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The Uses of Delusion: Why It's Not Always Rational to Be Rational

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A fascinating examination of delusional thinking and how it might benefit health, relationships, and wellbeing .

Although reason and rationality are our friends in almost all contexts, in some cases people are better off putting reason aside. In a number of very important situations, we benefit by not seeing the world as it is, and by not behaving like logic-driven machines. Sometimes we know we aren't making sense, and yet we are compelled to act against reason; in other cases, our delusions are so much a part of normal human experience that we are unaware of them. As intelligent as we are, much of what has helped humans succeed as a species is not our prodigious brain power but something much more basic.

The Uses of Delusion is about aspects of human nature that are not altogether rational but, nonetheless, help us achieve our social and personal goals. Psychologist Stuart Vyse presents a lively, accessible exploration of the psychological concepts behind "useful delusions", fleshing out how delusional thinking may play a role in love and relationships, illness and loss, and personality and behavior. Along the way Vyse draws on the work of William James, Daniel Kahneman, and Joan Didion - who wrote about her compelling belief that her husband, though deceased, would soon return to her. Throughout, Vyse strives to answer the why would some of our most illogical beliefs be as helpful as they are? The concluding chapter offers an explanation grounded in natural selection - the ability to fool ourselves, Vyse argues, has actually helped us to survive. In the final pages of The Uses of Delusion , Vyse offers suggestions for determining when reason should rule and when intuition and
emotion should be allowed to take over.

216 pages, Hardcover

Published May 2, 2022

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About the author

Stuart A. Vyse

6 books15 followers
Stuart Vyse is a behavioral scientist, teacher, and writer. He writes the monthly “Behavior & Belief” column for Skeptical Inquirer and personal essays in a variety of places—lately for the Observer, Medium, The Atlantic, The Good Men Project, and Tablet. He also blogs very sporadically for Psychology Today.

Vyse's book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition won the William James Book Award of the American Psychological Association and has been or will be translated into four languages. His book Going Broke: Why Americans Can’t Hold On To Their Money is an analysis of the current epidemic of personal debt and has been translated into Chinese.

As an expert on irrational behavior, Vyse has been quoted in many news outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and have appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, CNN International, the PBS NewsHour, and NPR”s Science Friday.

Vyse holds a PhD in psychology and BA and MA degrees in English literature and is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. The majority of his teaching career was spent at Connecticut College in New London, CT, where I was the Joanne Toor ’50 Professor of Psychology. His academic interests are in decision making, behavioral economics, philosophy, behavior analysis, and belief in the paranormal.

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Profile Image for Chris Boutté.
Author 8 books150 followers
May 23, 2022
I love books about self-deception and irrationality, so when I heard about this book, I had to read it. I was personally unfamiliar with Stuart Vyse’s work, but I’m officially a fan. Although he’s a psychologist who writes about skepticism and people who believe weird things, it’s great to see someone like this write a book about the uses of delusions. It’s easy to see people who have delusional thinking as unintelligent or irrational, but that’s not always the case. We obviously evolved this way for a reason, so Stuart breaks down why some delusions might be useful.

This book covers so many great topics, and that’s why I enjoyed it more than some other books on the same topic. Vyse covers relationships, dealing with grief, self-confidence, brainwashing, and so many more interesting subjects in this book. He turns to the research and and gives an honest take on whether or not certain types of delusions are harming or helping us. I can’t recommend this book enough, and I will most likely be reading it again.
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