Book Review: Strangers to Ourselves

Warning: I started writing this review about 4 months ago so I’m going off memory here.

I recently finished reading a book with my grandmother had given to me entitled “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious” by Timothy D. Wilson. (My grandmother has a Ph.D in Psychology so it’s not all that weird a selection.) I actually enjoyed it a considerable amount. It was, as you might expect quite dense, but I’ve read worse. It was cohesive and presented information in a carefully considered manner.

The book describes a modern model of the human unconscious. It begins by taking a look at the evolution of our understanding of subconscious thought, beginning with Freud. It then walks us through more modern research showing some other possible models of our brains. I read this on the heels of “Blink,” and the two books share a lot of commonalities. I enjoyed “Strangers to Ourselves” more because it presented a thorough model and narrative, paired with good experimental examples.

Probably my favorite concept introduced in the book is that of our conscious brain’s involvement in narrating emotions from our subconscious. While Wilson does not declare this as fact, he describes a possible scenario where emotions arise in the subconscious brain and our conscious brain attempts to explain them by weaving some sort of narrative. Wilson describes how this can be beneficial in the case of coming to grips with traumatic situations. An interesting thought stemming off of this model of thinking is that of how this process can be used to describe the act of dreaming.

Damn, I wish I could remember this book better. I know this is a lame endorsement, but anyways the short version is: It presents a cool model for analysis of how our subconscious functions. I recommend reading it.

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