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Richard Theodore Tarnas, Jr. (born February 21 1950) is a cultural historian known for his 1991 book The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View and Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View (2006). Tarnas is professor of philosophy and psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and is the founding director of its graduate program in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness.


Tarnas was born on February 21 1950 in Geneva, Switzerlandmarker, of American parents. His father, also Richard Tarnas, was a government contract attorney, former president of the Michigan Federal Bar Association, and professor of law. His mother, Mary Louise, was a teacher and homemaker. The eldest of eight children, he grew up in Detroit, Michiganmarker, where he studied Greek, Latin, and the Classics at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academymarker.

In 1968 Tarnas entered Harvardmarker, graduating with an A.B. cum laude in 1972. He received his Ph.D. from Saybrook Institute in 1976. His thesis was on psychedelic therapy. For ten years he lived and worked at Esalen Institutemarker in Big Sur, Californiamarker, studying with Stanislav Grof, Joseph Campbell, Gregory Bateson, Huston Smith, and James Hillman, and later served as director of programs and education.

From 1980 to 1990, he wrote The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View, a narrative history of Western thought which became a bestseller and continues to be a widely-used text in colleges. Tarnas was the founding director of the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at the California Institute of Integral Studies and he remains a core faculty member.

In 2006, Tarnas published Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View which was awarded the Book of the Year Prize by the Scientific and Medical Network in the UK. Tarnas was featured in the 2006 film Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within, a documentary about rediscovering an enchanted cosmos in the modern world. In 2008, Tarnas was invited to address members of the Dutch Parliament about creating a sustainable society.


The Passion of the Western Mind

Tarnas' first book, The Passion of the Western Mind, grew out of what was originally intended to be a historical introduction to a book on astrology. The astrology book was eventually published as Cosmos and Psyche. In Passion, Tarnas outlines the intellectual-cultural development of the modern world view from its origins in Greek and Christian mythologies. He then argues that with the advent of postmodernism, the modern world view is in a serious spiritual crisis, which manifests as the global ecological crisis. He proposes that a potential resolution, which he calls the participatory framework, has been in development for centuries.

Tarnas describes how the ancient, magical view, in which humans are undifferentiated from nature, was gradually transformed into modernity, in which the world is an objective reality, open to scientific observation and manipulation. The Copernican cosmological revolution, which displaced and relativized mankind's place in the universe, Descartes' metaphysical revolution, which divided of the cosmos into matter and mind, and Kant's epistemological revolution, which separated our senses from the objects of their perception, have together resulted in the ontological estrangement and spiritual alienation which is characteristic of the contemporary world.

In post-modernity, on Tarnas' account, meaning is projected onto or constructed in an empty, meaningless world.
Thus the modern condition begins as a Promethean movement toward human freedom, toward autonomy from the encompassing matrix of nature, toward individuation from the collective, yet gradually and ineluctably the Cartesian-Kantian condition evolves into a Kafka-Beckett-like state of existential isolation and absurdity--an intolerable double bind leading to a kind of deconstructive frenzy.
The contemporary world of post-modern thought, according to Tarnas, is caught "between the inner craving for a life of meaning and the relentless attrition of existence in a cosmos that our rational scientific world view has assured us is empty, dead, devoid of all purpose."Tarnas' proposed escape from this "Cartesian-Kantian epistemological box" involves a participatory epistemology: a theory of knowledge in which "human beings are regarded as an essential vehicle for the creative self-unfolding of reality."

According to Tarnas, the participatory framework takes into account the critical insights of modernity and post-modernity, while denying the ontological seperateness of the psyche and the cosmos, which are, in the participatory framework, dialectically enmeshed.
This participatory epistemology, developed in different ways by Goethe, Hegel, Steiner, and others, can be understood not as a regression to naive participation mystique, but as the dialectical synthesis of the long evolution from the primordial undifferentiated consciousness through the dualistic alienation.
It incorporates the postmodern understanding of knowledge and yet goes beyond it.
The interpretive and constructive character of human cognition is fully acknowledged, but the intimate, interpenetrating and all-permeating relationship of nature to the human being and human mind allows the Kantian consequence of epistemological alienation to be entirely overcome.

Prometheus the Awakener

Tarnas' second book, published in 1995, Prometheus the Awakener, focuses on the astrological properties of the planet Uranus, and is a "description of the uncanny way astrological patterns appear to coincide with events or destiny patterns in the lives of both individuals and societies..."

Cosmos and Psyche

Tarnas' third book, Cosmos and Psyche, challenges the materialistic and dysteleological assumptions of the modern world view, and sets forth evidence for a correspondence between planetary alignments and patterns of human history. The book is thus an example of archetypal astrology. It is also an attempt to supply an archetypal cosmology to accompany his proposed participatory epistemology.

According to Louise Danielle Palmer:
Tarnas makes a compelling case for the idea that we are not an isolated oddity of consciousness floating in a meaningless, indifferent universe.
And more: that we are participating in one that is conscious and exquisitely ordered, albeit mysteriously.
Tarnas supports this case by laying the philosophical ground for a radical shift in perspective, supported by a sweeping body of evidence that illustrates an uncanny correspondence between the movement of the planets and the timing and character of historical events, from September 11th to the French Revolution, from the unfolding creative genius of Descartes and Darwin to Beethoven and the Beatles.


The Passion of the Western Mind

The Passion of the Western Mind was a bestseller, selling over 200,000 copies by 2006. It continues to be a widely-used text in colleges. It was hailed as an important work by Joseph Campbell, Huston Smith, Stanislav Grof, Christopher Bache, and David Steindl-Rast. Jorge Ferrer said that it contained a "devastating assault on the Cartesian-Kantian paradigm."

In his 2000 book Wandering God: A Study of Nomadic Spirituality, cultural critic Morris Berman called The Passion of the Western Mind "a fairly decent summary of European intellectual history, written in a a lucid and accessible style." Berman then wrote that Tarnas "argues for a biological mysticism", and called Tarnas' theory escapist, regressive, totalitarian, and utopian.

In papers posted to the Shambhala Publications website, Ken Wilber called Tarnas a "boomeritis theorist", and criticized Tarnas for using Abraham Maslow as a "whipping boy",
(Maslow has been a favorite whipping boy of boomeritis theorists—e.g., Richard Tarnas, Jorge Ferrer—but he is, by any balanced assessment, one of the three or four greatest psychologists America has ever produced.)
Ken Wilber, "Excerpt D: The Look of a Feeling: The Importance of Post/Structuralism: Part IV. Conclusions of Adequate Structuralism (page 1)" [255738] for allegedly misusing Thomas Kuhn's concept of the paradigm,
The way Kuhn used the term "paradigm," of course, has been badly misunderstood by the public and by most critics and appropriators of the term, who incorrectly use it to mean some sort of theory or super theory. Fritjof Capra, Stan Grof, Duane Elgin, Richard Tarnas, Charlene Spretnak--the list is virtually endless--would say that a new holistic or ecological theory should replace the old atomistic, Newtonian-Cartesian worldview, and that would be a new paradigm. But that typically incorrect use has Kuhn exactly backward. "Paradigm," for Kuhn, does not mean the theory or the superstructure, but the base or social practice. Paradigm is an almost exact equivalent of techno-economic base, social practice, behavioral injunction, or exemplar.
Ken Wilber, "Excerpt A: An Integral Age at the Leading Edge: Part III. The Nature of Revolutionary Social Transformation (page 1)"[255739] and for allegedly engaging in hypocrisy and "hermeneutic violence" by using a metanarrative which denies hierarchical stages.
In other words, the denial of hierarchical stages is itself an invalid metanarrative. From Ferrer to Tarnas to Hickman to Delores to Beliot, you can see these invalid and inauthentic metanarratives parading as sensitive, caring, empathic resonances, whereas they are hermeneutic violence by any other name.
Ken Wilber, "Sidebar A: Who Ate Captain Cook? Integral Historiography in a Postmodern Age[255740] However, Tarnas has not criticized Maslow.

Cosmos and Psyche

Frederick Dennehy wrote, "Tarnas’ deeply radical hypothesis is that the disenchantment of the modern universe is unreal – the result of a “simplistic epistemology” and moral positioning totally inadequate to the depths, complexity and grandeur of the cosmos."

In The Wall Street Journal, Thomas Meaney wrote that Tarnas' book The Passion of the Western Mind "was hailed as a liberal education in one volume and became a staple in some college curriculums." Meaney panned Tarnas' book Cosmos and Psyche, writing that the premise may sound "like an elaborate joke" and calling it "unadulterated crack-pottery."

In a review of Cosmos and Psyche in the New Age Journal, Renn Butler wrote, "With this book Tarnas has succeeded in unveiling what only a few years ago might have seemed impossible: an accessible bridge between the mainstream high culture and an emerging world view that returns the soul to the cosmos."

In The Observer, astrologer Neil Spencer favorably contrasted Tarnas' book Cosmos and Psyche to the writings of Richard Dawkins:
'In effect, the objective world has been ruled by the Enlightenment, the subjective world by Romanticism,' Richard Tarnas says in his remarkable book Cosmos & Psyche, an attempt to heal that schism, to 're-enchant' the cosmos and redeem what he calls the 'pathos' of the modern condition.
By contrast, Dawkins' one-eyed view turns reason, as Blake warned, into the enemy of imagination and of art.

In Inside Bay Area, Esther Fields writes, "'Cosmos and Psyche,' by Richard Tarnas, is the kind of book that comes along only once in a great while. Not only does it challenge modern assumptions about how the world works, but it also points the way toward a new way of understanding your place in the cosmos. Like Tarnas' previous title, The Passion of the Western Mind, it is large in scope, but instead of exploring the past, it examines the present and the near future and shows how we are on the brink of world changes as great as those of the time of Galileo and Copernicus."

In the journal Network Review, theorist John Heron critiqued the methodology and conclusions of Tarnas' Cosmos and Psyche. In the following issue, Keiron Le Grice responded, point by point, to Heron's critique.

In 2007, a group of fifty scholars and researchers in the San Francisco Bay Areamarker formed the Archetypal Research Collective for pursuing research in archetypal cosmology. An online journal, Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, was begun a year later, based on the research orientation and methodology established in Cosmos and Psyche. Advisory board members include Christopher Bache, Jorge Ferrer, Stanislav Grof, Robert McDermott, Ralph Metzner, and Brian Swimme. Contributors have included Keiron Le Grice, Richard Tarnas, Stanislav Grof, and Rod O'Neal.


  • LSD psychotherapy, theoretical implications for the study of psychology, 1976
  • The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View, 1991; Ballantine
  • "The Western Mind at the Threshold," The Quest, Summer 1993
  • Prometheus the Awakener: An Essay on the Archetypal Meaning of the Planet Uranus, 1995; Spring Publications, Woodstock, CT
  • Foreword to Revisioning Transpersonal Theory by Jorge Ferrer, 2002; SUNY
  • Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, 2006; Viking (ISBN 0-670-03292-1)
  • Jung, Cosmology, and the Transformation of the Modern Self 3 DVD recording of an Eranos conference[255741]


  2. LSD psychotherapy, theoretical implications for the study of psychology, 1976 [1]
  3. Jeffrey Kripal, Esalen: America and the religion of no religion, 378 University of Chicago Press, 2007 ISBN 0226453693, 9780226453699
  5. Janet Kane, "A New View of Depth Psychology's Link to the Astrological Tradition"[2]
  9. Alice Klein, "The Intelligent Universe: Is nature trying to change our minds?"[3] NOW Magazine
  10. Ray Grasse, "Cosmos and Psyche: An Interview with Richard Tarnas" The Mountain Astrologer, issue #124, Dec/Jan 2006.
  11. Jorge Ferrer, Revisioning transpersonal theory: a participatory vision of human spirituality [4]
  12. Ferrer, 143
  13. Richard Tarnas, "Epilogue", The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View[5]
  14. Bob Craft, untitled review of The Passion of the Western Mind, Quest Summer 1992[6]
  15. Ferrer, 143
  16. Ferrer, 155
  17. Richard Tarnas, "Epilogue", The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View[7]
  18. Ray Grasse, untitled book review, Quest Winter 1995 [8]
  19. Louise Danielle Palmer, "The Re-Enchanted Universe" [9] Spirituality and Health July/August 2006
  20. Ray Grasse, "Cosmos and Psyche: An Interview with Richard Tarnas" The Mountain Astrologer, issue #124, Dec/Jan 2006.
  22. Janet Kane, "A New View of Depth Psychology's Link to the Astrological Tradition"[10]
  23. "Writer's Block: Cosmos & Psyche" The Wall Street Journal JANUARY 21, 2006
  24. [11]
  25. [12]
  26. Ferrer, 155
  27. Morris Berman, Wandering God: a study in nomadic spirituality SUNY Press, 2000 ISBN 0791444414 p224 [13]
  28. [14]
  29. [15]
  30. Frederick J. Dennehy, "The Disenchantment of the Modern Universe and the Tale of Two Suitors" [16] LILIPOH #44 - Summer 2006
  31. "Writer's Block: Cosmos & Psyche" The Wall Street Journal JANUARY 21, 2006
  33. Renn Butler, "Unveiling the Archetypal Cosmos" [17]
  35. Neil Spencer, "The Dawkins delusion: science good, the rest bad" The Observer, Sunday 12 August 2007
  36. Esther Fields, "Spring into a great read"[18] Inside Bay Area 04/04/2006
  37. Heron, "A commentary on Richard Tarnas' Cosmos and Psyche'" in Network Review
  38. "A Response to John Heron’s commentary on Cosmos and Psyche"[19] Network Review Winter 2007 p13 pub by Scientific & Medical Network

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