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Science Book Club Episode 8


The Self Illusion is this approach to try to unpack what are the subsystems and mechanisms which generate the sense of self

Well, The Self Illusion is to try and address this issue, or this experience,  that we all kind of have that we are somehow like puppet masters controlling a very complicated machine – namely our body – that we have free will, that we’re individuals, that we’re coherent,

that we’re integrated.  But all the neuroscience and neuropsychology and all the clinical studies indicate that people can fractionate and they’re actually a multitude of sub systems which produce this individual.  So that’s what a lot of clinical psychology reveals: that there are areas for controlling language, there’s areas for controlling memory, there’s areas for controlling all manner of things and these can be knocked out selectively by damage or disease.

So The Self Illusion is this approach to try to unpack what are the subsystems and mechanisms which generate the sense of self, and I suppose its kind of unique contribution was to emphasise the role of development within a social context, the extent to which others around us influence our behaviours  and our decision processes, largely unconsciously in many instances.  So whilst we are clearly individuals in the sense that no two people are absolutely alike,  we do and are shaped by others around us in terms of context. 

Now that doesn’t mean we’re blank slates, you know, anyone who’s got children knows that you can put them in the same environment and they end up very different, so clearly there’s some temperament which must be genetic.  But those biological dispositions, they unfold within, kind of, society and culture and that’s what I think is the interesting story, the extent to which we are shaped by those around us.

The Self Illusion by Bruce Hood is available as an iBook here

Or you can get it as a physical thing, here