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Sioux Falls Feminists endorse Strangers to Ourselves for describing
our unconscious selves, a part of us that runs the ship
while we hopefully remain the captain.

Strangers to Ourselves
Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious
By Timothy D. Wilson

Strangers to Ourselves (2002) - 262 pages
Strangers to Ourselves at Amazon.com

"Know thyself," a precept as old as Socrates, is still good advice. But is introspection the best path to self-knowledge? What are we trying to discover, anyway? In an eye-opening tour of the unconscious, as contemporary psychological science has redefined it, Timothy D. Wilson introduces us to a hidden world of judgments, feelings, and motives that introspection may never show us.

This is not the unconscious of psychoanalysis. The adaptive unconscious that empirical psychology has revealed is not just a repository of primitive drives and conflict-ridden memories. It is a set of pervasive, sophisticated mental processes with which we evaluate our worlds, set goals, and initiate action, all while we are consciously thinking about something else. We can narrow our focus of attention on a conversation and block out our surroundings, while unconsciously monitoring them in case something important happens. We are able to learn some things without conscious effort, like our native language or where the light switches are in every room. Perhaps most important, our unconscious determines our emotions very fast, giving us those intuitions that we dismiss but that turn out to have been right in the first place.

Citing evidence that too much introspection can backfire and create more confusion rather than less about one's own feelings, Wilson makes the case for better ways of discovering our unconscious selves. If you want to know who you are or what you feel or what you're like, Wilson advises, pay attention to what you actually do and how other people react to you. And if you want to change yourself, you can mold your unconscious by adopting a new self-narrative, and then acting consistently with it. The best way to become brave, Wilson suggests, echoing Aristotle, is to act brave.

Showing us an unconscious more powerful than Freud's, and even more persuasive in our daily life, Strangers to Ourselves marks a revolution in how we know ourselves.

Timothy D. Wilson is Sherrell J. Aston Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia.

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Strangers to Ourselves
Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious
By Timothy D. Wilson

Sioux Falls Feminists endorse Strangers to Ourselves for describing
our unconscious selves, a part of us that runs the ship
while we hopefully remain the captain.