Is the universe conscious? And does the cosmos actually care about what happens to Earth? In a new book, "Cosmos and Psyche" cultural historian and professor at California Institute of Integral Studies, Richard Tarnas, Ph.D., makes the case for a caring and sentient universe. While many scientists and academics subscribe to a paradigm in which faith and reason are separate, Tarnas offers an integrated perspective. Using astrology and planetary correspondences to illustrate patterns in world history, he reminds us that the stars do, in fact, light the way for humanity in its spiritual evolution and struggle with maturity.

Tarnas recently spoke to Beliefnet about history and astrology, and how, in a culture with a soulless cosmology, "you can never get enough of what you don't really need."

Your first book, "The Passion of the Western Mind," published in 1991, is widely taught in universities. You’ve used the word “scandalous" to describe your new book, "Cosmos and Psyche." Why a scandal?

Given current assumptions about the cosmos, it is a scandal for a professor of philosophy to come out with a book that is in any way supportive of astrology. I think it's safe to say that of all perspectives, astrology is the one most subject to automatic rejection and scorn in the modern intellectual world. I myself was skeptical until I conducted my own research. But the evidence is very compelling: There is an astonishingly consistent correlation between planetary alignments and the patterns of human experience. "Cosmos and Psyche" sets out that evidence in a way that readers new to this perspective can examine and assess for themselves. It's a little like Galileo's telescope: Anyone could look through it to see the new universe it revealed, but it was a scandal at the time.

How would you describe the astrological perspective?

Most cultures, including our own prior to the modern era, had some kind of astrology as part of their world view, for they understood the cycles of the moon, sun, and planets as deeply meaningful. The astrological perspective sees the universe as both meaningful and unified. Instead of the modern division between the purposeful, meaning-seeking human consciousness and a random, meaningless universe, astrology points to a universe that is integrated at all levels: outer and inner, macrocosm and microcosm, celestial and terrestrial. As was said by the ancients, "As above, so below."

What would be the advantage of a world view that includes astrology?

The existence of correlations between the planetary cycles and human life makes it possible for both individuals and societies to understand better what archetypal energies are at work and at what time. This can help us be more skillful and aware as we engage in the activities of life. It's like knowing the weather report before going out into the ocean to sail or surf. It helps to know where the winds and waves will be coming from.

But there is also a deeper advantage: Modern civilization pays a high price for living in a universe that it believes is random and spiritually meaningless. Nature is not honored but is instead exploited for short-term benefit. And a purposeless universe creates a sense of deep spiritual emptiness inside, which people try to fill with endless consumer products, so that the industrial technology producing those products is cannibalizing the planet. But as we know, you can never get enough of what you don't really need. A new vision of nature and the universe as ensouled, as spiritually significant, would give a better ground for both moral responsibility and a sense of spiritual belonging.

Our economic system seems to have lost much of its moral and spiritual foundation. Every major company must show a profit each quarter. Nature herself dictates otherwise. For example, farmers would let a field go fallow every seven years. Shouldn’t cycles in business mirror cycles of nature?

Our civilization desperately needs to develop more awareness about the consequences of our activities. We need to be paying attention not just to the bottom line of the next quarterly profit report, but to what seven generations from now will experience as a result of our actions. The only way that such a fundamental change will occur would be if enough individuals become more deeply aware of our profound embeddedness within the larger Earth community and the universe itself. Our civilization basically seems to be caught in an immature period in its development, like a self-enclosed adolescent who has not yet been initiated into the deeper realities of life and who therefore continues to act from a short-sighted and often self-destructive state of consciousness. It's as if our entire civilization is undergoing an">initiation in our time, into a new world view and a new way of living.