13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 6 October 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.
53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
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.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
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. He's also unwilling to "reduce" the mind to something in common with other animals - or allow it to be compared with computers.
His concept of "adaptive unconscious" is a compromise between Freud's dark realm and the realities of evolutionary biology - tilting toward the Freudian side. Wilson demonstrates how in many ways our "adaptive unconscious" influences us. There's confabulation - contriving reasons for behaviour we can't immediately explain. Wilson deems us "the ultimate spin doctor" for projecting how good we are - both to others and to ourselves. There's the problem of whether emotion is reflected in changes of body condition - or vice versa. The wide variety of expressions of adaptive unconscious behaviours is amply and ably spelled out in this book. Perhaps no topic drives his thesis home more vividly than the segment "Are You Racist", still a major topic in Wilson's [and other] nations. The section is a glaring example of what is going on within our minds without our being aware of it.
Wilson's underlying theme is that the adaptive unconscious is the ultimate multi-tasking device. It is not a single entity, as Freud would have us believe, but a complex mix of motivating and reacting mental elements that play a significant role in our lives. At the bottom, it's things like breathing and heartbeat; at higher levels, it's rapid breathing and faster heartbeat in time of stress. The adaptive unconscious goes beyond our sense of self, however. It's also fundamental in how we deal with others. We may "rationalise" our behaviour in our own minds, but we act as our own "spin doctor" in actions toward family, friends or workmates. It's the latter that concerns Wilson in turning our mental "CEO" into a responsive, cooperating social element. If we can rationalise improper or inept behaviour, why not reverse the process and tell our adaptive unconscious how to react. Wilson doesn't say we're able to utterly reverse personalities, but we can choose which actions to emphasise and repeat. "Do good to be good" is a common saying and the author thinks that can work. However, given that we've only just shed Freud's "subconscious" with this book, it will be a long time to see if this new form of "operant conditioning" actually works. Let alone how.
What is missing in this otherwise fine overview is discussion of the underlying roots of what is driving the systems. The information on brain science touching on these topics is nil. In a science where brain mapping and data on the flow of neurotransmitters is almost daily news, this is a glaring omission. Even the single case of testing students in their reactions to a film while injected with either a stimulant or a depressive only indicates to Wilson that reactions vary. This is an unfortunate aspect in an otherwise good summary. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 December 2012
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2011
This was a very well written book. The author is a very well regarded academic and this work is rigorous and convincing. He has avoided overly academic dullness and also excessive dumbing down. In places it was quite witty.
Unusually there are quite a lot of literary references that were quite interesting.
It is fascinating just how lacking in self awareness people can be.
A lot of studies are cited but fortunately the author does warn where more research is needed.
There are some self-help suggestions at the end. In particular he recommends telling ourselves positive and helpful stories.
It is quite similar to stumbling on happiness and the authors have collaborated on research together.
There was a slight problem with the Kindle book. There are no links in the text to the note at the end of the book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 May 2013
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?" The central premise asserts that we are hidden from ourselves, that we can't discover our motives and roots of our actions from introspection alone. Backed up by a great deal of psychological research, the book shows us that a lot of our thinking goes on below the level of consciousness which appears to explain the flashes of insight or inspiration or gut feelings we may have at times. The author concludes that we should look outward rather than inward, as a kind of third person observing ourselves if we really want to know who we are and what makes us tick. I found it unputdownable as a general read.
on 21 January 2012
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 our behaviour, our knowledge of ourselves, our knowledge of our motives and introspection. Wilson's writing is clear, and his recounting of the empirical evidence is useful.
The beginning of the book starts with a brief analysis of how Freud's notion of the unconscious compares with that of the adaptive unconscious. This comparison touches too on Descartes' view of the mind. All of this is useful, but it is brief. A more developed comparison would've been interesting to see. Nevertheless, the book is readable without it, and contains detailed descriptions of many of the features and attributes belonging to the adaptive unconscious.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 12 March 2009
This is a great book. Wilson explores something that has been strangely missing from psychology literature so far - the difference between who we think we are, and who we really are. Its an obvious split caused by having conscious minds - we believe we have awareness of our motives, feelings, thoughts, rationale etc, whilst our automatic instinctive mind is really running the show. Wilson cites research that shows the larger this split is, the more mentally unhealthy people become. Its such an important book, I am very surprised that it hasn't received more attention as a field of psychology.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 1 February 2012
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 henceforth voluminous authoritative accolades.In my opinion they overlooked the better writer as I found Wilson's Style,although drier and less frivolous, much more suited to its subject and although it lacked the humorous cultural anecdotes of Gilbert's' book I found it more engaging and informative and less like an exercise in populist generic pop psychology.
on 30 January 2014
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 necessary in light of the argument. Fascinating especially as someone who works with people understanding their behaviour.