Strangers To Ourselves (STO).

My feelings about Strangers To Ourselves are colored by my having read it after Beyond The Brain (BTB). I have a difficult time giving it appropriate credit since much of its content was subsumed by BTB, even though the book has a lot going for it: interesting examples, good writing, etc.

This isn’t surprising; STO was published seven years before BTB. Take it as a testimony to the clarity of BTB rather than reflecting a deficiency in STO. STO is more focused on people and psychology (as opposed to cognition), concentrating upon how little we are aware of our own decision-making processes, our perceptions, and our needs.

Examples include relationships (we don’t know how we feel), real estate (we don’t know what we want), and evaluation of pantyhose (we unaware of the impact of presentation order). Similar to BTB, the model consists of an unconscious that performs quick pattern recognition and filtering, elevating noteworthy events for conscious processing. STO’s emphasis is on personal decision-making, understanding our motivations, and considering our choices.

Given, this differing emphasis, it is not surprising that the books also differ substantially in their discussion of Freud. BTB only mentions him twice in passing, while in STO Wilson has an extensive discussion of the politics of the Freudian unconscious and the difference between it and the adaptive, pattern recognizing unconscious. For Wilson, the “pattern recognizer” does not replace the Freudian, but it exists alongside of it.

It feels like Wilson wants to give Freud credit for “exposing” our thought processes as being unavailable for conscious (introspective) evaluation, but can’t get over blaming Freud for holding back the field in other significant ways and, as a byproduct, abetting the rise of behaviorism. Here’s an interesting quote:

“An important part of the Freudian legacy was a rejection of the scientific method as a means of studying the mind. The complex nature of unconscious processes could not be examined in controlled experiments, Freud believed, and could he uncovered only by careful clinical observation”

This is a good book supporting the now standard (or at least my standard) story: you don’t know how are you thinking, what you are feeling, or the manner in which you are acting — but this shouldn’t be a surprise.

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