The Self Illusion

Why There Is No "You" Inside Your Head
Narrated by: Bruce Hood
Length: 10 hrs and 20 mins
4.3 out of 5 stars (161 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The Self Illusion provides a fascinating examination of how the latest science shows that our individual concept of a self is in fact an illusion. Most of us believe that we possess a self - an internal individual who resides inside our bodies, making decisions, authoring actions and possessing free will. The feeling that a single, unified, enduring self inhabits the body is compelling and inescapable. But that sovereignty of the self is increasingly under threat from science as our understanding of the brain advances.

©2012 Bruce Hood (P)2012 W F Howes Ltd

Critic Reviews

“Fascinating, timely and important ... Hood's presentation of the science behind our supersense is crystal clear and utterly engaging” ( New Scientist)
“Wonderful. Illuminating. Full of insight, beauty, and humor. Get to know thyself” (David Eagleman, author of Sum)
“Startling and engrossing” (Robin Ince)

What listeners say about The Self Illusion

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Disappointing

I began this audiobook with high hopes. Here was a new book arguing for a radical and boldly counterintuitive thesis, namely that the very center of our conscious existence, our sense of self, is an illusion. If there ever was a claim worthy of a book-length defense, this would surely be it.

Sadly, however, the book fell far short of my expectations. In fact, the author spent very little time at all making the (probably very difficult) case for the "self illusion," and instead used this topic as a platform for talking about pretty much anything he seemed interested in, from how the internet is shaping our brains to the psychology of laughter. Basically, the book reads like a low-level tour of psychology, with topics only loosely (and sometimes not at all) connected to the topic of "the self," broadly construed. As a basic introduction to psychology for extremely lay audiences, it succeeds fairly well. As a cogent argument for the illusion of selfhood, it fails abysmally.

Worse still, even if you are looking for an introduction to psychology, I would not waste your credit on this, as most of the material covered has already been covered more thoroughly and more entertainingly in other works, like "Predictably Irrational," "How the Mind Works," "The Happiness Hypothesis," or "The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking."

And as if this weren't enough bad news for "The Self Illusion," Bruce Hood unfortunately succumbed to the "authors make better narrators" fallacy, and the book suffered greatly for it. Hood's voice is dull and plodding, adding very little life to the text, and his faint scottish accent was slightly distracting at times.

56 people found this helpful

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A solid rehash

This book is solidly written, but it falls into a category of books I am noticing which simply rehashes the same few dozen psychology studies. You get the marshmallow one, the Stanford prison one, the one about intermittent rewards, etc etc etc. I thought this book was going to be a real thunderbolt but it’s more or less average.

2 people found this helpful

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This is probably one of the most important books one can read in their lifetime, I wish I knew earlier

Core ideas: Your self identity is a composite of all your life experiences and retained concepts as well as your brains functional ability. How your 100 billion neurons build patterns and networks to simulate your memories and world views, produce the self.. Your free will is an illusion with decisions conducted by the same brain processes that likely gave you your sense of self. Your brain knows your decision, often well in advance before your conscious awareness does... which leads to evidence, that you are your brain and your awareness of choice, no matter how you describe that choice is another process to smooth the appearance of reality for easier navigation, survival and social acceptance

2 people found this helpful

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provides exciting insite into the mind

What did you love best about The Self Illusion?

Bruce (also the author) has an excellent voice and keen perspectives.

Which character – as performed by Bruce Hood – was your favorite?

The brain

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It was very exciting, listening to it

Any additional comments?

Good for anyone wanting psychology or neuroscience information.

5 people found this helpful

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Excellent

I thoroughly enjoyed this well-researched book, and loved the fact that Bruce narrated it himself. I found his arguments compelling throughout the whole book. Highly recommend.

5 people found this helpful

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A great read!

I really enjoyed this book. It is really interesting, the author's narrative style is easy to listen to, and afterwards I have a better understanding of my 'self' and others. Enjoyable!

4 people found this helpful

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enjoyable subject

Great read. I don't really know who was doing the reading but this illusianary self was literate enough to thoroughly enjoy the insight. Nice new perspective given here by the author and well narrated. Thanks Bruce.

1 person found this helpful

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Great for brain science junkies!

First heard Dr Hood on The Brain Science Podcast. The book is a nice discussion of how neuroscience impacts daily life. If you like Pinker, Damasio or Gazzaniga you'll like this.

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Fascinating book.

For anyone interested in the mind, human behaviour and so on, l highly recommend this book. Read by the author, which l usually find more appealing than not. Great book, one l will listen to many more times.

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent all way round

Excellent exposition of just what does and does not constitute The Self. We written, well performed. I recommend.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Jim Vaughan
  • 01-21-13

Well written, well read! I enjoyed disagreeing.

This book really got my limbic system and ACC going. Brillantly engaging and deeply frustrating. Bruce Hood is a distinguished academic, (he's won prizes) and a fantastic communicator. "The Self Illusion"  is well written, flows seamlessly, and the author's delivery is delightful. The chapter on the www, avatars and social networking is excellent. Yet I spent much of the book shouting at my iPhone. It's not that I mind being an illusion - Allan Watts & Daniel Dennett have claimed as much - it's that it's never very clear what BH means by "the self". He freely hops between the "experiencing self", self as "personality", "self image" or our varied "personas". He rarely refers to the "self" without appending "illusion" thus implanting a paired association. Caveat emptor!

So, yes, we may be a "bundle of perceptions", but a necessary condition is a perceiver. Yes, we may be more or less influenced by other people (depending on our temperament). Yes, we may develop personalities adapted to our environment (mirror self). Yes, we may be deluded by own self image. Yes, we may present different self images (personas) in different situations. Yes, we make sense of our experience using imperfect memories to make a story. Yes, we are not a single "homunculus", but more like a hierarchy of committees (all of whom are "me"). Yes, the preparation for any decision may begin deep in our minds, probably way down in our awareness.

However, none of these for me indicate the self is an illusion, only that it is complex, multilayered, dynamic, adaptable, constrained & mysterious. BHs own mind/brain analogy of a web is helpful, but he misses out the obvious central point - that as the strands converge, sentience (self) emerges, then self awareness. As he states in ch1, "You are your brain", so his subtitle "Why there is no 'you' inside your head" is annoyingly contradictory. Overall however I really enjoyed disagreeing with this book. Well written, well read and much food for thought.

46 people found this helpful

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  • Dan
  • 12-23-12

Very interesting overview on the mind

I was a bit daunted to start this as the subject could make one a bit despondent but Bruce Hood delivers it in a thoughtful, positive and informative way. It think he goes off topic on occasion but its all ways interesting. This is a general science book for the general public. Recommended.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Cerebralexplorer
  • 08-09-19

A profound book on a complex topic

It explores a theme that I have been interested in, and have read a few books of this genre (most notably books like 'Sapiens', 'Predictably Irrational' and 'Thinking, Fast and Slow'). This book dives straight in to the latest scientific thinking on what constitutes an individual’s ‘self’ and shares research and experiments by the foremost experts in this field. While I have read many of the examples narrated here in other books, the author strings them together in a coherent way to make the passages stimulating. The book is filled with insights and, in equal measure, imponderables. For anyone who likes to question the mysteries of the universe and the meaning of life, this is a great place to start. It is packed with powerful statements (which are then explored in detail) such as this quote by Isaac Bashevis Singer: “We must believe in free will. We have no choice.” Or this one: “I am not who you think I am or who I think I am. I am who I think you think I am.” Or indeed this one: “Our identity is the sum of our memories, but it turns out that memories are fluid, modified by context and sometimes simply confabulated. This means we cannot trust them, and our sense of self is compromised. Note how this leaves us with a glaring paradox—without a sense of self, memories have no meaning, and yet the self is a product of our memories.”

3 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-10-16

fascinating

beautifully read by the author, very interesting concepts about our self-illusions which will be helpful in everyday life and give us a greater understanding of human psychology.

2 people found this helpful

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  • frederick roy shipman
  • 01-26-15

Wonderful and refreshing

The narrator spoke clearly and at a pace that can be easily followed,the points and samples he mentions leave you in no doubt.After listening to this narrator over and over gives you new insight every time to me an e-book very hard to put down..

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Customer
  • 03-26-16

Failing to preach to the converted

I bought this book after reflecting on the 'subjective self' and 'free will' after reading a number of philosophy books. I am already convinced of the delusional nature of both and wanted a psychologist 's angle. I also should say I have a neurosciene background (BSc). The book is rambling with an large number of studies that sound both dubious and irrelevant. For example according to one study people seem to have more will power with a very full bladder. Some parts are a interesting but still largely irrelevant. I really feel Dr Hood fails to make the case of the title. He also seems to not really grasp or perhaps stick to some quite fundamental philosophical concepts related the self. Free will is conflated with executive decision making which of course are not one in the same. At times I found this very irritating especially when Dr Hood repeatedly told me (wrongly) what I apparently think or believe!

4 people found this helpful

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  • Hugh M. Clarke
  • 07-06-20

Fascinating

This is a very enjoyable book with fascinating information about how the brain creates a sense of self which, in the end, is “an illusion“. It is written in a very straightforward style and is therefore very accessible to most people. It draws upon neuro biology psychology and interlaces the text with references to popular culture and very good real life examples.

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  • Neil Creamer
  • 08-12-19

Patchy and erratic

Contains plenty of useful information but the argument rambles and contradicts itself. Having raised the hard problem the author spends much of the remainder of the book stating that the brain generates our experience. In spite of the metaphysical confusion the information presented makes its own case, though.

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  • Shorty
  • 07-12-18

it starts slow

A couple of times at the beginning of this book I found it a little bit dull but it steadily got much more interesting definitely worth a read.

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  • practicalshopper
  • 02-01-18

interesting

very interesting. well narrated. the content gave me food for thought. I will listen again to elicit greater understanding.