New book, ‘Stranger in the Mirror,’ explores landscape of the self

Robert Levine's new book "Stranger in the Mirror"

“Stranger in the Mirror: The Scientific Search for the Self,” a new book by social psychologist Dr. Robert V. Levine, will challenge our assumptions about who we are and the entity we call our self. The book is published by The Press at California State University, Fresno.

Filled with fascinating case studies and scientific discoveries presented in an entertaining, conversational style, this book lures us into realizing that there isn’t just one self but many, and these selves can, in fact, be developed and improved over the course of a lifetime,” said Honora Chapman, the associate dean for the College of Arts and Humanities and co-director of The Press. “Robert has written a funny, optimistic book that not only educates us about 21st-century cognitive and biological science as well as intercultural differences, but also gives us hope about what kind of human beings we all can still become.”

A professor emeritus from the Department of Psychology at Fresno State, Levine has won national and international awards for his research, teaching and writing. He served as a visiting professor at Universidade Federal Fluminense in Niteroi, Brazil; Sapporo Medical University in Japan; Stockholm University in Sweden; and, most recently, as a fellow in the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University in the UK.

He is the outgoing president of the Western Psychological Association and a fellow in the American Psychological Association. He has earned a number of awards for his teaching and research including earned Fresno State’s top honor, the Excellence in Teaching Award, in 2007.

“We tell ourselves that we — our ‘selves’ — are coherent entities. We imagine a thing that we can neatly label and point to as if it were a sculpture sitting on a shelf,” Levine writes in the book’s introduction. “But it is just a story we write — or, more precisely, are constantly rewriting. The image we have of the person we are is, in fact, a never-ending narrative in which we do our best to connect all the iterations of ourselves — bodies, minds, and personae — to who we feel like at that particular moment.”

Levine will give a lecture, titled “The Voices in our Heads,” as part of the spring programming for Fresno State’s Center for Creativity and the Arts. The lecture is scheduled for 3:30-5 p.m. Thursday, March 22, in the Alice Peters Auditorium.

In “Stranger in the Mirror,” Levine offers a provocative, wide-ranging and entertaining tour of the most personal and consequential of all landscapes: the entity we call our self.  Who are we?  Where is the boundary between ourselves and everything else? Are we all multiple personalities? And how can we control who we become?

Levine tackles these questions with a combination of surprising stories, case studies and cutting-edge research from biology, neuroscience, virtual reality, psychology and many other fields.

The book includes a dedication to Mike McGarvin — known as “Papa Mike” — the founder of the Poverello House homeless shelter in downtown Fresno. McGarvin died on July 1, 2017. Levine expands on McGarvin’s story of transformation, from “precocious and innovative criminal” in his younger life to the well-known humanitarian he was for almost 25 years, in Chapter 15, “Finding the Schindler Button.”

 Levine is also the author of “A Geography of Time” (1998) and “The Power of Persuasion: How We’re Bought and Sold” (2006). His writing has appeared in The New York Times, American Scientist and Discover, and he has appeared on “ABC Prime Time” and WNYC’s “RadioLab.”

“In this fascinating exploration of the human self, Robert Levine — one of psychology’s great writers – blends mind-bending case stories (à la Oliver Sacks) with the insights of psychological science,” said David G. Myers, professor of psychology at Hope College and co-author of “Psychology,” 11th Edition. “Read this and prepare to have your self-understanding challenged and expanded.”

“Stranger in the Mirror” is $16 and can be purchased on The Press website and on Amazon.

Levine is available for interviews about the book. Additional information can also be found at this Q&A with the author.

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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