The Philosophy of the Sensuous Cosmos

Are free will and mind chimeras? This book, anti-materialistic but respecting science, answers, No! Mind is foundational to all existence.


Materialism asserts that the universe and everything within it, including ourselves, is a deterministic machine, trapped until the end of time on the rigid tracks of inviolable laws. Only the mechanisms of physics forces, electrical charges, and so on are consequential; nothing else matters. Experiences, such as the taste of honey, feelings, thoughts, choices: everything concerning the mind is an illusion, or is at best a useless and absurd epiphenomenon. This accessible and engagingly-written book is a serious philosophical work, giving solid reasons for rejecting materialism, and proposing an alternative metaphysical framework that is fully consistent with science. In the sensuous cosmos, our essence is that we experience the world in all its exquisite, sensual beauty and unbearable suffering. We actively participate as rational agents with authentic freedom. The future of our planet is not fully determined. Collectively we have it in our power to make it heaven (or hell), as we wish. We are a community of spiritual beings, living alongside other beings, animate and inanimate. Everything that exists is fully spiritual. We may perceive each other as physical bodies but, at our most intimate, we know that we are such stuff as dreams are made on.


  A welcome introduction to a subject that's little-discussed in the hallowed halls of philosophical disputation. Ells, with his concept of idealist panpsychism – which takes minds as being fundamental and revamps 'matter' as being nothing more than the empirical existence of minds to other minds – proves that the subject deserves much more attention.  ~ Geoff Ward, Suite 101

This book is a profound, insightful work. It defends what Ells terms "Idealist Panpsychism," the general idea of which is that there is a level of ontology (actual existence) that exists below that of even a "completed physics," i.e., a physics that perfectly predicts everything in terms of a set of ultimate constituents of the universe - and - assuming an interpretation of physics a la the Copenhagen interpretation where consciousness is yet required playing some role. Ells supports this firstly with an interesting analysis of levels of existence (experiential, empirical, material, mathematical) with one of the disturbing conclusions being that physicalism "gives no clue as to what the difference between mathematical existence and actual existence is (p. 69)." Ells makes the argument for an absolute requirement for a level of existence that is consciousness or experience. Along the way, I must say that he is able to elucidate for me, for once, what Whitehead was actually about, and even casts a light on the idealist Berkeley that makes his hitherto automatically rejected idealism more respectable and his reasons understandable. [...] Ells rips another interesting chunk from the wall of physicalism, a chunk well worth the read. ~ Dr Steve Robbins,

Ells proposes that science's claim of objectivity is false. Physicalism, some call it materialism, has achieved its extremely successful reputation off the back of the discipline of science. This is evident in the following: "Science can in principle give a complete account of all the entities in our universe." Actually, this statement is not within science but about science thus a metaphysical claim. This book sets out to challenge the many assumptions that are metaphysical in character and cannot be upheld through the success of the scientific method. Ells intends in this book to point out how a sensuous cosmos composed of living entities is a far more profound metaphor than the prevalent materialistic view cited above. Further, he criticizes the materialistic paradigm "for imposing a nihilistic helplessness on contemporary culture." The author proposes to show that idealistic panpsychism is a superior alternative to physicalism for the following reasons. [1] It reconciles our intuitive, commonsense understanding of ourselves as persons with the revelations of science and [2] provides clarification and solutions to philosophical problems beyond the reach or remit of physicalism. As an aid to understanding, the book compares and contrasts physicalism with idealistic panpsychism finding idealistic panpsychism superior for the two reasons cited above. Near the middle of the book is a chapter entitled résumé. Here, Ells summarizes in relaxed layman's language the contents of the preceding three chapters on existence, causation and idealistic panpsychism. I found this particularly helpful. Further, the whole tenor of the book consists of a fugue of a philosophical treatise and ordinary language. Following are chapters on pain and suffering and free will. In the last chapter, sensuous cosmos, I was reminded of the works of Maurice Merlo-Ponty and David Abram and phenomenology. In conclusion, Peter Ells has not only spoken eloquently and with uncommon clarity but actually fired a fatal shot into the idea that the questionable marriage of science and materialism has unlocked or will ever reveal the mystery of life. ~ Sky,

Today, the dominant world view is that of materialism (or more broadly physicalism). Our experiences, pleasures, pains and our freedom to act are all reducible to, and are perhaps explicable in terms of, electrochemical processes in our brains. At best, mind and free will are superfluous epiphenomena, and at worse they are illusory "ghosts in the machine" to be exorcised by science. Dennett describes our having qualitative experiences and feelings as being a "benign user illusion" and Pereboom suggests that our legal and ethical systems should be changed radically in line with our alleged lack of freedom. To many people it seems that, based on our current scientific understanding, materialism is an inevitable fact about our universe. In this book, however, Peter Ells argues that materialism is a set of speculative and unwarranted metaphysical assumptions that have been grafted onto science. He demonstrates that, if materialism is assumed, then the first appearance of consciousness in the universe becomes impossible to explain. The claim that mind "emerges" merely names a mystery. This book proposes an entirely different metaphysical framework, "idealist panpsychism", which describes the principles of the relationships between mind, free will and matter, in a manner consistent with our current scientific understanding. In this framework, primitive centres of experience are the true fundamental entities from which the world is made, and all causation is at root mental causation. Matter and the laws of physics are secondary because they are defined in terms of the veridical experiences of these entities. This is a serious philosophical work, written in an engaging and readable style, which weighs these two metaphysical systems of the world in the balance. He finds idealist panpsychism to be more firmly grounded in human experience, and also broader in its explanatory scope and power. Peter Ells describes pain and suffering in a personal, humane context, much more realistically than in terms of dry abstractions, as is usual in such works. This book is a valuable counterweight to the prevailing physicalist assumptions, and it criticises especially those materialists who assert that what cannot be measured numerically cannot exist for their nihilistic effects on our culture. The book shows that it is premature to jettison our everyday assumptions of the reality of our human experiences, thoughts, sorrows and joys, and of our agency and libertarian free will. I recommend and welcome the publication of this book. ~ Herminio Martins, Emeritus Fellow, St Antony's College, University of Oxford

Contemporary intellectual life is beset by profound and ubiquitous uncertainties of interpretation in the sciences of physics, cosmology, neuroscience, and even mathematics. A detached philosophical observer of the universe and our relation to it is led by this situation to conclude that our thinking at least here in the Western world may very well suffer from an impoverished set of metaphysical presuppositions, perhaps due to a myopic overdose of intense abstraction in the physical sciences. Peter Ells, in his masterful Sensuous Cosmos, offers us a way out of our several dilemmas, by suggesting that in some deeply important sense consciousness is actually a universal aspect of all of the identities in nature, living or not. This view, which he calls Idealist Panpsychism, provides exactly that change of feeling toward the universe that is prerequisite to a reconciliation of science and religion and thus a foundation for the solution to our general cultural malaise, as well as the proper understanding of our current intellectual problems. This book is an astute philosophical analysis and overview, yet comes from the heart of the author and speaks to the heart of the reader.

~ F. Jerry Josties, Astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory for 42 years (retired).

Peter Ells
Peter Ells Peter Ells has a long-standing interest in the Hard Problem of consciousness: specifically in explaining, in a manner compatible with scienc...
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