01st Feb 2020
Some people have an internal narrative they can actually hear while others don’t. Amanda Cassidy tries to get her own head around it.
I think therefore I am, suggested philosopher René Descartes. But even he might be surprised to know that how we think and reason with ourselves is different for everyone.
Whether you’re reading a book or imagining your plans for the day, the majority of people hear themselves speak inside their heads even though they are not saying the words out loud.
It’s a process that’s fascinated psychologists since the field’s earliest days. Russian pioneer Lev Vygotsky believed that our ability to use inner speech was developed during our childhood with young children only able to think out loud.
Now, a new study describes it as ‘corollary discharge’ and tries to figure out how we hear our inner voice in the absence of actual sound. In fact, scientists at the University of British Columbia believe there is a specific signal that helps us distinguish the sensory experiences we produce ourselves from those produced by external stimuli.
How do they get through the day? How do they read?
So far, so tired brain.
But not everyone can hear that internal monologue and it has divided the internet.
It started with a blog post by Ryan Andrew Langdon who posted. “Fun Fact – some people have an internal narrative and some do not. As in, some people’s thoughts are like sentences they “hear”, and some people just have abstract non-verbal thoughts, and have to consciously verbalise them.
And most people aren’t aware of the other type of person. All my life, I could hear my voice in my head and speak in full sentences as if I was talking out loud. I thought everyone experienced this.”
Cue the comments.
“I have an internal monologue all the time running around. It’s the same when I read a book I don’t see words it’s like my brain plays a movie of what I’m reading” wrote one commenter.
Another described the idea others can’t ‘hear’ their own voice as ‘mind-blowing’. “How do they get through the day? How do they read? How do they make decisions between choice A and choice B?”
“I can straight up have a look at myself in the mirror and have a full-blown telepathic conversation with myself. Can you not do that?” wrote another.
As someone who cannot hear my inner monologue, I am equally perplexed by those who ‘hear’ their own echoey voice talk back to them.
My thoughts and ideas are more like “concept maps” that I see in my brain. Another friend says that she literally sees the words in her head if she is trying to think about something.
But hearing yourself think isn’t all it is cracked up to be. In fact, it is called the monkey mind, according to Buddhist principles. It is a term that refers to being unsettled, restless, or confused.
Writer and Buddhist Natalie Goldberg, who teaches many writing workshops, suggests that the monkey mind is the inner critic, the ego, that we can iron out through the use of meditation.
Fascinatingly, those born without being able to hear also have an inner voice. In a recent thread on the issue on confessional site Quora, deaf people shared their experiences.
“I have a ‘voice’ in my head, but it is not sound-based. I am a visual being, so in my head, I either see sign language signs, or pictures, or sometimes printed words,” said Michele Westfall. Others said they can see lips moving as they think in terms of their inner voice.
The true reasons these abilities have developed still aren’t fully understood. These intricate connections seem to play a role in allowing us to make predictions about our future actions.
Focusing on the positive chatter instead of the negative is the key takeaway from all of this — no matter if you ‘hear’ it, ‘see’ it or simply use it as a guide to ‘map’ things out.
Image via Unsplash.com
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