The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity

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Most of us believe that we are an independent, coherent self—an individual inside our head who thinks, watches, wonders, dreams, and makes plans for the future. This sense of our self may seem incredibly real but a wealth of recent scientific evidence reveals that it is not what it seems—it is all an illusion.

In The Self Illusion, Bruce Hood reveals how the self emerges during childhood and how the architecture of the developing brain enables us to become social animals dependent on each other. Humans spend proportionally the greatest amount of time in childhood compared to any other animal. It's not only to learn from others, Hood notes, but also to learn to become like others. We learn to become our self. Even as adults we are continually developing and elaborating this story, learning to become different selves in different situations—the work self, the home self, the parent self. Moreover, Hood shows that this already fluid process—the construction of self—has dramatically changed in recent years. Social networking activities—such as blogging, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter—are fast becoming socialization on steroids. The speed and ease at which we can form alliances and relationships are outstripping the same selection processes that shaped our self prior to the internet era. Things will never be the same again in the online social world. Hood offers our first glimpse into this unchartered territory.

Who we are is, in short, a story of our self—a narrative that our brain creates. Like the science fiction movie, we are living in a matrix that is our mind. But Hood concludes that though the self is an illusion, it is an illusion we must continue to embrace to live happily in human society.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his fascinating newest, Hood, director of the Cognitive Development Centre at Bristol University, explores the ways in which the human brain tricks itself and uses others to create an identity. But while we are hardwired with the ability to construct a sense of self, Hood argues that it is our environment-and the people contained therein-that ultimately directs how we do it. The author writes, "People shape themselves to fit other people's perceptions." The definable self, then, is illusory. Using thought experiments, case studies, and research, Hood presents compelling, if sometimes disturbing, arguments. Along the way he touches on the creation and function of memory, free will, the Whitmanesque multitudes contained behind the "I," and the timely topic of digital avatars and Facebook profiles. As complicated as it is to be oneself in the world, Hood's work doesn't make it any easier, but it does make it very interesting. While the notion of the self as illusion might seem disheartening, Hood maintains that our carefully constructed selves are what allow us to continue operating as social animals, "And that, in the end, is a good thing."
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From the Publisher
"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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199897599
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/23/2012
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 775,825
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce Hood is currently the Director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre at the University of Bristol. He has been a research fellow at Cambridge University and University College London, a visiting scientist at MIT, and a faculty professor at Harvard. 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 voted a Fellow by the Association for Psychological Science. He is the author of several books, including SuperSense: Why We Believe the Unbelievable. This year he was selected as the 2011 Royal Institution Christmas Lecturer—to give three lectures broadcast by the BBC—the most prestigious appointment for the public engagement of science in the UK.

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Table of Contents

1. Building a Brain
2. The Machiavellian Baby
3. Who Am I?
4. The True Cost of Free Will
5. Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe
6. The Madness of Crowds
7. The Stories We Live By
8. Identity Crisis
9. Pulling Yourself Together

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