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The Self Illusion by Bruce Hood

01/06/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy The Self Illusion in the USA - or Buy The Self Illusion in the UK

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pub: Constable Robinson. 258 page indexed lightly illustrated small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78033-007-5.

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As I’ve pointed out in the past, sub-titles can often reveal more about a book’s content than the main title. Bruce Hood’s ‘ The Self Illusion’ book has its sub-title decorating the border of the cover, ‘ Why There Is No ‘ You’ Inside Your Head’. It does bring up an interesting question as to just what is inside your head. As Hood points out, there is actually brain matter, all neatly folded up and raring to go, picking up various information and emotional responses in our formative years. By the age of seven, a lot of things are locked down. If you want your sprogs to learn other languages, start them young cos it’s a lot tougher when you’re older. I always find it weird that this is done in other countries but rarely in the UK.

Our perception of our reality, as Hood points out, is very similar to ‘ The Matrix’ film, personal to ourselves and only common denominators makes it something we can relate to other people’s perceptions. I couldn’t help feel that this is more a matter of interpretation. I mean, if you try being vague about something when talking to someone, they will fill in the gaps themselves so there has to enough common denominators to make it work. Although Hood doesn’t quite put it that way, it does make sense that people will share laughter and yawning so it clearly goes to a non-verbal level.

Hood points out aspects of our brain activity or lack of it that can tell the difference between a ‘ normal’ person or a psychopath but it also depends on how we’re brought up whether it makes us murderous or not. As such, Hood makes a very good argument that kids need to be brought up in a loving family to reduce such tendencies. Likewise, if you can learn self-control when young then it benefits you when older, although I’m not sure how you deal with it if you don’t like marshmallows like he apparently does.

Like other books of this nature I’ve reviewed lately, Hood covers the aspect of ‘ herd instinct’ and points out how easily it is for people to fall into consensus rather than a desire to stand out by saying what you think. The examples he gives should really make you think although I wish he’s explained the power of the white coat as being the power of authority. All right, so it comes from what GPs/doctors wore in the surgery although many of them don’t wear them anymore and it still has this effect.

Of particular interest to us is why we’re so protective of our collections because it characterises what we are and why it’s so hard for us to divest ourselves of it if we were forced to. I also think it gives us an element of status and why SF fans are rarely minimalists.

Leading on from ‘ herd instinct’ is the extension to ‘ mob mentality’ where people will plead doing the right thing in pubic and do the converse in private and which is the real me. We’ve seen the effect of that on the Internet and the bad examples of a few can extrapolated by others simply because they can get away with it. If anything, I see that as an argument for people to think before they type anything for public consumption.

Hood explores the avatar use of the Internet where people assume the identities they would rather be than project themselves. I have to confess that this is rather a gray area to me mostly because what you see on-line is how I’m like in real life and it comes over like that as well. I do think he’s only touched the surface of this in this book but what he has here will make you think or will it. I mean, if many people have different personas on the Net are they all sharing the same delusion, who’s going to break the bubble and demand reform or at least some level of honest, let alone enforce it.

What worried me most of all is just how much tailoring search engines are doing to what you are looking for cos it’s actually leading towards a form of unwitting self-censorship and if someone puts the same search words in as someone else, you get different results. I’ve seen the results of this with someone else, oddly not on Google although it uses the same technique, and it totally shaded his perception of the world. I hope one of the search engines can do word scans without picking on personal traits or at least pick on selection choices that you deliberately put in for people like me.

I suspect a lot of you reading here want to know a bit more about what makes you tick or at least different from other people. The fact that you can be easily manipulated in your way of thinking by herd or mob and self-delusion should make you think. I wish Bruce Hood had come up with some solutions to how to overcome these problems but I think you do need to accept that there is something wrong first to adjust your own mindset. Read and consider.

GF Willmetts

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This book has 73 votes in the sci-fi charts

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