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Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious [Kindle Edition]

Timothy D. Wilson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

"Know thyself," a precept as old as Socrates, is still good advice. But is introspection the best path to self-knowledge? Wilson makes the case for better ways of discovering our unconscious selves. If you want to know who you are or what you feel or what you're like, Wilson advises, pay attention to what you actually do and what other people think about you. Showing us an unconscious more powerful than Freud's, and even more pervasive in our daily life, Strangers to Ourselves marks a revolution in how we know ourselves.

Product Description


Wilson convincingly argues that our conscious minds are but the tip of the iceberg in deciding how we behave, what is important to us, and how we feel. Surveying a variety of contemporary psychological research, this book describes an unconscious that is capable of a much higher degree of "thinking" than previously supposed by adherents of either Freudian or Behaviorist branches of psychology. Capable of everything from problem solving and narrative construction to emotional reaction and prediction, the adaptive unconscious is a powerful and pervasive element of our whole personalities. Indeed, it may be the primary element of our personalities, controlling our real motivations, judgments, and actions...A fascinating read. -- David Valencia Library Journal 20020901 Timothy Wilson...offers a charming, talkative and yet authoritative review of how it became clear that most of what happens inside us is not perceptible by us. In fact, other people often know more about events inside [us]...because they can monitor [our] actions and body language better than [we] can...Strangers to Ourselves is certainly worth reading and reflecting upon. -- Tor Norrentronders New Scientist 20021005 This book offers an intricate combination of page-turning reading, cutting-edge research, and philosophical debate. At some level, Wilson points out, individuals know that processing and decision-making go on below the threshold of awareness; if every decision had to reach consciousness before action could be initiated, people would not be able to respond as promptly as some situations dictate. How does this processing occur? What standards are employed in reaching "less than" conscious decisions? Wilson explores these questions with penetrating clarity, impressively integrating literature from a variety of professions and disciplines including psychology and business...Wilson does an excellent job of covering research that addresses factors (internal and external) influencing decision-making processes that may appear to be unconscious...Highly recommended. -- R. E. Osborne Choice 20030201 [Wilson's] book is what popular psychology ought to be (and rarely is): thoughtful, beautifully written, and full of unexpected insights. -- Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker 20040920 There is much here to arouse interest and provoke thought in any reader, and the book does not outstay its welcome...The writing is clear and engaging, and the subject matter is illuminating and entertaining. Though Wilson insists that introspection is limited in its ability to reveal our true selves, it would be a very dull reader who was not roused by this book into a close self-examination. -- Jo Lawson Times Literary Supplement 20040813

About the Author

Timothy D. Wilson is Sherrell J. Aston Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 437 KB
  • Print Length: 273 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0674009363
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; New Ed edition (15 May 2004)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002OEBN92
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #241,096 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm in two minds about this book... 6 Oct. 2009
Timothy D Wilson argues persuasively that there is a sophisticated and efficient set of non-conscious processes that are indispensable for navigating our way through the world - he labels these processes as the adaptive unconscious. He also makes the assertion that direct conscious insight into the adaptive unconscious is not possible.

He argues that the adaptive unconscious automatically processes messages from our senses, and builds them into stories which generate emotions and states of alertness. Our conscious thoughts also build 'stories' to explain what is going on, but there is increasing evidence that people's consciously constructed self bears little correspondence to their nonconscious self. Wilson provides examples throughout the book, and discusses how we come to have conscious and nonconscious personalities. As an example people will often say that they are a better driver than average because their adaptive unconscious generates a 'feel good' feeling as a background for conscious thought, biasing people's self insight into their skills.

Wilson goes into many other areas of the minds working, including why our expectations of how we will feel in the future are usually wrong. He finally ends his broad ranging discussion with a few suggestions about how we can improve the accuracy of our self knowledge.

If you have ever wondered why self improvement is rarely effective, or why people accuse you of racism or sexism when you clearly hold no such views, this book is a useful and worthwhile read.

His final advice? People should think less about themselves, and try and change their behaviour instead.
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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars illuminating and persuasive 30 Oct. 2002
By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The unforced conversational writing style of this book shouldn't be allowed to mask the audacity of its scope. Wilson, a social psychologist, starts with a friendly but forceful invitation to psychoanalysis to reconsider its methods and metaphors in the light of psychology's research-based advances in understanding the relationship between the conscious and non-conscious selves.
Using anecdotal evidence and research results, some of which are intriguingly counter-intuitive, he then builds up an interesting and ultimately convincing description of what the adaptive unconscious is actually doing, and why. This in turn leads to some practical recommendations about how best to use your own non-conscious. And in a final section on judging the "goodness" of a self-story he even attempts to trim one corner of the post-modernist briar-patch of endless relativity.
This is an enlightening and optimistic book which will stay in my mind. I'm glad to have read it.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Renovating the House of Freud 30 April 2008
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Timothy Wilson enters the structure erected by Sigmund Freud a century ago bearing a wrecking bar and fresh wall paint. Freud's concept of the unconscious is in dire need of updating, Wilson contends, but not demolished entirely. The construction can be refurbished with modern research. Instead of the unconscious being hidden away until a psychotherapist teases it back into view, says Wilson, its effects can be detected by new observing techniques - even done in the laboratory setting. In fact, the author argues, much of the unconscious is there to help us through our daily lives. We just don't perceive its role or influence. In an easily read and nearlycomprehensive account of how over the past century psychology has revised the Freudian construction, Wilson has produced a shiny, almost new edifice. Sadly, the structure lacks a foundation.

Wilson points out that our brains are the result of life's evolutionary process. There is the ancient, rapidly responding elements inherited from ancient ancestors. There is also the rather cumbersome, plodding segment, more recently acquired by our species. In fact, it may be that which distinguishes our species. The ancient parts drive us to jump back when we see a long, slim, dark shape on the ground while walking in the woods. The newer, slower cognitive functions allow us to detect the object has bark and knots - it's a twig, not a snake. Although Wilson is anxious for us to understand our brains are based on an evolutionary foundation, he's quick to dismiss the nascent science of evolutionary psychology as "too extreme" in comparing us to other animals. His field is psychology, not ethology, and he's not willing to surrender his role.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Work" in the 21st Century 15 Dec. 2012
By Carl
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is, in my opinion, essential reading for anyone who wants to understand themselves. The divide between our unconscious and conscious mind can be lessened by learning to see ourselves as others see us, and 'getting out of our own heads'. Our adaptive unconscious can grow and change when given new data, when we have new experiences and act in different ways.

For those who like to give themselves a consistent narrative in life, yet constantly exhibit contradictory behaviour (most of us), there is clearly something fundamental that needs to be understood and changed. Wilson does a great job in shedding some light on this.

This work also so closely parallels that of Gurdjieff/Ouspensky, from decades ago, that is uncanny.

For anyone interested in getting to know -and working on - themselves, this is an extremely valuable book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 2 months ago by Soroush Kandar
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A very important step towards learning who you are.
Published 6 months ago by Yucel Ersoz
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful
A really different way of looking at personality and why we do what we do.

The author I feel spends a bit too much time proving he is not a Freudian which is not... Read more
Published 15 months ago by MJB
5.0 out of 5 stars A great discovery
This is well worth reading to help you understand how much we do consciously and unconsciously. Whilst I'm not fully signed up to Determinism, it seems that a lot of _what_ we do... Read more
Published 15 months ago by MarkN
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolutely fascinating read about the unknown territory of the...
I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who has ever been puzzled by their own reactions or sudden insights and wandered "where did that come from? Read more
Published 24 months ago by Mrs. P.H.Ashford
4.0 out of 5 stars The Theory of Self Fabrication
About halfway through the book the author makes reference to his colleague Daniel Gilbert,whose own book in this area, "Stumbling on Happiness" won the Royal Society prize and... Read more
Published on 1 Feb. 2012 by nicholas hargreaves
4.0 out of 5 stars Very informative
This is a really good introduction to dual-process psychology and contains chapters on how the adaptive unconscious (often called System 1 in other works) affects our control of... Read more
Published on 21 Jan. 2012 by Simon
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Stuff
This was a very well written book. The author is a very well regarded academic and this work is rigorous and convincing. Read more
Published on 31 Aug. 2011 by The Emperor
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent - please write an update
a very perceptive book which gives corner views into what is happening in our broader minds - still the leading book in this space in my view - I hope the author can write a new... Read more
Published on 11 Oct. 2009 by Hector
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