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The Self Illusion: Why There is No 'You' Inside Your Head [Paperback]

Bruce Hood
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

19 April 2012 1780330073 978-1780330075
Most of us believe that we possess a self - an internal individual who resides inside our bodies, making decisions, authoring actions and possessing free will. The feeling that a single, unified, enduring self inhabits the body - the 'me' inside me - is compelling and inescapable. This is how we interact as a social animal and judge each other's actions and deeds. But that sovereignty of the self is increasingly under threat from science as our understanding of the brain advances. Rather than a single entity, the self is really a constellation of mechanisms and experiences that create the illusion of the internal you. We only emerge as a product of those around us as part of the different storylines we inhabit from the cot to the grave. It is an every changing character, created by the brain to provide a coherent interface between the multitude of internal processes and the external world demands that require different selves.

Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Constable (19 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780330073
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780330075
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 219,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Fascinating, timely and important ... Hood's presentation of the science behind our supersense is crystal clear and utterly engaging--New Scientist

Wonderful. Illuminating. Full of insight, beauty, and humor. Get to know thyself--David Eagleman, author of Sum

Startling and engrossing... --Robin Ince

Book Description

A fascinating examination of how the latest science shows that our individual concept of a self is in fact an illusion.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read but a glaring error 2 Sep 2012
I enjoyed reading this book. It is well written and provides excellent stories and research that justify the point of the book that ultimately the self is an illusion. You will be thoroughly entertained and thought provoked by finding out why your identity is made up of a multitude of external and internal factors that you never knew could provide such an influence on who you think you are.

However this is a popular science book and not a journal based literature review and there are obvious instances where Bruce's personal opinions are presented without strong evidence and one could be forgiven for taken that as fact given the research he does display. For example when talking about free will he cites a well known study where the brain has already decided on the choice of pressing a button before the conscious mind has decided. This is great evidence to support an arguement against free will but then concludes that because he can plan for a future event that free will isn't always an illusion. Whether he is right or not is not the point but simply that he makes a conclusion without supporting literary evidence.

The glaring error that the book contains is simply this: Bruce assumes that a self illusion is a good thing. He somehow assumes that its those people with a strong sense of self that are better off. This is true for the minority of people who believe they are confident, smart, successful, or positive. But in my experience (and I have a lot!) is that most people's identity is negative and their sense of self is often seen as weak, unconfident, stressed, sad, unhappy and so on. Bruce doesn't acknowledge that a strong sense self can be bad as well as good. In fact his closing statement is that one needs a strong sense of self to survive.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and easy to read 11 May 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book and found it a pleasure to read (albeit you do need to concentrate in parts). The concept that there is no "self" is a pretty hard one to get your head around, although it certainly makes sense to me - and even more so given the evidence that Bruce Hood outlines.

The reason I haven't given the book 5 stars is that I would like to have seen a section/chapter that explores what the concept of "no self" means for the way that we live our lives. That is to say, the fact that we have no consistent personality and are not much more than our brains, which in turn is a collection of (changing) memories, must be a very valuable piece of information when it comes to informing the way we live our lives. The other small criticism I had of the book is that the version I read (the Kindle version) had quite a number of typos which makes me wonder whether the book had been rather rushed into publication.

However, overall, I would strongly recommend this book. It has proved, to me, to be a great introduction to the otherwise illusive and mystical concept of there being "no self".
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No kidding 21 April 2012
By Hande Z
This book examines the basic nature of our personal identity from the point of view of neuropsychology. Julian Baggini gave us a fascinating account of it from the point of view of philosophy last year in his book "The Ego Trick". Hood writes an equally fascinating account to address the question, "What (or who) is the `I' that Descartes refers to when he wrote `I think. Therefore I am'"? The inroads into neuroscience is paving the way we look at things, the way we see others, and most importantly, the way we see ourselves. A decade ago the phrase "My brain made me do it" would have brought howls of laughter from people thinking it might be a spoof on criminal conduct. Read Hood and you may see the serious studies in this field.

The competing theories of Galen Strawson (the "pearl view") and Hume's (the "bundle theory") are examined and Hood tells us that modern science is inclining towards the "bundle theory", namely that our "self" emerges not from an accretion of our past experiences - "a bundling together of these experiences". The "pearl theory" holds that our self is a single immovable entity at the core of our existence.

Arising from this, it will become apparent that if the self is a bundling of one's past experiences, then one's memory is an important factor to be studied. Hood tells us that neuroscience shows that possession of memory and identity is what makes us unique individuals. Hood lucidly explains how experiments show this connection that starts with children from about five years of age. He also tells us how the self of the "moment" differs from the self of the "memory".
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Self Illusions 28 Oct 2012
Bruce Hoods book The Self Illusion is a great book about the mental constructions that makes us who we are.
According to Hood, deep down, our selves might not be all that solid. Instead, other people influence us and changing circumstances continually update our beliefs and our sense of self.

The self is shaped by the reflected opinions of others around us.
And Hood gives us a long list of very interesting observations and psychological experiments that illustrates that our selves are not rock solid things.
From Jane Elliots experiments with a third grade class (She convinced blue eyed
children that brown eyed kids were smarter or vice versa) to Solomon Aschs Conformity test (where students would rather follow the group than give the right answer).
Hood concludes that ''we are susceptible to group pressure, subtle priming cues, stereotyping and culturally cuing, then the notion of a true, unyielding ego cannot be sustained. If it is a self that flinches and bends with tiny changes in circumstances, then it might as well be non-existent''

Indeed, selves are constructed not born, according to Hood.
People don't remember much from before the age of four. According to Bruce Hood, the reason for this is that our selves have not been fully build at that age:
It's not that you have forgotten what it was like to be an infant
- You were simply not ''you'' at that age because there was no constructed self,
and so you cannot make sense of early experiences in the context of the person to
whom these events happened.

And the self is fragile. Even thinking too much about it might be a dangerous thing?
We might be confused, begin to wonder if the construction, the self, can really do anything on its own?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read and enlightening
One of the best books on the subject. A combination of sience and phlosophy.
Not a simple read but not dry or full of buzz words.
I highly recomend it
Published 22 days ago by Boaz Tal
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not life-changing
Easy to read. Themes of Chapters well-grouped together. But every chapter seems to have a reference to the title inserted at randon, it is not a flowing argument.
Published 1 month ago by AnnYorkshire
5.0 out of 5 stars Am I really me?!
If you're the thoughtful type, buy this book. You'll never look at yourself in the mirror in quite the same way again! Read more
Published 2 months ago by Words-and-music Man
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
Fascinating read which left me questioning many elements of my own "self". Bruce Hood writes in an engaging style and makes it easy for a novice like myself to understand how our... Read more
Published 3 months ago by mark watson
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read, though didn't tell me anything i didn't know
Having bought this as a clearance bargain e-book, I have to say this was a good value read, and though I didn't tell me anything truly new or revelatory, it did bring together a... Read more
Published 3 months ago by ST Nicholls
3.0 out of 5 stars Nothing really new
A compilation of findings from psychophysics and (cognitive) psychology. It might be preferable to read the original bibliography instead. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Tatiana Tambouratzis
1.0 out of 5 stars Self Illusion
This book failed to interest me from the start and I found the philosophy depressing to say the least. In this world some of us need hope!
Published 3 months ago by Kate Gears
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing
Makes for fun and easy reading using up to date examples to help explain fascinating psychological concepts. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Callum Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars Shame about the wishy-washy conclusion.
I really enjoyed reading this book and Supersense: From Superstition to Religion - The Brain Science of Belief. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mr Template
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
Lots of interesting stuff in here but by about two thirds of the way through I was at the point of "ok I get it, can it end now so I can read something else"
Published 4 months ago by Mr. R. Shaw
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