I really can’t remember how this book ended up on my to-read shelf. As I recently wanted to read a book on the history of thought like that of Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, I picked this up since it is relatively recent and thus it would give an idea of some modern schools of thought like those of Postmodernism and Deconstructionism, something Russell’s book lacked since it is written in 1945.
As a history of western thought, this book is excellent. I would highly recommend it if you are seeking to understand how the modern mind developed from the Greeks all the way to the present era. It is erudite and beautifully written. The author is extremely intelligent and observant (up to a point anyway) that I was aghast at the thought trajectories he cleverly traced and by which he connected thinkers from diverse periods and contexts with one another.
However, as the book drew to its end, I became more and more surprised by the claims Tarnas started making. What these boil down to is that it is inconceivable that the world we live in is materialistic and without meaning. Why it is inconceivable we are unfortunately not told. Also, he believes that our mere understanding of the world implies that there is meaning in it and the subject-object duality (separation between us as observers and the world) is an illusion. That how someone who wrote a history of western thought (including empiricism) that is so eloquent and perceptive is making such insupportable claims is really beyond me. Consider for example the following excerpt:
"Why do these myths ever work? If the human mind has no access to a priori certain truth, and if all observations are always already saturated by uncertified assumptions about the world, how could this mind possibly conceive a genuinely successful theory? Popper answered this question by saying that, in the end, it is “luck”—but this answer has never satisfied. For why should the imagination of a stranger ever be able to conceive merely from within itself a myth that works so splendidly in the empirical world that whole civilizations can be built on it (as with Newton)? How can something come from nothing?
I believe there is only one plausible answer to this riddle, and it is an answer suggested by the participatory epistemological framework outlined above: namely, that the bold conjectures and myths that the human mind produces in its quest for knowledge ultimately come from something far deeper than a purely human source.
This is certainly amazing, especially if you read what he had to say about Galileo, Kepler and Newton in his rendering of some of their mistakes resulting from their flawed assumptions and worldviews, let alone Popper's notion that whenever a theory is non-falsifiable it is outside the purview of science. This certainly is the most peculiar author I came across. I read in incredulity the extraordinary claim he made that the modern materialist scientific worldview (which supposes that humanity may very well be an accident that is very likely not to occur if we rewind and replay the tape) is, wait for it, anthropomorphic since it presupposes that the human mind can understand the Cosmos in a mechanistic framework, whereas the participatory epistemological framework (outlined in the excerpt agove) is not anthropomorphic at all (!!!). I really, really kid you not.