How Do We Know Ourselves?: Curiosities and Marvels of the Human Mind

Release Date: 
November 1, 2022
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Reviewed by: 

“This is a book whose purpose is to provoke curiosity and enlighten.”

Reading David G. Myers’ book is akin to wandering into a curio shop and delighting in the proprietor’s private tour of fascinating items, familiar and foreign. In the case of How Do We Know Ourselves?, Myers’ thumbnail sketches are of our individual and collective thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

While clearly a man of science—the author is a social psychologist, professor of psychology at Hope College, and author of 17 books and dozens of periodicals and magazines—Myers writes with great wit and obvious joy in word play. In another author’s hands, the content of this book would be dry and boring, replete as it is with data from scientific studies on everything from the grandiose self to cell phone compulsivity to contemplating death. Fortunately, Myers’ self-deprecating humor makes him come across as equal parts humanist and scientist.  

The book is divided into three parts that offer the author’s take—bolstered by in-depth research and personal anecdotes—of what makes us tick as individuals, in relationship to one another, and as a species. To ensure the book moves along and readers stay engaged, chapters (40 of them) are three to six pithy pages per topic. Whenever possible, Myers uses examples from the state of the world, including our current polarized politic climate and the recent COVID pandemic.

Part 1: “Who Am I?” shares his perspective on topics such as the dual processing of the brain, how intuition and expectations both help and hinder us, why we fear what we fear, making judgments, and the power of simple attention.

Part 2: “Who Are We?” explores the upside of humility, how we process traumatic events, what makes for excellent friendships, understanding the push and pull of relationships, and the question of whether birth order really matters.

Part 3: “What in the World?” examines the nature versus nurture debate, the art of failing well, how politics changes politicians, the role confirmation bias and credibility of belief play in shaping our thinking, dying people’s surprising feelings about death, and how technology affects our connection to others.

This is a book whose purpose is to provoke curiosity and enlighten. Sometimes Myers’ questions have been asked (and answered) before, and he gives us yet another spin on them. Other subjects never may have crossed our minds but make us wonder how we’ve lived so long without examining them. This book is a gentle reminder that there is much we don’t know we don’t know even when we think we know ourselves.