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THE SELF DELUSION: The Surprising Science of How We Are Connected and Why That Matters by Tom Oliver book review

THE SELF DELUSION: The Surprising Science of How We Are Connected and Why That Matters by Tom Oliver book review
27 May
by Tom Oliver • W&N • £13.50 (hardback)

Welcome to the ‘self’: a conscious and subjective experience arising from variform configurations of neurons, electrical currents and chemical transmissions in our nervous systems – in other words, an illusion. We have been hoodwinked into the belief that we are unchanging entities at the centre of existence, prioritising our sense of individualism for the survival of our genes. Oliver unravels this illusion to reveal an infinitely more connected and flowing world.

Our thorough guide dispenses with outdated definitions of the self by reviewing new principles in biology, psychology and environmentalism. We learn of the continual remodelling of our bodies – that the cells of our gut lining live for only five days before being replaced, and that our human genes are vastly outnumbered by those of our microbial companions. With balance and poise, we are taught of the porosity of our social networks, and how we as individuals can influence each other at an unprecedented rate. In a realignment of our self-identity, we learn of the dependency of our well-being on the environment, and how ‘care for the natural world beyond our immediate bodies becomes an act of self-love’.

Estranged from ourselves and cast anew into vast connected systems, Oliver becomes a reassuring guide; a sanguine voice that informs us that a planetary perspective can have far-reaching improvements in our society. His astute eye shifts from macroscopic environmental themes to the microscopic multitudes of our inner ecosystems. With each transition, we understand the benefits of nurturing our connections with these ecosystems, on which the survival of our species is dependent.

A vision of a connected society — one that is conscious of its dependency on nature — is a glistening beacon in a gloomy ecological present. His message is clear and portentous: divest from the philosophy of individualism and fulfil relations with each other and the ecosystem. With this shift in our self-identities, Oliver argues that we can re-connect with nature, take conscious responsibility of our consumer choices, and form meaningful and empathetic relationships. In an era that will be defined by its planetary action, Oliver’s argument is timely and thorough.

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