The Self Delusion: The Surprising Science of How We Are Connected and Why That Matters
(WEIDENFELD & NICOLSON, 304 PP, £20)
Tablet bookshop price £18 • Tel 020 7799 4064
Terrified of the great outdoors, Woody Allen once said that he was “at two with nature”. This is not a joke that would have Tom Oliver chuckling. An ecology professor at the University of Reading, Oliver is out to prove not only that we’re at one with nature, but that we’re so intertwined with it that it’s meaningless for us to think of the world being outside us. We’re part of it, it’s part of us, I’m part of you, you’re part of her, she’s part of them. “Our independence is simply an illusion,” says Oliver, an illusion we must abandon if we are to “solve the pressing environmental and social problems of the twenty-first century”.
Oliver begins by dismantling the illusion of our physical selves. Heraclitus famously said that no man can step in the same river twice. Oliver has the science to back up the philosophy. Thanks to cellular degradation and recycling, it makes no sense to regard the person you are today as the person you were yesterday – much less the person you were last year. Rather, we are semi-permeable systems of ceaseless change. Like Trigger’s broom in Only Fools And Horses – which he had for 20 years, during which time he replaced the head 17 times and the handle 14 – bits of us are forever dying off and being replaced by new ones.