‘id’ by Susan Greenfield

I’ve just finished reading this book, which was pretty enjoyable and fun to read. Susan Greenfield is a Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford, and a well known science populariser. The book is light and easy reading for those with a scientific or technical background; the concepts are presented via thought-provoking discussion rather than technical content.

The main premise of the book is how technology will change our identity in the next few decades. Greenfield puts forward three main ‘identity camps’ into which we could possibly fall as individuals: Someone, Nobody, and Anyone. Someone is a Western idealism of ‘making your name’ in society (usually through a career), commanding respect and individuality. Nobody is the scenario where identity becomes consumed, for example by existence in a virtual world, which amounts to living for a ‘here and now’ sensory experience in order to activate the pleasure regions of the brain. It is also related to low amount of personal development, and giving little thought to behaviour which at present may not be pleasurable, but which in the longer term have a higher level of reward. Anyone is the scenario where you take on a group identity via a commonly held set of beliefs, for example where a personality is dominated by a particular political, philosophical or religious movement.

There are many links between these three personality sets, for example the shared feeling of ‘fulfilment’ or ‘meaning in life’ shared by the successful Someone and Anyone, and the ability to absorb new concepts quickly, shared by the Someone and the Nobody.

Each personality is explained by reference to how the brain changes and undergoes reinforcement learning with respect to each possible personality ‘basin of attraction’, so the identities that we assume become part of our neurological wiring. Overall an interesting read, although expect more of a philosophical journey than a book giving an introduction to some of the more scientific details of neuroscience. For that I’m currently reading ‘The 21st Century Brain’ by Steven Rose.


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