The Philosophy of the Sensuous Cosmos
Evaluation of this book
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. Daniel Dennett describes our having qualitative experiences and feelings as being a “benign user illusion,” and some academics have suggested 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 would welcome the publication of this book.
Professor Hermínio Martins
Emeritus Fellow, St Anthony’s College, University of Oxford; Honorary Research Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon
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