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

Send this to a friend