Starting with the premise that we humans are spiritually entwined with the universe, this complex treatise aims at nothing less than changing the human relationship with the universe. If you are looking to feel more connected to the natural world, to mend the intellectual alienation between people and nature, and to get some ideas of how we may eventually resolve pressing modern ecological problems, then this book provides much food for thought.

David Fideler is a gifted writer. His ideas spring off the page. While this is a scholarly work, no assumption of familiarity with the topics is needed. Fideler assumes that the reader is not schooled in the classics, needs a history refresher, and could use an intoduction to recent scientific discoveries. You can easily use this book as a reference and jumping off point for much more detailed studies.

This isn’t a book that can be pigeonholed. The intellectual topics covered spread across millennia from ancient Greek philosophy, astronomical temples, alchemy, Renaissance science, monotheistic versus polytheistic cosmovision, to modern astronomy, physics, and science. His objective is nothing less than changing how we view our place in the universe. Without exploring how we came to our present predicament, it would be impossible to point the way to a new vision. Fideler asserts that the discoveries of modern science bring us back to the ancient philosophers’ concept of an intelligent universe, known as a “world soul.”.Fideler posits, on the concept of alchemy:“If our new understanding of the universe is essentially alchemical-in which matter is creative and active, flowering into more complex states-perhaps we will be able to recover the central Hermetic insight of spiritual participation in nature’s work as well. In that vision our task is not to mercilessly exploit the Earth as either consumers or producers but to bring the world-spirit to fruition through creative participation and a sacred art.”

According to Fideler, in the 12th century Renaissance, the idea of the world soul returns and spurs a renewed interest in the processes of nature before being quashed by the Church. The world soul returns again in the Italian Renaissance as the legacy of classical civilization; Platonic tradition, Hermetic writings and Neoplatonists are rediscovered. However, history and the advances of science put an end to the flourishing of classically inspired visions.

Part II, The Death of Nature and the Rise of Alienation, journeys through the major breakthroughs in science and philosophy of Copernicus, Newton, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Bacon and others. As science begins to unravel the rules of physics, the idea of a living universe is replaced by the mechanistic universe, a dead space that runs like cogs in a machine. The world is set for exploitation as it is devoid of soul and unworthy of veneration. Utility of the natural resources and the economic value of the extraction of the value from the land supersedes any intrinsic value of nature in and of itself. Some question how human freedom can exist within these strict mechanistic confines.

After a thorough discussion of the mechanistic world view and its alienating consequences for the human psyche, Fideler leads us into the strange world of quantum physics. Everything that once seemed scientifically rational to physicists, has been put on its head. One of the most bizarre findings is how photon particles observed by scientists will choose their form based upon the expectation of the scientist. The simple act of observation, changes the outcome.

At the end of the book fascinating investigations into biomimicry and its potential for solving ecological crises gives hope for our future. An entire book could have been written just on biomimicry, the search for sustainable solutions modeled on the wisdom of 4.5 billion years of Earth’s evolution. It is up to us to find these kinds of ecological solutions and write that story.

I found Restoring the Soul of the World to be thought provoking, intelligent and imbued with a sense of wonder. I read through it twice because I wanted to remember and be able to share these ideas. You will want to find someone to talk to about it when you are done reading too.

Highly Recommended

~ review by Larissa Carlson Viana

Author: David Fideler
Inner Traditions, 2014
310 pp.

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