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The Ego Trick Paperback – 3 Mar 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (3 Mar. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847081924
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847081926
  • Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 2.1 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 422,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Julian Baggini's books include The Ego Trick, Welcome to Everytown, What's It All About? - Philosophy and the Meaning of Life and The Pig That Wants to be Eaten, all published by Granta Books. He writes for several newspapers and magazines and is co-founder of The Philosophers' Magazine.

Product Description


'An arrestingly readable exploration of our elusive sense of self. Read it, and you won't be the same again' --John Gray, author of Straw Dogs

`Baggini's study of how identity is defined is lucid and backed by a wealth of anecdote'

`Baggini dismantles the idea that we have a `true' self. You won't see yourself the same way after reading this' --Stylist

`Baggini mashes up philosophy with psychology, Buddhism, and neuroscience ... with some entertaining reflections on medical immortality, and "free will"' --Guardian

'While leaving the ego in pieces, he gives your mind a thorough workout'
--Intelligent Life

`Entertaining, educative and gracefully written ... One of the most stimulating introductions about this intriguing topic. Enjoy, and profit.'
--AC Grayling, Financial Times

About the Author

Julian Baggini is the editor and co-founder of The Philosophers' Magazine. His books include Do You Think What You Think YouThink? (with Jeremy Stangroom), What's It All About? - Philosophy and the Meaning of Life, the bestselling The Pig That Wants to be Eaten, and Do They Think You're Stupid?, all published by Granta Books.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Bill on 30 April 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
Baggini clearly and engagingly convinced me my strong sense of self or "I" is simply a bundle of components in my brain and body interacting with the environment that change continuously throughout life. It is a joy to read his subtle arguments that feel common sense, and that you always knew them to be true. He interviews philosophers, neuroscientists, psychologists, Buddhists, Belle de Jour and a transgendered woman that add colour and richness to his arguments. Despite not being a self help book, his view of self as a bundle brings real consolation when he discusses death.

For Baggini philosophy is not "transformative englightment, but simply better understanding". However, sometimes this goes too far and his crushing logic picks on some easy targets. For example, he teases Buddhists about re-incarnation (that he admits is a later addition and not from the Buddha) and over-commercialisation (electric prayer wheel anyone?). Yet when his logical firepower aims at the core insights of Buddhism he misses the target. He dismisses the key Buddhist insight that attachment or grasping leads to suffering by saying we must attach to something. So his attachment to his girlfriend would be "pathological" by Buddhist standards. This is a crude interpretation that does not reflect the transformations of the self that can arise from meditation such as increased compassion and ability to read emotions. For a richer exploration of Buddhist insights and the overlap with neuroscience I really enjoyed Daniel Goleman's Destructive Emotions.

I would have liked Baggini to explore Buddhism more practically (perhaps try meditation himself?
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James Bradbury on 9 Oct. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you've ever wondered about what the self is, then The Ego Trick is an accessible and thorough introduction.

Julian Baggini approaches the subject as a philosopher, but draws on ideas from a wide variety of places, from neuroscience to Buddhism. He interviews people whose sense of self has changed dramatically for a variety of reasons and recounts the experiences of those who have suffered various kinds of brain injury that affected their sense of self. He also discusses the idea of self with philosophers of many contrary viewpoints.

Each of these intriguing insights leads us closer to understanding the idea of self. It is as if each discussion is a small piece of the puzzle, either giving us one aspect of the self, or showing what the self can't be, in both cases forming a more complete picture. This is not a book which simply states its opinion and preaches it until you wearily submit. There's a real investigation and discovery. The "bundle theory" that is the book's eventual explanation of the self emerges from these disparate ideas which seem to have only grasped small aspects of the whole self.

Like myself, many people will find the book challenging to their pre-conceived ideas of self, which is exactly why they should read it. The discoveries I made while reading it were often unsettling at first. For example, the tendency for people to apparently change their selves in different situations. When given due consideration, however, this made me feel more understanding towards people whose selves seem quite different from my own.

Those who've read Julian Baggini's other books will be familiar with his highly-readable and non-technical style.
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60 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Roger P. on 21 Mar. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a 'must read' for anyone who has ever wondered who they really are!

Julian Baggini adds rigour and readability to what could easily be a dry and confusing subject. Having said that the first half of the book is devoted to what the self 'obviously' isn't and is perhaps overlong, but then things start to hot up.

The author makes a convincing case for his theory that '"I" is a verb dressed as a noun.' It is not a 'thing' but what brains and bodies `do'.

So is self 'just an illusion'? No:

The self is really a 'bundle' of thoughts not a hard fixed 'pearl', but it is still 'real', just not what we generally assume it to be.

The self as 'no-thing' can't be destroyed by death but this doesn't mean it survives it! In as far as the self is real it will end in death! This is even less comforting than the often used non-dualist idea of 'how can something that was never born die?' But this isn't about comfort of course, neither is Stephen Batchelor's (Buddhist) idea that there is nothing (no-self) beyond the veil of appearances - all is impermanent and contingent. There is no 'transcendent' self.

Christine Korsgaard's theory of 'self-creation' is examined next: the sense in which the self is created from what is chosen and enacted. We are responsible because we are 'agents' and we 'are what we do'. This sounds very like existentialism to me. We are nothing beyond what we do and are condemned to freedom since we must do something.

This 'living without a soul' is explored further: according to Susan Blackmore bundle theory lends itself to determinism rather than free-will. This is quite convincingly explained.
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