The Copernican Odyssey: From Kantian Skepticism to Tarnasian Participation, or from the Dawn of Modern Science to the Wisdom of the Midnight Sun

The following is a rough draft of a presentation I will be giving next week as part of a panel discussion on the philosopher Richard Tarnas’   Archetypal Cosmology. Tarnas’ essay entitled Two Suitors: A Parable may aid the reader’s comprehension of what I articulate below.

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The Copernican Odyssey: From Copernican Illumination through Kantian Skepticism to Tarnasian Participation, or the Dawn of Modern Science to the Wisdom of the Midnight Sun

The 20th Century philosopher, Samuel Alexander (a major influence on Whitehead) articulated what could be said to be the basic metaphysical formula underlying archetypal cosmology: “Time is the Mind of Space.”

Time, for Plato, is a “moving image of eternity,” a living copy of God. Like Alexander, Plato often related Time to the World-Soul, that intermediating matrix that allows invisible eternal forms, or archetypes, smooth passage into the visible motions of the animated physical world. When Plato looked to the heavens he perceived in their hidden harmony the very source and destiny of cosmic history. Time, he intuited, must be created and ordered by the movement of the spheres. Even two thousand years later, planetary motions and qualitative time were still seen to be intimately connected: Copernicus only began his reform of astronomy as a result of being asked by the Church to reform the calendar for liturgical purposes. Without an accurate calendrical sense of the rhythms of time, religious rituals could not tap into and participate in the life cycles of the cosmos and so could not keep humanity synced up with the sky.

By the death of Newton(about 200 years later in 1727), cosmic time was well on its way to being reduced to a uniform mathematical magnitude devoid of all texture and qualitative meaning. Newton himself went to a lot of trouble attempting to calculate the exact date of the crucifixion and of end of days, which suggests that the calendar had already lost its deeper cosmic significance by becoming over-literalized (though to be fair, he did still think it had something to do with lunar cycles). When it came down to it, time, for Newton, was just a constant background rate of change against which the rate of all motion could be measured. Time was t, an algebraic function in a differential equation.

Less than a century later, Kant, who today remains so influential that we might simply refer to him as The Philosopher (as the ancients referred to Aristotle) preserved qualitative time from total annihilation, but only by sequestering in within human subjectivity as a form of inner intuition. Plato’s forms, once living cosmic powers, became for Kant fixed concepts within the human mind with no intrinsic relationship to the dead material objects they supposedly represented. Human consciousness was meaningful, qualitatively rich, and intelligent; but the soulless world upon which it gazed-whether it looked vertically to the sky or horizontally around the earth-was thought purely in terms of mechanism.

The picture painted by Kant is not so clear cut, however; he never suggested that the universe actually is a giant machine. He only argued that the human mind is unequipped to grasp it intellectually in any other way. He speculated, especially in the Critique of Judgment, about the possibilities of some supersensible substratum responsible for the organic formation of the visible world (e.g., the World-Soul), but remained in the end unable to defend such a view with the science and logic available in his day.

By the first few decades of the 20th century, things had changed dramatically: relativity and quantum theories destroyed the Newtonian clock-work universe with even more force than Copernicus’ discovery had shattered the static crystalline spheres of the ancient world.

Physicist Sir James Jeans remarked late in his life that

“Today there is a wide measure of agreement, which on the physical side of science approaches unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter; we are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.”

The quantum revolution, in this sense, overturned the mechanistic pretensions of Newtonian science and made possible new forms of empirical, experimental, and experiential participation in the cosmos.

The Western mind has thus come full circle, such that the true spiritual meaning of Copernicus’ heliocentric theory now becomes clear. By astronomically de-centering the earth, Copernicus initiated a mutation in consciousness that simultaneously severed humanity from and sutured it to the solar logos—severed by exiling us from the cyclical-seasonal rhythms of the cosmic womb of geocentrically arrayed constellations; and sutured by lifting the earth into heaven in order to perceive its and the other planet’s motions from the perspective of the Sun. Both the light and the shadow of modernity here come into focus: the excellence of our intelligence was finally able to solve the millennia-old problem of the planets; but as a result of this solution, the Sun no longer could be understood to die into the underworld each night and each winter or to be reborn each morning and each spring. The synchronistic stories within which earth was embedded, especially the death and rebirth of the Sun and Moon, were revealed to be a hoax, an illusion of the senses. Instead, the Sun remained a hero undescended and unrisen; an invincible god unburdened by (e)motion of any kind; a distant, objective observer. This provides a telling analogy for the hubris of the newly empowered solar ego whose great flash of insight had lead it to forget or repress its shadow by pushing the death-rebirth mystery into unconsciousness.

This repression is cosmic in extent, and so requires humanity to enter into a form of personal and collective psychoplanetary therapy, which is just another name for archetypal cosmology. We must rediscover the Soul of Time in the archetypal rhythms of the planetary spheres. Unlike the skeptical Kantian consciousness which we are attempting to transform, ideas must no longer be hidden away in the private recesses of the human mind. The ideas, the forms, the archeptypes and ordering patterns of the visible world, are not projected upon that world by our consciousness, but discovered there in the motion of the heavens, in the growth of plants, in the flight of birds, and the songs of poets. But the planets in particular are the most potent communicative organs of the invisible because all-encompassing World-Soul; they distill the meaning of the Archetype, the Idea, most clearly, since they circle overhead providing a universal background for our particular earthly endeavors. They are the closest image humans have of the Transcendent, the Pleroma, Reality.

In order to correct our characteristically modern hubristic over-emphasis on the Sun (an important but not all-determining influence), the archetypal significance of the outer, transpersonal planets is especially important.

Uranus is in one sense is misnamed, reflecting its role as trickster (i.e., Prometheus), but in another sense is aptly named, since only with its discovery did the human soul breakthrough the threshold of personal death (i.e., Saturn) in order to be initiated into the libratory and immortal wisdom of heaven. The discovery of Uranus, the patron saint of astrology, represents the cutting of the 7 strings of the planetary marionette, and the release of the puppet: from that point forward, the human spirit was free to dance, or not, with the song of the spheres.

Neptune reminds the alienated ego that, despite all its frightened and anxious thrashing, it remains embedded in a nurturing cosmic womb of untold proportions.

And Pluto, the furthest planet from the Sun, is no less powerful for its great distance: it communicates the death-rebirth mystery that the heliocentric re-orientation had temporarily hidden from view, thereby correcting the hubris of the conscious ego by bringing it back into touch with its chthonic source.

Earth, too, must not be forgotten, since she is the planet whose destiny it is to reconcile the others, to integrate their powers into one Self. Consider the strange synchronicity expressed by solar eclipses: the Sun and Moon are the same size, but only from the perspective of Earth. Perhaps this is why Plato elevated geometry above all other sciences, since Earth truly is the measure of all things.

In closing, I will leave you with a short excerpt from one of Kepler’s works on astrology:

“There is a much more noble and miraculous unity of the sky and the earth than the material one. This unity is incapable of doing anything material. It is formal. It moves through forms in this world below, and it does not do so simply through the mute forms, as are found in stone and bone, but rather through the spiritual powers, through soul, through reason — indeed through the grasping of the most subtle things that are present in the whole geometry of things. For earthly creatures are so constituted, that they might thus be capable of channeling the celestial realm.”

Archetypally, astrology is the science of the Night, while astronomy is the science of the Day. Geometry, in the Platonic sense, can unite the two by reminding the sun-worshipping astronomer of the meaning of their embodied earthly perspective. Astrology is concerned more with Wisdom than with Knowledge; it involves participation in what could be called the non-ordinary reality of playful spirit. Knowledge, on the other hand, is concerned with the ordinary time and space of the toiling body, where energy (the cause of motion, and so of time) is defined as the ability to do work. From an astrological perspective, energy is not, or at least not only, work, but, as Blake said, is also “eternal delight.” Energy as eternal delight reflects a cosmic process that is ensouled and archetypally alive.

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7 thoughts on “The Copernican Odyssey: From Kantian Skepticism to Tarnasian Participation, or from the Dawn of Modern Science to the Wisdom of the Midnight Sun

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  5. I think you would be able to write a better description of “what is up” if you canned all the quotations and realized the what is perceived as “being out there” is simply a fundamental illusion, a projection as it were. The world and the universe (of course) is what we create in order to presume an existence. There is no “being in the world”, the world is just a systematic projection which is so profound that we have largely forgotten that it exists for no other reason than to act as a diversion and thus we invent time in order to “pass it”.

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