The Self Delusion is a short book, but it has a grand ambition; to show that our view of ourselves as “individuals acting autonomously in the world with an unchanging inner self that persists throughout our lifetime” is “an illusion”. It links this illusion to all manner of worldly ills: climate change, loneliness, the rise of the populist right. And it has several important messages, many of which need to be more widely understood; it is a thought-provoking and worthwhile read.
The book’s title recalls Richard Dawkins, and, early on, Oliver occasionally shows a Dawkins-like exasperation at the world’s refusal to fall into line with objective science. For each of us, I presume, our consciousness feels like a centre, a fixed point from which we see things, however aware we are of the problems with this view. To Oliver, initially, this stubbornness resembles that of the flat-earthers who refused to accept the Copernican revolution. Yet he comes to see that the individualistic concept of self is a more ambiguous case. Qualifying adjectives start to appear more frequently. The independent, atomised, unchanging, coherent, autonomous self is the problem. We do not have to reject all forms of individuality.