Professor Tom Oliver has written a new book, The Self Delusion, which explores how people, animals, plants and the planet we live on are all intimately connected – and why that matters. Here Professor Tom Oliver introduces his new book:


Read on to find how connected you are...

About the book:

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.

On a physical, psychological and cultural level, we are all much more intertwined than we know: we cannot use our bodies to define our independent existence because most of our 37 trillion cells have such a short lifespan that we are essentially made anew every few weeks; the molecules that make up our bodies have already been component parts of countless other organisms, from ancient plants to dinosaurs; we are more than half non-human, in the form of bacteria, fungi and viruses, whose genes influence our moods and even manipulate our behaviour; and we cannot define ourselves by our minds, thoughts and actions, because these mainly originate from other people - the result of memes passing between us, existing before, after and beyond our own lifespans.

Professor of Ecology Tom Oliver makes the compelling argument that although this illusion of individualism has helped us to succeed as a species, tackling the big global challenges ahead now relies on our seeing beyond this mindset and understanding the complex connections between us. THE SELF DELUSION is an explosive, powerful and inspiring book that brings to life the overwhelming evidence contradicting the perception we have of ourselves as independent beings - and why understanding this may well be the key to a better future.

Read the book review in The Guardian

Advance reviews:

THE SELF DELUSION is a book of wonders. It articulately explores the infinite web of connection that humans have with one another, as well as with those that lived before them and those yet to be born. But Oliver also takes us beyond the body to tease out our many connections with the world around us and far, far beyond it. How can we really be individuals when trillions of atoms from the farthest reaches of the galaxy can be found in our bodies? A timely, fascinating and quite brilliant book’ Vybarr Cregan-Reid, author of Primate Change

‘As a recovering individualist, I need to be reminded of the dangers of the self delusion and the benefits of dispelling it, and this book is a fascinating and compelling presentation of the scientific evidence’ Michael Foley, author of The Age of Absurdity

‘As Tom Oliver takes us through this enlightening tour of our interconnectedness, from microscopic interactions to our collective cultural mind, he mercilessly dissects the very notion that our cherished individuality exists at all. Entertaining and thought-provoking, this book offers an urgently needed revaluation of our place in the world and what the next steps in our evolution might be’ Nathan H. Lents, author of Human Errors

‘Until you've read Tom Oliver's delightful THE SELF DELUSION you'll never have guessed that, from the ground up, you and your self-identity are constructions, built like an Arcimboldo painting, but of cells from many sources, neurons, ideas and finally connections to others. Read this book for a compelling way of thinking about how and why the 'you' that you see when you look inside yourself arises, and its place in the universe’ Mark Pagel, author of Wired For Culture

‘Tom Oliver tells a compelling story, firmly rooted in biological evidence, that will make you think differently about yourself and your relationship with the world around you’ Sir Prof. Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Advisor, UK Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (2012-2019)

Book launch video (Waterstones, Reading, 23rd Jan 2020):

Interested to hear more? Here are some questions and answers following the talk:

Q1. Why is the illusion of our individuality so convincing?

Q2. How is the digital era affecting our self identity?

Q2. Is the idea of connectedness like a new religion?

Q3. How can we develop our sense of connectedness?


How connected are you?

Purchase the book at Amazon or Waterstones or, even better, from your local bookstore

Upcoming events

9th March - Book talk at All Saints Church, Wokingham. Free event register here

12th Mar- Public lecture at Environmental Crisis, Science and Art exhibition, Eltham College, London

24th March- CPH:DOX Documentary festival, Copenhagen [now as Online conference]

28th March- Oxford Literary festival

24th Aug - Edinburgh Literary Festival

Oct- Cafe Culture North East (date TBC)

Follow Tom Oliver on Twitter