Senses of Mystery : Engaging with Nature and the Meaning of Life book cover
1st Edition

Senses of Mystery
Engaging with Nature and the Meaning of Life

ISBN 9781138078734
Published July 30, 2017 by Routledge
104 Pages

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Book Description

In this beautifully written book, David E. Cooper uses a gentle walk through a tropical garden – the view of the fields and hills beyond it, the sound of birds, voices and flutes, the reflection of light in water, the play of shadows among the trees and the presence of strange animals – as an opportunity to reflect on experiences of nature and the mystery of existence.

Covering an extensive range of topics, from Daoism to dogs, from gardening to walking, from Zen to Debussy, Cooper succeeds in conveying some deep and difficult philosophical ideas about the meaning of life in an engaging manner, showing how those ideas bear upon the practical question of how we should relate to our world and live our lives.

A thought-provoking and compelling book, Senses of Mystery is a triumph of both storytelling and philosophy.

Table of Contents


1. In a Garden

2. The Truth of Mystery


The Scientific Image

The World as Fiction?

The World as Gift

3. Religion, Nature and Mystery

Religion, Faith and Mystery

‘Nothing Special’

Senses of Mystery

Nature and Culture

4. Animals

Animal Worlds

The Opacity of Animals

Animals, Mystery and World

Animals and ‘The Open’

5. Music

Music and Experience

Music and Nature

Music, Culture, Environment

Music and the Mystery of Emergence

6. Walking

Meditation on the Move

Body, Mind and Involvement

Communion and Holism

Walking and Senses of Mystery

7. Gardening

The Way of the Garden

Gardens and Meaning

‘In the Head’ and ‘In the Hands’

Garden, ‘Gift’, Mystery

8. Living with Mystery


Removing Obstacles

Humility and Compassion


9. In a Garden Again


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David E. Cooper is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Durham University. He has been a Visiting Professor at universities in several countries, including the USA and Sri Lanka. His many books include The Measure of Things: Humanism, Humility and Mystery, A Philosophy of Gardens and Convergence with Nature: A Daoist Perspective.  


"Cultivation of a sense of mystery has venerable precedent in ancient spiritual traditions, and runs through modern writings on animals, gardens, nature, art, and music. In this personal, humane book, David E. Cooper describes the rhythms and tones of a life shaped by mystery. Gathering the wisdom of sages, composers, gardeners, nature lovers, and others, this book reveals the ways that reflective appreciation of creatures, places, and practices can reveal the depth and mystery that underlies human life."

Ian James Kidd, University of Nottingham, UK

"This world is, indeed, one vast mystery, containing only, here and there, a few scattered islands of human knowledge. Past philosophers have not attended enough to this paradoxical situation, but Cooper now does so. We had better read him."

Mary Midgley, Emeritus Professor, Newcastle University, UK.

"Senses of Mystery is a superb book – inspiring, beautifully written and packed with insights about a remarkably wide range of topics, from meditative walking to the mystery of existence. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to understand what it means to live in harmony with the natural world."

Simon P. James,  Durham University, UK

"This book is a gentle and beautiful evocation of the well lived human life, and the role of familiar practices such as listening to music, walking and gardening in leading us into a transformed appreciation of the everyday world. In Cooper’s hands, philosophical reflection has become a spiritual practice."

Mark Wynn, University of Leeds, UK

"This is an elegant and clear little volume that while rooted in western philosophy and literature draws strongly on Daoist and Buddhist thought," in Resurgence and Ecologist, 2018.

"David E. Cooper, is one of the most outstanding philosophers of recent times. It’s hard to think of another figure who better combines erudition with rigor of thought and argument...Every philosopher should read this book, indeed every thoughtful person should, for it addresses and attempts to answer the question of what it is fundamentally like for us to be in the world and what we are to make of the strangeness of existence."

- John Shand, ‘The Strange Business of Being in the World’, Los Angeles Review of Books, April 6 2018.