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How Real is Real?
Paul Watzlawick
Communication, Disinformation, Confusion
Published by Spring Books in 1971
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002


This was a landmark book when I first read it back in the late seventies, and the chance to re-read it in my own hardback copy in the nineties reminded me of the new concepts I first encountered in Watzlawick's work. (Note: This book contains the harpoon story that led me to my idea of how dolpins communicate. You can read about it in my novel, The Spizznet File.) The idea of confusion as a creative point of change came from this book. (I had a sign on my counseling office: "I don't avoid confusion, I create it." I got it after reading this book.) Next is the concept of the Be Spontaneous Paradox. This is the only written reference I've found to it. This paradox occurs when someone attempts to do consciously what can only be done effectively unconsciously. Examples are: sneezing, going to sleep, and enjoying oneself. Recognizing the source of a problem as this paradox tells one how to undo the problem. For example, telling the amnesiac to try staying awake an extra hour every night past her normal bedtime. The unconscious effort, the switch from "making oneself fall asleep" to "trying to stay awake" will usually allow the natural sleep process to prevail. Whereas the body stays awake when "trying to fall asleep," it will drift into sleep while "trying to stay awake." Another example is the following cure for sneezing: offer the sneezer $20 for the production of another sneeze. This immediately changes the sneezer from an unconscious victim of a natural process into a manufacturer of one. The resulting change of process turns off the sneeze reflex as if a switch had been thrown to deactivate it.

Watzlawick's insights into communication and reality are valuable additions to the field of human interaction. He brings the mind of a scientist and the heart of a psychotherapist to his work and has produced a book that is as accessible to the layman as it is useful to the professional. After reading this book one is left with the impression that reality is rather un-real after all.

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