Are You A Stranger To Yourself?

ISBN: 0674013824

Strangers To Oursevles offers a scientific review of what we know about the human unconscious. The information isn’t exactly new so this book will be a review for many of you who have come across various psychological studies and articles on the internet.

When he said that consciousness is the tip of the mental iceberg, he was short of the mark by quite a bit-it may be more the size of a snowball on top of that iceberg. The mind operates most efficiently by relegating a good deal of high-level, sophisticated thinking to the unconscious, just as a modern jumbo jetliner is able to fly on automatic pilot with little or no input from the human, “conscious” pilot. The adaptive unconscious does an excellent job of sizing up the world, warning people of danger, setting goals, and initiating action in a sophisticated and efficient manner.


The term “adaptive unconscious” is meant to convey that nonconscious thinking is an evolutionary adaptation. The ability to size up our environments, disambiguate them, interpret them, and initiate behavior quickly and nonconsciously confers a survival advantage and thus was selected for. Without these nonconscious processes, we would have a very difficult time navigating through the world


The most liberal estimate is that people can process consciously about 40 pieces of information per second. Think about it: we take in 11,000,000 pieces of information a second, but can process only 40 of them consciously. What happens to the other 10,999,960? It would be terribly wasteful to design a system with such incredible sensory acuity but very little capacity to use the incoming information. Fortunately, we do make use of a great deal of this information outside of conscious awareness.’


In other words, we know less than we think we do about our own minds, and exert less control over our own minds than we think. And yet we retain some ability to influence how our minds work. Even if the adaptive unconscious is operating intelligently outside our purview, we can influence the information it uses to make inferences and form goals.

Once your unconscious picks up on a stereotype or pattern, it will be applied for you without your complete awareness. It gives you shortcuts which allow you to more easily navigate the world.

The adaptive unconscious is an older system designed to scan the environment quickly and detect patterns, especially ones that might pose a danger to the organism. It learns patterns easily but does not unlearn them very well; it is a fairly rigid, inflexible inferencemaker. It develops early and continues to guide behavior into adulthood.


The adaptive unconscious is more likely to influence people’s uncontrolled, implicit responses, whereas the constructed self is more likely to influence people’s deliberative, explicit responses. For example, the quick, spontaneous decision of whether to argue with a coworker is likely to be under the control of one’s nonconscious needs for power and affiliation. A more thoughtful decision about whether to invite a coworker over for dinner is more likely to be under the control of one’s conscious, self-attributed motives.

Human behavior is not monolithic. You may describe a man as “aggressive,” but really he is only aggressive in certain situations, suggesting that humans operate on an if-then basis. If a certain type of event happens, then he will act out in an aggressive manner, but someone else who you would describe as non-aggressive would react more aggressively in a different situation. The same goes for a quality like extroversion. If you put me in a party environment with girls, people would describe me as extroverted, but the motivation there is that I simply want to get laid. Most of the time I keep to myself and don’t go above and beyond to make conversations with strangers.

This is why psychologists do such a poor job in predicting behavior based on personality type. They’re not much more accurate than astrologists, yet such analytical testing, like with the Myers-Briggs test, gives people validation about who they are and so it remains popular.

One annoying fault with this book is that it drones on and on about racism as viewed through the lens of survey studies. While that’s forgivable, there really wasn’t a whole lot of other meat to chew on—it contained a lot of filler from the author in the form of irrelevant musings and personal experiences that did nothing to further the topic.

Overall, Strangers To Ourselves contains some interesting facts about the human brain, but nothing that is especially new or even practical. You’ll find it hard to apply the information into improving your own life or how you think. It’s not a horrible book, but I can’t give it a solid recommendation.

Read More: “Strangers To Ourselves” on Amazon

34 thoughts on “Are You A Stranger To Yourself?”

  1. He who runs with aggression walks without dignity, and likewise, you can never know how to defeat another if you know not how to defeat yourself. A definite truism. Know yourself well, especially your flaws. He who wears a mask cannot see what lies within himself.

  2. I have convinced myself that I hate people in general, (including my own brothers), and yet, I find myself rushing to their aid whenever they need me without a single thought. What’s wrong with me?

      1. I guess you’re right, I don’t really hate people in general… despite the fact that they piss me off all the time…
        For example, “people in general” were how Obama got elected…. twice…

        1. Probably because you were raised to humble and help people when they are down. Which years ago was a proper way of thinking and in some other countries it is a good way to be. But america, at least in the major cities and the suburbs, that kind of attitude get’s you walked all over by people and that’s probably why they piss you off. Becaue you help them and they still fuck up. That is most people. You have to look out for your self above all. As it was told to me “Aint no bunk beds in coffins”

    1. Although it is true in my case — I am often a cold, uncaring, aloof bastard, which is what you’d expect from an INTJ …
      Especially when someone hasn’t made a very good case as to why I should give a damn. 🙂
      Have you seen the National car rental advert running in the States where the guy picks up someone else’s coffee, ignores the grinning attendants, and praises how he doesn’t have to interact with even one human on his way to getting his shit done?
      Yeah, that guy. 🙂

      1. Lol.
        I personally like INTJs. They clearly couldn’t care less whether I existed or not, but they make for great conversation.

  3. “Once your unconscious picks up on a stereotype or pattern, it will be
    applied for you without your complete awareness. It gives you shortcuts
    which allow you to more easily navigate the world.”
    This, in short, is called the habit. This insight is consistent with another excellent book recommended in the past here on ROK – “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. What’ll really bake your noodle is when you realise institutions, governments, even entire societies operate by habit as well. Habit is that powerful a shortcut it’s been demonstrated to survive devastating brain damage causing amnesia.

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  4. This is why Aldous Huxley said it might be more accurate to think of the brain as a filtering organ instead of as a perceiving organ.

    1. Which would seem to imply that judgement is perhaps a better fit than perception …
      And that the somewhat rare INTJ is adept at identifying noise and screening it out to a degree that others might find shockingly cold in its efficiency.
      This is not anti-social behaviour.
      This is identifying the things that matter and focusing on them instead.

    2. The CORPUS COLOSSUM is the brain’s ‘filter’. It is a non-conductive insulative membrane that blocks off direct neuron linkage from left to right brain. It’s like an organic wall or sheet, much like a thin sheet of saran wrap or a non conductive plexiglas window dividing the brain hemispheres. Both brain halves are adjacent and packaged neatly in the skull but have their direct interfacive contact restricted. The corpus colossum is an after market ‘governor’. It’s not OEM original equipment genetic code. It’s a tweak. A TWEAK DOWN. The corpus colossum is a genetically engineered partition which ‘chokes’ or ‘throttles down’ the massive human brain to below 20% processing speed at the least.
      Subsequently, the main left to right flow is blocked and instead is redirected down to the cortex which is like a Soviet bread line and SLOW AS HELL. The cortex plays the role then as a ‘choke’ or check valve regulating the speed and rate of total flow of signal between hemispheres.
      Does it make sense that the massive human brain is divided as such when the whale or dolphin has the fully integrated ‘solid’ version? The brain of the sperm whale is twice the mass of the human brain and is a ‘solid’ undivided brain. Unfortunately the whale has a few handicaps including NO OPPOSING THUMBS among other limitations.
      A human brain with a backdoor governor switch. How intrusive is that? It would feel less violating to live life with a permanent ATOMIC WEDGIE. If our brains were to be turned on full blast, it is apparently implied that man would be able to go too far and too fast for his own good.
      If YOU were to have YOUR corpus colossum removed or ‘made conductive and permiable’ leaving you with direct left to right contact, like unsliding a plate glass divider resulting in direct contact between left and right brain rendering you with a FULL BRAIN, then the question is COULD YOU HANDLE IT?
      FULL BRAIN FUNCTION could safely be achieved from birth but afterwards the brain hardwires to the divided hemisphere operating system with the corpus colossum as the server. For an adult to suddenly be rendered with 100% left to right flow would be like strapping a saturn 5 rocket engine onto the back of a kitten just to see what happens. That little sucker would head for the first brick wall – like in an old CURIOUS GEORGE cartoon. Could you actually handle a BRAIN WITH ROCKET ENGINES?
      ‘Hardwiring’ between left and right hemispheres in a divided vs ‘solid’ or ‘full’ brain is like comparing the root system in the desert vs the rainforest. Idiot savant piano players for example have resulte from head trauma cases where the corpus colossum suffers a TINY tear and direct neuron flow almost arcs at the point of contact.
      But for the entire human brain to be suddenly ‘opened up’ at all points would be overwhelming for any adult and would pose unique obsticales for a full brain child being raised in a world of babbling idiots.

  5. Roosh,
    Indeed, most of our behavior is unconscious, automatic, and conditioned (as the book says). This is both a stimulus/response type of conditioning (classical) and a reward/punishment type of conditioning (operant). Nevertheless, repeated conditioning does make certain behaviors even more automatic, habitual, and likely to occur. So, something akin to a “personality” does develop, as simply a constellation of more-or-less likely responses and habits, averaged over a wide variety of situations.
    Of course, if you have the ability to analyze a specific situation, looking at the immediate antecedents prompting action and the consequences of actions is indeed the best way to predict behavior. That is why behaviorism is so effective. Nevertheless, if you have to “guess” about performance in a wide variety of situations or novel ones, then having a general personality/habit inventory is better than nothing.

  6. The idea that we know ourselves and that we are consciously in the driving seat with regard to the direction of our lives has taken a bit of a battering in recent years. Obviously the notion of the unconscious itself goes back to at least the beginnings of psychoanalysis, but more recently there’s been a lot of work on how automatic unconscious processing may deceive us to the extent that we think we’re being rational and engaging in conscious reasoned decision-making. Kahneman & Tversky did a lot of work on cognitive biases, as well as the ‘heuristics’ we use to make decisions etc, even when we think we’re being logical and rational. Implicit Associations tests reveal prejudices at work in unconscious processing, and people like Wegner have even demonstrated that when we think we’re making a conscious decision, in terms of having a conscious thought, and then acting on it, we may be getting the causality wrong: the conscious will authoring our actions may for the most part be an illusion.
    Much of contemporary politics, particularly political correctness, anti-racism, anti-sexism etc seems to sit very awkwardly with the evidence of what may be going on under the surface. Ultimately if there is a war going on between our conscious and our unconscious minds, between what we believe we should be thinking versus what we actually think and feel, then I’m inclined to think its the latter that will get the better of the former. Getting it right then will be about getting the surface and the subterraneans parts to sync with each other.

  7. Do we really control our destiny? Or is our unconscious which decides our behavior going to do whatever it wants, while your powerless frustrated ego critiques it? The reality is that the unconscious is simply overwhelming ,
    i should be doing this but…..instead: arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
    sound familiar?
    being clever doesn’t allow you to overwhelm your unconscious, otherwise all of our problems would have already been solved by education
    All kinds of intellectuals have tried to find the holy grail of controlling their own minds
    Want to know what actually controls you? FEAR
    Exercise, FEAR Ill health
    Learn, FEAR ignorance
    Image, FEAR being perceived as low status
    obey, FEAR incarceration
    ………… and the pressure is on, because the biological clock ticks away
    Fear Failure = motivation for success
    Fear defeat = preparation
    Fear competition
    Fear deception
    fear is the whip which dictates our actions

    1. You are right, but there’s another side to it though isn’t there? The other side of the fear being desire. The other side of pain being pleasure. Nothing beyond the pleasure principle?

      1. As Chrissy Amphlett told us while pissing on stages and prancing around in schoolgirl outfits, there’s a fine line between pleasure and pain.

        1. The Divinyls. That voice was sex. “I touch myself. I honestly do” is the very best kind of degenerate culture

  8. With so many books already on my list and others out there, sounds like this is one I can avoid. Thanks for the review.

  9. I’m all about the Unconscious.
    We may be humans get we are still beings with mainly primitive needs.

  10. One of the most annoying women I spoke to online rambled on and on about her Myers-Briggs test results and how accurately she fit them.
    “Once your unconscious picks up on a stereotype or pattern, it will be applied for you without your complete awareness. It gives you shortcuts which allow you to more easily navigate the world.”
    I’d postulate that one of the greatest links in this concept is the effect one’s responses from the SMP has on their subconscious. Control this, or more appropriately, properly filter this, and the most primal action of successfully acquiring sex can change other areas in your life.

  11. Thanks for a review that didn’t recommend the book! You can’t know if a book is any good until you read it, “and then,” to quote Merlin in “Excalibur”, “It’s too late!”
    Writing a review and giving others a heads up allows you to redeem some of your time.

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