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Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious Paperback – 1 Jun 2002

4.7 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (1 Jun. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674013824
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674013827
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 140,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

ÝWilson's¨ book is what popular psychology ought to be (and rarely is): thoughtful, beautifully written, and full of unexpected insights. -- Malcolm Gladwell "New Yorker" (09/20/2004)

motivations, judgments, and actions...A fascinating read.

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.

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.

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.

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" (09/01/2002)

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" (02/01/2003)

[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" (09/20/2004)

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" (08/13/2004)

"Strangers to Ourselves" is a rare combination of lucid prose, penetrating insight, and cutting-edge research. Wilson uses modern science to examine a problem that has troubled philosophers for millennia--how and how well can we know ourselves?--and concludes that people rarely know the causes of their own behavior. Anyone who still believes that they know what they want, feel, or think, should read this fascinating book, which is sure to stimulate research in laboratories and debate around water-coolers for decades to come.--Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University

Tim Wilson's book covers many diverse areas of psychology in a very accessible style, with compelling examples from life and literature, to make a radical argument: that for the most part we have very little real understanding of how we work, or why we do even the most ordinary things. This is a very original and provocative work--and lots of fun to read, too!--John Bargh, Jules Silver Professor of Psychology, New York University

Strangers to Ourselves is a rare combination of lucid prose, penetrating insight, and cutting-edge research. Wilson uses modern science to examine a problem that has troubled philosophers for millennia--how and how well can we know ourselves?--and concludes that people rarely know the causes of their own behavior. Anyone who still believes that they know what they want, feel, or think, should read this fascinating book, which is sure to stimulate research in laboratories and debate around water-coolers for decades to come.--Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University

Timothy Wilson tackles one of the central questions in psychology: can we truly know ourselves? Drawing on a career of thoughtful research, Wilson takes the reader on a fascinating journey through a wonderland of studies and ideas in contemporary psychology, with side trips into anthropology, medicine, and philosophy. STRANGERS TO OURSELVES is a book of great breadth and depth that will captivate anyone with an interest in consciousness, self-knowledge, and the very essence of being human.--James W. Pennebaker, author of Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions

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" (10/05/2002)

About the Author

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


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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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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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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.
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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.
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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.
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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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