Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Adaptive Unconscious (Book Review)

Originally posted on January 28, 2011

Timothy D. Wilson, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, wrote a lovely book titled “Strangers to ourselves: discovering the adaptive unconscious. (2002, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap press of Harvard University Press). Lovely book that is worth studying. It seems to me that it overlaps with my theory of the Amplified Unconscious, and, indeed, I have no doubt that an earlier reading of the book a year or two ago planted a seed in this direction. I plan to study it again and will report on it as I contemplate and get feedback about my emerging theory.

This book also fits with a number of other books written in the last two decades that support the presence of scores of mechanisms that promote illusion in the mind, the illusion of self-control, the illusion of coherence, and so forth. I suspect that our lives are laced with illusion and that this is inescapable. I’m not convinced that achieving an illusion-less enlightenment is not also illusory on a higher level. The implication for me is to dare to co-construct more positive illusions, myths, frames of references, ways of thinking that allow others to join as they wish. I think it’s possible to be neither fixed nor dogmatic about this, but rather to allow folks to have their own symbol-systems that they organize into their philosophies of life.

The key is dialogue, kindness, courtesy, yet also a willingness to dare to envision ideas or images that one finds useful and to disclose these. Others don’t have to buy them. They may take a fragment and integrate it into their own emerging systems. Well, this is how I’m beginning to think about what philosophy and spirituality may become in this century, instead of requiring that others be like-minded to more than a modest degree. (I mean, can we all agree on not being violent with each other and stuff like that? Okay, but how tight do we really have to draw our lines. Perhaps we’ll deal with issues as they come up instead of feeling that we have to anticipate every possible way someone is going to try to bend the rules.)

I realize this digresses from a “real” book review, but I’m taking off on the implications of what it might mean if we all were to really own how very irrational we are! Another implication is to promote a degree of greater introspection, psychological-mindedness, and responsibility. We don’t have to believe what we think, feel what we believe, think what we feel, and so forth; these functions can be disconnected, as well as—and especially—thinking what we prefer or desire or feel that we need. This is the best part of postmodernism—the awareness that bias is prevalent even among those who believe they are unbiased. It generates a higher level of intellectual humility. I may come back and review this book further. It’s good!

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