and, I believe, the potential for a second birth.
DiCarlo: Two births?
Tarnas: Yes, there are two births to consider. First there is the literal one, the physical one: the birth of the human being out of nature, the birth of Western civilization out of the ancient archaic cultures of the Mediterranean. Then there’s a second birth, which comes only through a death. And that second birth is a spiritual birth. It’s the initiation of the twice-born. And that requires a sacrifice. It requires a death, which I believe we, as a civilization, are deep in the middle of right now.
DiCarlo: If as some leading edge scientists are suggesting, consciousness can affect reality, then is it not true that whatever a person’s world view is, he or she would
be able to gather evidence to support it?
Tarnas: I do believe that consciousness has a tremendous role. Each individual’s consciousness, and also the collective consciousness of a culture and its basic presuppositions and a priori principles, plays a large role in constellating reality.
When you are in a given world view, you discover data and you gather evidence that will be to a great extent configured in accordance with the basic principles with which you are approaching reality. There is a sort of self-reinforcing circularity to the process of human knowledge. This is why it is so important to become conscious of the presuppositions with which you are approaching reality. If anything, this insight increases human responsibility in creating one’s world.
The spectator theory of reality, which William James and many 20th-century thinkers have criticized, says that we can see, know, and test reality as someone who is fully, objectively separate from that reality-that we can be spectators outside of it. Yet in fact, we are always in the middle of reality. We are affected by it as we are affecting it. So subject and object are much more mutually implicated than it otherwise might seem to the naive empirical mind. This perspective puts an even greater burden of responsibility for becoming conscious of one’s principles of interpretation. It is also tremendously freeing. It shows that reality is not a “given” that we are trying to know from outside, as it were. Rather, we are playing a role in creating it, and therefore we need to bring the values and the aspirations that we believe would create the most life-enhancing world and world view. We need to bring that to the epistemological equation.
So things like faith, hope, empathy, and imagination and aesthetic sensibility are critical human faculties and values that play a role in how we know reality, and therefore play a role in what reality becomes for us.
DiCarlo: If I am understanding you correctly, you are implying that a world view can be selected?
Tarnas: I believe we do play a role in selecting or forging our world view. It’s a participatory role, it’s not a “Captain of My Ship” role with absolute autonomy. It is participatory.
DiCarlo: What criteria would you use for selecting a world view?
Tarnas: The criteria I would suggest are: does it serve a larger understanding of self so that it’s not just the narrow “skin-encapsulated ego,” to use Alan Watts’s terms? Does it serve a larger sense of self that connects each human being with the rest of the human community, with the rest of the community of living beings and with the rest of the cosmos? So there’s a larger and larger sense of identity that can become encompassed and served in our world view.
DiCarlo: It strikes me that a given world view is more or less appropriate given humanity’s collective stage of development, which would therefore suggest that all world views are relative-there’s no right or wrong world view. Would you agree?
Tarnas: That’s a very tricky question. They are all relative, but relative to what? They are relative to each other, they are relative to changing values. I believe that the world view of Dante in the 14th century is a different world view than, say, Thomas Jefferson’s in the late 18th century, but that doesn’t mean that one is superior to the other, or that one is right and the other is wrong. Each world view needs to be approached, in a sense, as a great work of art, so that we try to understand it with as much empathic appreciation as possible, to understand its human consequences, to let its meaning unfold rather than making some sort of snap judgment or even a judgment after a period of time, but one that somehow puts one world view in a lower position than another, or judges that one is wrong and another is right. I think reality is much too complex, too ambiguous, too mysterious to be making those kinds of judgments, and in fact my sense is that reality itself is shifting. World views are relative to that evolving reality that is ultimately coming out of some great mystery of the cosmos.
DiCarlo: If, as you point out in your work, the fields of science, philosophy and religion have helped to sculpt the traditional Western world view, what have been the major influences behind the development of the emerging world view? Who have been some of the more prominent personalities in this unfolding drama?
Tarnas: It depends how far back we want to take it. For example, in a way you can go back all the way to people like Socrates and Moses who are still affecting us in terms of the basic Promethean impulse of rebelling against oppressive structures and creating moral and intellectual autonomy for the human being. This is still an operating, underlying impulse in our current world view shift.
More recently, the thinkers of the late 19th century and early 20th century, like Freud, Darwin, Marx, and Nietzsche, set the stage for the postmodern transitional period. I use the word “post-modern” to describe the era that we’re in, with the understanding that the term postmodern describes a transitional era. It is an age between world views. Everything is pretty much up for grabs right now. There are many world views in contention. There is much transition. There’s a sense of disorientation. There is a deconstruction, or tearing down of many long-established principles, and this is as it should be. This is what marks the period of radical transformation that a cultural world view needs to go through in order to re-constellate itself with a higher level of coherence and greater depth of meaning. And today we now seem to be reaching a new moment, a cyclical acceleration, in this transformation, and perhaps a culmination.
There was a speech that was given by Vaclav Havel a while back that was printed in the New York Times. It’s amazing how close his vision of the transformation is to my own. Often when I read Havel I feel like he’s a brother. He points out that with the ecological crisis, with the collapse of communism, with the collapse of the conventional scientific assumption that science has or will have in time complete, objective, comprehensive answers to the problems of human reality-these great collapses are happening right now, while new forms of thinking are emerging such as the Gaia hypothesis and the anthropic principle, and, I believe, the tremendous shift in terms of the masculine/feminine dialectic that I mentioned. Look at what’s happened in the last 30 and 40 years, in terms of the human exploration of space and seeing the earth for the first time from without-these are all signs of really radical, major shifts that are occurring in our self-understanding and in our world view. What’s going on right now is virtually unprecedented. There are some partial precedents, such as the end of classical antiquity, or the beginning of the modern era, or even the beginning of Western civilization, but the fact is, the human species is facing its own mortality on the planet in a way it never has had to before. And this suggests that we are at the end of a long trajectory that is coming to some kind of dramatic climax right now.
In science, in philosophy, in religion, the arts-in all of these are major signs of this shift of world view. It’s taking place on all these levels.
DiCarlo: What would you say is the essence of the traditional world view-the prevailing and dominant paradigm as it were-and how has it contributed to some of the problems we are now facing?
Tarnas: That world view has been defined by an emphasis on the progressive advance of the human being in history and its relationship to nature, in which the dominant impulse has been to increase knowledge of the world in order to gain control of that world and nature for human benefit. It is reflected in a Promethean impulse towards greater and greater human autonomy, freedom, self-determination, an adventurous exploration of new horizons, an impulse towards always overcoming the past. And it has emphasized individualism, promoted the separation of the human being from nature, and elevated reason over emotion, imagination, and communal identity.
Now this impulse has been valuable and essential to much of the best of who we are and what we’ve accomplished, but it has also caused great problems, especially in the one-sidedness of this development which has resulted in a disenchanted world view in which the human being is ultimately alienated, existing in a world that is seen as having no intrinsic spiritual meaning, no intrinsic purpose. We are not at home in this world, we’re simply an ephemeral species that lives on a meaningless speck of dust on the edge of one galaxy amongst billions.
This world view has created major psychological and spiritual problems for humanity and an enormous ecological crisis and we clearly need to be addressing what it is about this world view that has created these problems. In many ways, the problems and the crises that are arising are too big for human beings to fix using the old engineering model of, “Well, we’ll just figure out the cause of the problem and fix it using our rational intelligence.” Clearly, every move that is made to fix one thing, such as antibiotics, creates new problems that we could not have predicted in advance. So these events are in fact making way for a new world view. You have to go through a sacrifice, you have to go through a death, you have to go through some kind of destruction and deconstruction of a whole world view if something new is going to be born. That just seems to be the way of the cosmos. I have deep faith in the ultimate positive character of what this transformation will be; on the other hand, I don’t know how much suffering, how much of a global crisis, we will have to go through before this new world view emerges. A lot of this is still in question. It’s a race, as someone has said, between education and catastrophe. How aware will we become of the role we are playing in creating the crisis? How much inner work do people do? How much inner exploration? How much psychological, interior work do people do to make possible this great transformation on an interior level so that it doesn’t have to be naively and destructively acted out in the world? Because some kind of death has to happen. There’s the death and rebirth of a sacramental initiation, and then there’s the death that is acted out on a much more destructive and problematic way in the world.
DiCarlo: You had alluded to the fact that we have accrued certain benefits from the dominant and prevailing world view and I’m wondering from a human developmental perspective, what has that world view allowed us to achieve?
Tarnas: It has allowed us to achieve autonomy. We have a responsibility in playing a role in our evolution, so that we can play a conscious role in that evolution-this is new. We also have a freedom to evolve in a certain way, to choose what kind of a world and world view we will grow within. All of us value that ability to revise our world view, to revise ourselves, to be endlessly self-revising in an attempt to become a better person and create a better world.
Another way of looking at this long development is in terms of the divine marriage, the hieros gamos that Jung spoke about. In order to have a marriage, you have to have a differentiation for the two to come together autonomously and join with one another in an act of love. This is also true for the human being in relationship to the divine and in its relationship to the world: that having fully differentiated itself, it is now in a position to embrace the matrix of its being freely and consciously. Rudolf Steiner used two words to sum up what he saw as the evolution of consciousness, and those two words were “freedom” and “love.” I think that goes a long way towards describing what we are involved in right now. Having achieved our freedom, we are now in a position to embrace the whole in a kind of loving surrender of self to a larger whole which will preserve autonomy while also transcending the alienation that has been the downside of our forging an autonomous self.
DiCarlo: Would you say that the emerging world view is a regression in some way to that which was held during medieval times?
Tarnas: Of course there is more than one world view in the medieval period, but let’s take Dante and Thomas Aquinas as representing the most comprehensive, rich, articulate renderings of the medieval world view….In this view, the human being had a central role in a meaningful, spiritually informed cosmos. It was a fixed and structured and hierarchical cosmos, and there was also a further ambiguity that was present. On the one hand, there was a negation of this world-the world, the flesh, and the devil were seen as something one needs to transcend in order to move towards the good Christian, celestial destiny. On the other hand, there was often a sense of the universe, nature and the human being as constituting an organic whole that the scientific and industrial revolutions destroyed.
I don’t see what we are experiencing right now as a regression, although there are elements from the past, from the medieval. But there are also elements from archaic, ancient, traditional, and indigenous world views that are coming up once again to manifest in a new way. It’s less a circular regression and more a spiral that takes up certain impulses and insights from these earlier periods and integrates them with all that has been positively achieved in the meantime. In that sense, there is an element of regression, but there is also a sense of moving forward. This is what one would call a dialectic, in which something from the past and something from the present come together and create the future. Two opposites converge to a create a third higher synthesis.
DiCarlo: You stated earlier that the Western mind has been characterized by the masculine perspective. What would that perspective be?
Tarnas: That perspective is driven by this heroic impulse to differentiate the human being from its primordial unity with nature and with the divine to form an autonomous, rational human self. It reflects an archetypal masculine impulse which, as I mentioned, has brought us to a point of great power, great critical intelligence, great autonomy, and also great crisis. There is something that Jung calls “enantiodromia,” which is a term he draws from the ancient Greek Heraclitus, which has to do with the spontaneous shift of opposites. When you get to one extreme, then the opposite emerges, and this recovery and resurgence of the feminine that is happening in our time is an example of that.
DiCarlo: So the emerging world view I take it involves the re-claiming and integration of the feminine aspect of nature?
Tarnas: Yes, and the movement towards overcoming the alienation of the individual human being and human mind from the universe, from the world, from the matrix from which it has arisen. It is characterized by the breakdown of the subject-object dichotomy and the movement towards a more unitive, participatory, world view.
DiCarlo: Could you elaborate on that?
Tarnas: The Western intellectual and spiritual tradition has been influenced by an archetypal masculine impulse that has been informing and impelling the Western mind since its inception with the ancient Greeks and the ancient Hebrews. This in many ways has led us to this very dramatic point of transformation.
The masculine, differentiating approach to the world, to the nature of reality, and to the nature of the relationship between the human being and the world has reached a point of crisis. Yet, we also see now, in many ways, the potential for great transformation and healing, a coming into wholeness by the tremendous resurgence of the feminine archetype. This is visible on many levels, and not just the obvious ones of feminism and the empowerment of women and the new openness on the part of men to feminine values. It is also visible in a whole different approach to life-our scientific theories of the human psyche, the new sensibility of how human beings relate to nature and other forms of life on the planet-all of these reflect the emergence of the feminine archetype on the collective scale of the culture which is manifesting as a new sense of connection with the whole. This ideally could result in the “hieros gamos”-the divine marriage-the coming together of the masculine and feminine on many levels: between the human being and nature, between intellect and soul, between men and women. It’s an extremely multi-leveled, complex transformative process we’re involved in right now.
DiCarlo: What might be some of the specific ways individuals can reclaim the feminine?
Tarnas: One way is through inner, psychological exploration, through experiential methods of psychotherapy, through meditation, through the holotropic breathwork that has been developed by Stan Grof. These are ways of mediating the reconnection with the unconscious, where, for many people, the feminine has been repressed and suppressed.
Another way is through parenting, through playing an intimate, participatory and caring role in the raising of one’s children. Being present and being as conscious as possible, at the birth of one’s own children helps us reconnect to the feminine dimension of the psyche that’s in all of us. In relationships between men and women, that extra degree of awareness, treating women as having the same degree of autonomy and richness of spirit and intelligence and potential as every man.
In spiritual terms, becoming more aware of the feminine dimension of the divine, whether through studying other eras-the Goddess spirituality that is being uncovered archaeologically and historically-or through one’s own spiritual path.
Also, in becoming more aware of one’s body, and honoring and caring for it. Honoring the imagination. Perhaps above all, approaching nature in a new way. Not as something that is unconscious and purposeless and without any intrinsic value except as raw material for human exploitation, but rather, viewing nature as our mother, as something we have been born from, possessing at least as great a mystery and intelligence and soul as we ourselves are embued with.
DiCarlo: You have stated that the Western mind, as it begins this fundamental shift in world view, must be willing to open itself to a reality, the nature of which could shatter its most established beliefs about itself and about the world. Could you mention some of these beliefs?
Tarnas: One I just mentioned, that nature is completely mechanistic and unconscious and impersonal, and that somehow the human being is utterly unique in being the sole locus of conscious intelligence in the universe. There are a lot of developments challenging this assumption, such as the Gaia hypothesis, which goes a long way towards making sense of evolution and life on earth in ways that refute the presupposition that the only kind of entity that can act with a self-regulating intelligence is the human being or other individual organisms but not the earth itself.
Depth psychology, which in the last 20 or 30 years has evolved into transpersonal psychology and archetypal psychology, coming out of the work or Freud and Jung, has moved to a place where a lot of basic modern presuppositions-the separation of the psyche from the world, of the individual human being from the community of human beings-are all being shattered. We are just starting to see that within each individual human being, his or her psyche is rooted in a much larger psyche, that our consciousness participates in a collective consciousness that is shared by all human beings and is rooted in nature, the world, and the cosmos. This sense of separation of the individual mind is something that is gradually being shattered right now.
DiCarlo: Would you say that the emerging world view tends to reduce the gap between science and religion?
Tarnas: Very much. It’s remarkable how traditional scientists, often in their mature years, when they no longer have to prove anything to anybody-when they’ve already gotten their Nobel Prize-start developing their spiritual side and start connecting it with their scientific interests and insights. Many of the most cutting-edge scientists, like the late David Bohm or Rupert Sheldrake, are clearly informed- as was Einstein-by a spiritual understanding.
To the extent that Western religion is hung up on a fundamentalist, literal interpretation of the Bible, there is always going to be a major problem in reducing the gap between science and religion. Problems also arise from fundamentalist scientists who get hung up with the idea that their particular view of reality, or their particular view that they think mainstream science approves, is reality. They take that view as literally and absolutely true, rather than as tentative, partial, and fallible. There will always be a major gap between science and religion as long as science and religion are authoritatively led by fundamentalists of each stripe.
But more and more sophisticated thinkers in both the religious and scientific worlds are way past that. There’s a great quote by Robert Bellah in his book Beyond Belief which I use in my book: “We may be seeing the beginnings of the reintegration of our culture, a new possibility of a unity of consciousness. If so, it will not be on the basis of any new orthodoxy, either religious or scientific. Such a new integration will be based on the rejection of all univocal understandings of reality, of all identifications of one conception of reality with reality itself. It will recognize the multiplicity of the human spirit,” and I would add the multiplicity of reality, “and the necessity to translate constantly between different scientific and imaginative vocabularies. It will recognize the human proclivity to fall comfortably into some single, literal interpretation of the world and therefore the necessity to be continuously open to rebirth in a new heaven and a new earth. It will recognize that in both scientific and religious culture, all we have finally are symbols. But there is an enormous difference between the dead letter and the living word.”
Certainly in psychology, through people like Jung and Grof, there has been a real awakening to the spiritual dimensions of the human psyche. An awareness that as you get deep enough in there, you transcend a purely secular understanding of the human mind and start seeing the reality of religious experience, of spiritual beings, of a spiritual level of human experience that is absolutely basic. To deny that is to live in an artificially constrictive world view.
The religious consciousness of our time is shifting through the influences of Eastern mysticism, of psychedelic experience, of eco-feminist spirituality, of liberation theology-all are coming in and playing a major role in shifting the Western world view. The old secularized, scientific perspective which viewed the world as being mechanistic and purposeless, and basically run by chance and necessity, as being simply material forms moved by mechanistic forces, where God was an unnecessary hypothesis, is in radical decline right now. There is a growing recognition that our whole scientific strategy was propelled by a very idiosyncratic, temporary, local way of viewing the world, one that filtered out all possible spiritual dimensions in the universe, by ruling them out a priori as being not scientifically valid. With that world view breaking down, it becomes possible to look at the universe in new ways. As a result, new ways of understanding spirituality are beginning to emerge.
DiCarlo: How did that gap between religion and science occur in the first place?
Tarnas: The gap between religion and science started taking place in the West in the modern period because the basic conception of the world that had been passed on by our religious tradition was not being confirmed by the advances of empirical science and rational philosophy. This began soon after Thomas Aquinas, who was one of the last great integrators of Greek philosophy and science on the one hand and the Christian world view on the other. After that, with the late medieval Scholastics and with the early modern period, there was increasing sense of tension between science and philosophy on the one hand, and religion on the other. There was no preparation for the Copernican revolution in the Christian Bible. So if Copernicus was right it seemed to call into question some literal interpretations of the Bible. With Darwin, that reached a climax. So the scientific world view seemed to be inhospitable to the Christian perspective, at least as literally understood from the Bible by fundamentalist Christians. As a result, certain forms of Christianity tried to repress the modern scientific impulse, as it did with Galileo and as it attempted to do with Darwin. Similarly, scientists began to see religion generally-and Christianity in particular-as being oppressive, limiting and superstitious, although there are many exceptions to this. There are many scientists and religious thinkers who saw value in the other and saw the necessity to integrate the two. Still, the general drift of modern times has been towards a separation.
DiCarlo: Wasn’t a “deal” struck between the church and science in general, where science could have the outer world, and the church would take the inner world of soul and spirit?
Tarnas: Essentially what happened is that there was a kind of division-the church got Sunday and science got the rest of the days of the week. The religious consciousness pays attention to the inner soul and science covers the outer world, the place of human beings in the world, our understanding of nature, and so forth. But that created a dichotomy that eventually became unliveable-a kind of schizophrenia between inner and outer-between the human spirit and the world in which the human spirit finds itself located. Eventually, that created a double bind of consciousness that was impossible to live with, and I think that’s why there is such a strong impulse to find a new unity.
DiCarlo: What would be the relevance of this change in world view that is taking place to the average person. How does that affect for example, the way a person runs a business? Or how does it affect a person in their personal relationships?
Tarnas: There are many ways in which it is strongly relevant. Business is in many ways the dimension of human experience in society right now that is playing one of the most crucial roles in what the future of the human being and human species is going to be on this planet. It is businesses that are cutting down the forests, and it is business that is looking upon the profit motive and bottom line as being much more important than the support of human community, or the support of ecological diversity and richness and a sensitivity to all forms of nature on the planet as being valuable in themselves. Business is absolutely crucial with respect to how it’s all going to turn out. What individual business men and women have to do is look deeply into themselves and recognize that, first of all, if they are going to be true to themselves they need to make their 9 to 5, Monday to Friday life reflect their deepest values and aspirations and not live with one set of ideals at one time, and live another way as part of a cold, calculating corporate climate during the rest of their life.
It’s also to the business world’s long-term advantage to not act myopically for its short-term profit, because it will not be able to sustain that for very long. They need to think as the indigenous tribes of America thought, “How will this decision affect seven generations from now,” rather than, “How does this decision affect next quarter’s bottom line?” Next quarter’s bottom line is not going to be very relevant to that businessman’s or woman’s children or great-grandchildren. These are immense responsibilities that the world view shift we are going through right now highlights.
The relationship between male and female in the business world, between human beings and the natural environment, between individual self-betterment and the values of the larger community-these are all crucial issues. Each person has great responsibility for working out that relationship in such a way as to help ensure our future.
DiCarlo: What would you say would be the natural consequence if someone decides to be like an ostrich with their head buried in the sand and say, “Well, maybe there is a shift in world view taking place but it really doesn’t affect me. I’ll just continue living my life the way I’ve always lived it.”
Tarnas: Psychologically it will eventually take its toll…Whenever one is in a state of denial, what’s being denied will eventually have its day and will cause great internal problems. There will be a great sense of internal division, a sense of self-impoverishment, a sense that no matter how much one consumes or no matter how much money one makes, there is a greater and greater sense of emptiness, so the greed gets magnified with less and less satisfaction. This is because one is denying one’s roots, one’s connection with the rest of the human community. One’s connection to the feminine. One’s connection to one’s feelings and emotions. One’s connection to nature and the planetary environment we are rooted in.
There will also be rather concrete business problems which will emerge, whether it happens this year or in ten years. They will emerge because one can only exploit and ruin one’s foundations for so long before they will cease to bring forth what one wants. That’s what the lumber companies are facing today, even though they try to place the blame on environmentalists. People who know what’s going on recognize that the reason many people in the lumber industry are losing their jobs has to do with the fact that the lumbering companies went on an exaggerated, hypertrophic clear-cutting spree over the last 20 years. They just haven’t acted in a way that was wisely conscious of the environment.
Also, there’s the whole spiritual dimensions of things, which I think becomes most appearant to people when they start facing their own death, whether that happens at age 30 or 60 or later. It’s been said that when one is on one’s death bed, one seldom has the great regret that one wishes one had spent more time with one’s business. Other values become much more apparent at that point-the values of love, of connecting with one’s family, with the human community, with one’s inner life, with aesthetic and natural experiences, in nature, in art and culture. These become more important than making a profit and trying to prove oneself in the business world, which in retrospect prove to be rather narrow and empty goals. Joseph Campbell used to talk about climbing a ladder until you get to the top and find you had it up against the wrong wall. These are all reflections on how important it is, for their own advantage, that business men and women today become aware of what the shift in world view is all about. It affects them in both their personal and business lives.
Excerpted from the book Towards A New World View: Conversations At The Leading Edge with Russell E. DiCarlo. The 377-page book features new and inspiring interviews with 27 paradigm pioneers in the fields of medicine, psychology, economics, business, religion, science, education and human potential. Featuring: Willis Harman, Matthew Fox, Joan Boysenko, George Leonard, Gary Zukav, Robert Monroe, Hazel Henderson, Fred Alan Wolf, Peter Senge, Jacquelyn Small, Elmer Green, Larry Dossey, Carolyn Myss, Stan Grof, Rich Tarnas, Marilyn Ferguson, Marsha Sinetar, Dr. Raymond Moody, Stephen Covey and Peter Russell.
Russell E. DiCarlo is a medical writer, author, lecturer and workshop leader who’s focus is on personal transformation, consciousness research and the fields of energy and anti-aging medicine. His forthcoming book is entitled “The Definitive Guide To Anti-Aging Medicine” (1998, Future Medicine Publishing). DiCarlo resides in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Copyright 1996. Epic Publishing. All Rights Reserved.