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on 20 September 2017
Okay, you may not agree with a lot of the suppositions, but a very entertaining and in places illuminating read.
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on 14 May 2012
This book is in two parts which add up to a single theme: modern scientists are clawing their way back to insights that were intuitively obvious to medieval thinkers, and before them the ancient Egyptians.

The book's first part describes how the great thinkers who developed the modern scientific worldview, such as Copernicus, Galileo and Newton, took seriously and were inspired by esoteric ideas, especially the Hermetica, a collection of religio-philosophical writings compiled in the early centuries AD. It argues further that the Hermetic writings draw on and express much older concepts taken from ancient Egyptian thought. Finally, it suggests that esoteric concerns became suppressed largely for political reasons, not because scientists saw them as intrinsically without merit, but that this then led to the modern mindset in which spiritual speculations--about the meaning and purpose of the cosmos, its creator and humanity's place within it--are seen as almost diametrically opposed to the mechanistic and materialist scientific method. Of course, many people will know that Newton devoted as much energy to mystical issues like biblical prophecy and the dimensions of Solomon's temple as he did to his theories of optics and gravitation. However, what this part of the book does is show that the influence of esoterica was much more fundamental and far-reaching than we are generally led to believe. It suggests that we have been treated to a sanitised version of scientific history according to which scientists heroically threw off the befuddlement of esoteric thinking, whereas the truth is that early modern scientists could not have done what they did without the groundwork laid by esoteric texts such as the Hermetica. [The statement of one reviewer here that Newton succeeded in spite of not because of his occult influences is precisely what the authors attempt to show is a distorted modern myth.] A key aspect of the argument is that early scientists' problems with the Catholic church stemmed not from the 'scientific' content of their work but from its esoteric underpinnings, which conflicted with Christian orthodoxy and more importantly undermined the church's authority. Thus, Copernicus cited the Hermetica as a source of his heliocentric theory. In his lifetime, the church was not hostile to the specific claim that the earth went round the sun. The pope even listened with interest to a lecture on the subject and it was a Roman cardinal who encouraged Copernicus to go public. The church only became hostile later on because of the close association of the heliocentric theory with the Hermetic world-view and its claims that humans were or could become divine in their own right. That the Catholic church was fighting the Lutheran reformation at this time made it especially touchy about independent theological speculations occurring outside its purview.

The second part of the book describes how modern scientists are increasingly finding that the universe seems to have been contrived (or designed) to support the existence of life. There appear to be numerous quirks in the laws of physics without which anything like the universe we know could not exist. For instance, the triple alpha process that leads to the creation of carbon in stars relies on an apparent coincidence in the energy levels of certain atomic nuclei, and if this were not the case the universe would consist of nothing but hydrogen and helium. Meanwhile, in biology, some crucial events in the history of life, such as the origins of the genetic code or the eukaryotic cell, are very difficult to explain in evolutionary terms and look more not less mysterious as time goes on, with theoreticians having no better explanation than a lucky turn of events. We then move on to quantum mechanics and the 'observer effect' whereby a quantum system's behaviour (specifically whether it acts like a particle or a wave) depends on the way in which it is observed. It seems the observer effect can even work backwards in time: the way a system must have acted in the past depends on how we choose to observe it in the here and now, and, although this has only been demonstrated over very tiny intervals, in principle it might apply on cosmological timescales. This suggests that the universe needs conscious minds to observe it in order to come into existence: not only does our observation of it cause the universe to be one thing or another, rather than a diffuse combination of all possibilities, but this applies back through time to the universe's very beginning even though we weren't ourselves around at that time. These ideas are not the personal ravings of the authors but represent the trains of thought of some very eminent scientists, most notably John Archibald Wheeler. And what is remarkable is how they echo the Hermetica's occult ideas such as that humans have a unique place in creation and are themselves part of the divine creative force.

The neat aspect of this book is that the notions described in the second part as growing out of consideration of modern scientific problems are seen to be very close to the notions of the Hermetic esoterica out of which modern science grew in the first place as described in the first part. I believe very little of this is the authors' own original work, and I would suggest going back to the sources they cite to get a fairer view of how far it is supported by evidence, but what they have done is create an accessible synthesis of a diverse but ultimately connected range of scholarly discoveries and speculations from the last fifty or so years. The proposal that, by being conscious, we are the creators of our own cosmos seems hugely important as a way of unlocking the fundamental conundrum of why the universe should exist at all. That said, such a proposal could be considered philosophically old hat, but this is largely the authors' point: the insights of ancient esoterica get at deep scientific truths and we should not assume that when brilliant minds like Newton took them seriously it was because they did not know what they were doing. The book's implication, that spiritual and materialist ways of understanding reality are not inimical to each other but intimately related, should be welcome to all those who are dissatisfied with the jejune vision of modern militant secularism.

The book has a readable style, good notes, an extensive bibliography and a useful index.
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on 7 August 2014
What a great book. Shame about the title. I would have called it "The Living Universe" as that's the real theme. With its segue between ancient and medieval Hermeticism and the modern sciences, this book showcases material that, as the authors predict, is not going to go away. Sometimes the writing style grates, but if the Hermetic conception of the Universe is broadly accurate, then the evidence for it can only grow, and this is an important summary of the story so far.
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on 30 April 2011
This is a fantastic book about how modern day science was greatly influenced by the occult practices of Hermeticism and discusses how and why this is overlooked in modern times and how the mysteries of 'the occult' are often snubbed by scientists of the 21st century. Starting with the explanation of the beliefs and their beginnings in the form of writings originally from Egpyt, attributed to Hermes Trismegistus - or 'The Thrice Great Hermes' This book attempts to reveal the hidden past of science, beginning with some brilliant minds from history who privately wished to branch away from the constraints of acceptable beliefs to explore the secrets of the earth, the universe, the cosmos and even the mind of God. Many important historical figures (eg. Copernicus, Bruno, Da Vinci, Newton and Galileo) are examined and their links with the Hermetic practices explained. This book reveals the importance of the spiritual and philosophical impact that was brought about through Hermeticism and the influence it had during the Renaissance and the Enlightment periods. I have previously read Picknett and Prince's The Templar Revelation and so knew to expect their usual style of writing, showing history but with a slightly different slant and focusing on parts of the past that are often overlooked by other historians.
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on 6 April 2015
A real yawn of a book. It should have been gripping but it wasn't. I gave up halfway.
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on 19 May 2011
Although I don't think that the thesis of this book has much going for it (Newton's scientific genius prevailed despite, and not because of, his occult influences, as those like Martin Gardner have noted), I did quite enjoy the scientific background about those such as Copernicus. However, all of this is basically spoilt by the authors' decision to try to pick holes in evolutionary theory - although, unsurprisingly, their criticisms are tired and unoriginal. Dragonflies haven't evolved? This is flatly untrue, and they must know it. The harsh truth is that evolutionary theory does seem to indicate the absence of any kind of intelligence behind the emergence of life. Hence why creationists - or occultists like these authors - desperately try to show that the theory is defective. And yet if the theory does have such glaring flaws, does anyone really believe that so many scientists of repute would accept it? The thing is, one doesn't have to be a thoroughgoing materialist to accept evolutionary theory. I'm an active member of the SPR, and am quite prepared to accept the survival of consciousness after bodily death.
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on 17 December 2016
First half of the book was very interesting and a good run through hermetic history, but authors then makes some quantum leaps for claims in the second half of the book. Probably should have put the book down after reading first half.
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on 2 August 2013
A whole raft of knowledge given a brilliant hearing. Whether or not you agree with what they have to say, it is very thought provoking. A very fair and balanced work. Excellent, not forbidding but fascinating.
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on 22 April 2014
The book content is very interesting but the writing style is hard to enjoy. It is very factual, often repetitive, and a struggle to read. Shame, as the content is very thought-provoking.
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on 22 May 2011
This is, I think, a balanced book, not a rant as one reviewer wrote. It puts reductionist science in a 4,000 perspective and asks a necessary, perhaps urgent, question: why does our wayward culture ignore the ancient wisdom that gave birth to it, like a delinquent child disowning its parents?
The writers seek to integrate knowledge. This is not fashionable stance to take in our postmodern world. There is a destabilising flavour of indeterminacy thickening the juice of confusion in our pessimistic and intellectually apathetic culture. It is fed by twists of zealously promoted reductionists notions that essentially say that there is no truth to search for and that attempting to integrate knowledge is meaningless. Many journalists, academics and media people particularly favour this attitude and it is useful to work out why this should be so. One journalist friend told me that the biggest reason for the adoption of this stance is that it allows indiscriminate recycling of random `factoids' - questionable, spurious, unverified, incorrect, or fabricated statements presented as facts, but with no veracity. And this is the level to which most `science' has descended and this allows the media to trash cultural achievements of the past and, generally, let go and not care, so that lazy, harmful commentary and reportage predominate. Paradoxically, for people with no real knowledge, unlike the great characters described in The Forbidden Universe, many who gave their lives pursuing truth, writing pieces that justify the meaninglessness of life and the universe gives them the feeling that their lives are meaningful! But they depress and lower the aspirations of all around them. This book is a refreshing counterweight to that. It is well written, exciting and thought provoking. What more can one ask? I couldn't put it down.
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