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Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious Hardcover – 1 Oct 2002

4.8 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1st ed. edition (1 Oct. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674009363
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674009363
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 14.6 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,552,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Strangers to Ourselves is certainly worth reading and reflecting upon. You will like this book. -- New Scientist 5 October 2002

There is much here to arouse interest and provoke thought in any reader... -- TLS, 13 August 2004

About the Author

Timothy D. Wilson is Sherrell J. Aston Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Format: Paperback
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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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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Format: Paperback
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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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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