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Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious Paperback – June 14, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Freud introduced the West to the unconscious, but the last half-century of psychology has reinvented it, argues University of Virginia psychology professor Timothy D. Wilson. In Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, Wilson attempts to explain why there's so much about ourselves that we fail to understand, which can lead to misdirected anger. He points to a revised, post-Freudian understanding of how the mind works: the reason that their own judgments, feelings, [and] motives remain mysterious to people is not repression, as Freud argued, but efficiency so that the mind can process and analyze multiple things at once. Wilson looks at ways that readers can probe their unconscious, suggesting that soliciting the opinions of others is actually more valuable than introspection.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

How well do we really know ourselves? How well can we know ourselves? Wilson (psychology, Univ. of Virginia) 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. Wilson examines the evolution of the idea of the unconscious, the various ways in which it operates within us, and how we can look at our actions-rather than our thoughts-to truly know ourselves. A fascinating read; for large public libraries.
David Valencia, King Cty. Lib. Syst., Seattle
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 262 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; New Ed edition (May 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674013824
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674013827
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Timothy D. Wilson is Sherrell J. Aston Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia. He received his B.A. from Hampshire College and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He is a social psychologist who has investigated unconscious processing, the limits of introspection, the consequences of introspection, affective forecasting, and happiness. In 2001 he received an All University Outstanding Teaching Award. In 2009 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2010 he received the University of Virginia Distinguished Scientist Award. Wilson is the author of Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, published by Harvard University Press. Malcolm Gladwell wrote in the New Yorker that "Strangers to Ourselves" . . . is what popular psychology ought to be (and rarely is): thoughtful, beautifully written, and full of unexpected insights." On his web page Gladwell says, "In Blink, I probably owe a bigger intellectual debt to Tim Wilson (and his longtime collaborator, Jonathan Schooler) than anyone else, and Strangers to Ourselves is probably the most influential book I've ever read." Wilson is the coauthor of the best-selling text, Social Psychology (Prentice-Hall), now in its seventh edition.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

195 of 203 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Thompson on January 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is not a self-help book in the 'pop-psychology' vein, as I percieve it. This book is less about easy answers and more about deeper hows and whys. After all if you know how and why, answers become self-evident anyway, but the reciprocal is not always true. It easier to determine answers but they usually don't tell you why and how.

Though I admit approached this work in a recreational mindset - you know, that 'this looks like a fun read'...boy was I wrong in some respects! This little book will kick your notions of consciousness and just who or what is in charge of you right on their head. You get to face concept that it's not always the conscious you that is at the helm (even when you're sure it is) some respects the conscious you is often just a spectator. Weird, but true I feel. How many times for example somebody will ask you something and you know the answer the instant they have finished speaking? You haven't even had time to work out the answer and there it is (i'm not talking about automaticity or simple stuff)...then you have to check the answer with your conscious mind to see that it is right (which it is: often my conscous mind takes much longer to arrive at the same answer when checking). That is your adapative unconscious! And this thing is far more pervasive and in control then we may imagine or realize.

Ok, this isn't a massively scholarly work that is so arcane as to be unapproachable by most. Indeed it is simply written exposition of a particular philosophy of mind than, while not heavily evidenced, is rather commonsensical. As Richard Feynman suggested you can describe virtually anything in simple terms if you understand it well enough, and both I and my unconscious both agree that Timothy D Wilson has a firm grasp on this concept.
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112 of 120 people found the following review helpful By James R. Mccall on June 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book asserts that we rarely know much about our own minds, what we do know is sometimes wrong, and moreover, that introspection is often powerless to help us to better self-knowledge. Not only that, but perfect strangers can sometimes tell us things about our personality that we didn't know.
Wilson, a psychology professor, is not really going out on a limb here, but rather reporting the strong results of recent research (some of which is his own) on the "adaptive unconscious". The new view of the mind that is gradually being built up by controlled experiments is often at variance with Freud's compelling but fanciful views on the unconscious and repression. The current model has the mind composed of a conscious part and, perhaps, several unconscious parts, each of which has a special ability, like recognizing faces, responding to emergencies, or selective remembering and forgetting. The author normally lumps these specialized parts together for purposes of discussion, since his intent is to contrast our conscious mind with our unconscious, and to re-evaluate what it is we can know about ourselves through examining our conscious motives, thoughts, and feelings.
Anyone who has ever been surprised at an emotion that has come over him, seemingly from nowhere, or by his actions in a new situation knows how disconcerting it can be. Are one's conscious emotions just fake - placeholders for real feelings that well up when one isn't looking? Are one's firm intentions just flimsy self-deceptions that are blown away by the right circumstances? It's probably not that bad (usually!), but we should know just how much of what we feel and think and think we remember is under our conscious control.
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79 of 84 people found the following review helpful By T. Smith on January 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
Every once in a while you read a book whose ideas you know will stay with you in varying degrees the rest of your life. Congratulations: you are presently reading about one of those such books. Buy this book, read it, and thank me later.

So you think you know yourself fairly well, huh? Read this book and then see what you think. The author's thesis is that we all have what he calls an "adaptive unconscious" which really "runs the show" in our lives. Now, I am far from being a determinist and the author, if I am correct, doesn't see himself as a determinist. I have always believed in free will--still do I suppose (I'm not sure because I just finished reading this book today.) However, I am convinced now that "free will" resides as much in the adaptive unconscious as much--if not more--than it does in my conscious mind. This is mind-boggling for me-and it will be for you if you read the author with an open mind.

Timothy Wilson writes a solid, engaging book that refuses to condescend into pop psychology. In other words, he's a good writer who is able to put across complex psychology into words most laypeople can understand--a daunting task. One would have to read through dozens of psychological papers and books (and subsequently, take several naps) in order to figure out what he says very succinctly yet accurately in this book.

I have worked with people in a "helping profession" for over twenty years. I have longed believed, though I am not a psychologist, in "the power of the unconscious mind." "Just think on it"--"Give him some time to think about it" are phrases I have said numerous times.
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