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The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199897599
ISBN-10: 019989759X
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Editorial Reviews


"After exploring various definitions of self--a soul, an agent with free will, some essential and unique set of qualities--he concludes that what we experience as a self is actually a narrative spun by our brain." -Daisy Yuhas, Scientific American

"Bruce Hood, professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Bristol, marshals an expanse of research to convincingly argue that the self - while very much real in our experience - is in fact a useful illusion, one necessitated by the brain that gives it life." -David DiSalvo, The PopScience Review

"Bruce Hood's The Self Illusion is a thoroughly researched and skillfully organised account of the developments in psychology and neuroscience that are helping to substantiate this unsettling vision of selfhoodELHood is well placed to tackle all this: he is an experimental psychologist and expert on child development." -Michael Bond, CultureLab

About the Author

Bruce Hood is currently the Director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre in the Experimental Psychology Department at the University of Bristol. He has previously been a research fellow at Cambridge University and University College London, a visiting scientist at MIT, and a faculty professor at Harvard University. He has been awarded an Alfred Sloan Fellowship in neuroscience, the Young Investigator Award from the International Society of Infancy Researchers, the Robert Fantz memorial award, and was recently voted to Fellowship status by the society of American Psychological Science.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 23, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019989759X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199897599
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.1 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #645,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on June 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Bruce Hood argues that the self is an illusion, "a powerful deception generated by our brains for our own benefit." He contends that a correct understanding of self contradicts the popular view that we are individuals within our bodies, "tracing out a pathway through life, and responsible for our thoughts and actions." His argument that the self is merely an illusion will probably not be well received by the portion of the mental health and self help industry that makes a living teaching people to understand themselves, control themselves, or change themselves. Hood argues that none of those objectives can be accomplished, although we might maintain the illusion that we have accomplished them, because we cannot change or control what does not exist.

Is the argument convincing? Yes and no. According to Hood, who we think we are is a product of external influences: "it is the experience of others that defines who we are." Our brains manufacture models to make sense of the external world, and we experience those models as "a cohesive, integrated character," but the model is just a construct, not a reality. I buy that, but I'm not sure the word "illusion" is synonymous with "mental construct." I suppose one could argue that any product of the brain -- a thought, an emotion, a sensation -- is in some sense an illusion as opposed to a tangible reality, but I find it difficult to accept that any creation of the brain is an illusion.

Hood's thesis, as summarized in the last chapter, is that the self is the product of the mind, built over time from observing externalities. I'm not sure why this means that the self is an illusion. A house is built over time from materials derived from external sources, but a completed house is no illusion.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
First of all I recommend you click on the "Search Inside" feature of this book on Amazon to get a preview of what's inside as well as the layout of the book from its table of contents.

I ended up really liking this book. It grew on me more and more as I progressed through it. It's one long argument and it is very persuasive. This particular book is not written as much in a popular manner as some others. For example I also just finished Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior and I also recommend that book. That one as well as many others are lighter reading and appeal more to a popular audience. To get the most out of this book you really have to think. The author Bruce Hood doesn't do all the work for you.

If you are after light breezy reading, then this book isn't for you. On the other hand it is not written in technical jargon and is completely accessible to intelligent readers. As I said however, you have to really put some rigorous thought into his arguments. The self is an illusion according to the author. It is very counterintuitive and difficult to get your mind around the idea. This book will help you progress towards that end. Highly recommended.

Even if you totally disagree with Hood's conclusion, you owe it to yourself to consider what he has to say about the matter.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Bruce Hood’s The Self Illusion is an eye-opener of vivid proportion. I’ve been dreaming of the day when some brilliant scientist will explore the brain in the manner that Hood has. He takes on the illusion concept, coupled with visual effects, and incorporates an inside look at such amazing constructs as free will and “Why You Can’t See Yourself in Reflection.” His is a divine province where the self illusion is brought to life, dramatically detailed so that we can get a glimpse, through the authors eye, at how perception really works.

The work is literate, showing intense language skill to reveal an image well worth reading about. His style is clear and his ideas are carefully drawn so that all the chapter elements are tightly woven together in the chapter content to fortify an insightful whole. The book takes the reader on a journey through the mind that explores how we conceive identity in the self in our lives.

Hood believes that our choices in life came at a cost. His discussions in Chapter 4, The Cost of Free Will, leads to the idea that we get used to behavior, like smoking, drug use or abusive sex. After reaching a comfort zone we reach out for a higher high. This sets the stage for what Hood sees as behavior. Hood describes a number of excellent examples within the obsessive-compulsive behavior paradigm. In addition, he calls upon many experts to discover the mechanisms that help define who we are and describe the various other elements that involve free will. Read the book and get a reward greater than what you can imagine.
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