Lancaster man’s new book looks at how we are all connected to eachother

Tom Oliver
Tom Oliver

A new book written by a Lancaster academic takes a thorough look at how humans live an interconnected existence.

In The Self Delusion, former Lancaster Royal Grammar School pupil Prof Tom Oliver, who grew up in Brookhouse, asks challenging questions and weaves together scientific facts to challenge our individuality.

He said: “We like to believe that we exist as independent selves at the centre of a subjective universe; that we are discrete individuals acting autonomously in the world with an unchanging inner self that persists throughout our lifetime. This is an illusion.”

Prof Oliver explains that “every word, touch, pheromone received from others alters the neural network in your brain, so our inner selves are constantly connected to- and altered by others”.

He explores how ideas, behaviours and preferences flow between us in a way that makes it unclear where one mind ends and another begins.

He said: “Through social networks we influence other people (their taste in music, voting choices, obesity risk) that we may never have even met.

“When people recognise their interconnectedness to nature they tend to be have greater happiness, autonomy and personal growth, and more likely to protect the environment.

“When they recognise their interconnectedness to other people they have lower anxiety, greater wellbeing and more empathy.

“So hopefully the book is a worthwhile read!”

Prof Oliver grew up in Brookhouse and attended Lancaster Royal Grammar School from 1992 to 1999.

He now works as Professor of Applied Ecology at the University of Reading.
He added: “When you share a room with someone, every breath you take contains molecules that were part of their body. Each lungful is a dense fog, including molecules that were also part of countless other plants, animals, dinosaurs once alive long ago.

“Human cells have around 24,000 genes in their DNA code, and although we think of all our genes coming from our parents, around 145 genes have travelled horizontally across the tree 
of life, probably vectored by viruses.

“This turns the ‘tree’ of life into a great tangled interconnected network.”

If our bodies don’t define our independent existence what about our minds, surely these are our own? Yet, Oliver ruthlessly breaks down illusions in the mental sphere too: our brain is composed of around 170 billion neurons with the connections between them being formed and lost at a rate of up to 250,000 every second. The pattern of connections in our brain determines your personality, so you are not exactly the same person you were five minutes ago.

Book webpage: https://research.reading.ac.uk/social-and-applied-ecology/the-self-delusion/

Includes a survey for people to find out how connected they are.