# Inner Voice

I’ve contemplated the voice(s) in my head all my adult life, though it’s only recently I’ve thought deeply about them. One big question I’ve had being why sometimes it’s a dialog rather than a monolog.

To be clear, I am fully aware that it’s all me; it’s my voice(s). “They” (or rather “we”) are aspects of my own mind — my inner voice. Something I’ve naturally assumed everyone had.

But some say they have no inner voice!

I’ve mentioned the idea of lacking an inner voice to a few friends. The reaction so far is universal: utter disbelief. That was my first reaction, too, but some videos I’ve seen have me reconsidering. There are those convinced they have no inner voice — certainly no inner monolog. They even find the latter notion a bit bizarre.

An obvious question is whether they really do lack inner speech, or do they simply lack awareness or understanding of inner speech?

What confounds is that we often don’t have a clear sense of our internal state. Self-observation is a skill to be learned and practiced. Casual claims about not having — or having — an inner voice must be studied and unpacked.

The inner voiced often initially claim the monolog is constant, but studies find it can be less frequent. Conversely, those claiming no inner voice often describe a form of what I might describe as inner voice. Therefore I think some of this may be a matter of definition and understanding.

Here’s a 12-minute SciShow video that lays out the basics:

¶ A key point is that, as with so many things, this, too, is a spectrum. Very few experience the extremes — inner speech 0% or 100% of the time — most experience it some of the time and in various ways.

It’s the “various ways” that I think may have some thinking they lack inner speech. I think maybe some expect it to be more like actual speech, but it can also be more an appearance in our mind — something I’ve heard some “inner mutes” say they do experience.

¶ Much inner speech is about ourselves, and often negative. Here I think it helps to have intellectual hobbies (reading, writing, any form of study, etc). I’m familiar with the inward-spiral of dark thoughts, but I think having external interests can be a saving grace.

[That said, chronic depression, a chemical imbalance of the brain, can be the result of allowing the constant drumbeat of negative self-thoughts. That can lead to self-reinforcing destructive physical behaviors, which leads to more self-loathing, and so on inwards and downwards. The trick is to try to break the pattern before you have to be put on meds. If you can’t, seek help!]

¶ About 75% report having back-and-forth dialogs with themselves. That’s a relief; it absolutely isn’t just me. (Of course I knew it wasn’t. The idea is well documented in fiction. So, for that matter, is the very notion of an internal narration.)

I’m also in the 25% of those having dialogs with others — in my case usually people I’ve known. In some cases, fictional characters I know well enough to imagine how they’d respond. (I tend to like fiction with characters I’d like to talk with, so naturally I imagine such conversations.)

On the flip side, I never had an imaginary friend as a kid. Maybe because there were kids my age to play with when I was a kid. As teenager I was shy enough that I did imagine conversations beforehand, but I learned they never actually go as planned and gave it up.

¶ If it’s true the original purpose of inner speech was error correction, then it would seem anyone capable of speaking correctly must have some form of it. They may not be self-aware of it, or identify it as a voice, because its so fundamentally integrated into their thought process.

I recall from college how being high on marijuana could make me very aware — hyper-aware — of my inner voice. (My interest in that mental voice dates that far back.) Maybe everyone has some form, but some are just more aware of it.

¶ I’m (extremely) skeptical inner speech is a replay of childhood conversations. Mine has certainly gotten richer over the years, and I think our experiences as adults would swamp early conversations. I think the pattern of our speech, along with accents and other communication quirks, is laid down early, but the content? I’m dubious.

I think more likely the nature of the content of our thoughts reflects something deeper I’ll explore below, but it boils down to the ancient metaphor of “angel on one shoulder, devil on the other” — or more scientifically, something like Freud’s id and superego.

¶ I do think there may be some correlation between a clear inner voice and intellect, but that almost seems a tautology. Intellect is expressed and measured in words, so intellect and language are naturally associated. Crucially, intellect is different from intelligence.

Those who claim no inner speech generally speak well, obviously think clearly, and don’t at all seem lacking in intelligence. Given that the brain may require inner speech to speak, perhaps even to think, I suspect (utterly without foundation or hard evidence) the issue may be not recognizing their inner voice.

A lack of self-awareness (or misinterpreting) seems a far more likely human condition to me than a genuine lack of an inner voice. (But, of course, I could be completely wrong about that.)

§ §

An old metaphor features a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, both whispering their advice into our respective ears.

It’s yet another appearance of a Yin-Yang duality, in this case Driver and Brake. (A favorite Bruce Cockburn song, Burden of the Angel/Beast, speaks beautifully to the same internal human divide.)

Sigmund Freud divided the mind into the id, the ego, and the superego. I’m struck by how well the id and superego match the role of devil and angel. We, the ego, navigate between them. I’m even more struck by how well the dialogs in my head fit that model. It often is a tug-of-war between the selfish child that just wants and the higher mind with morals and principles.

There is a theory (albeit not a well regarded one), called the Bicameral Mind, that suggests our inner voice evolved around the time written language did. Its radical suggestion is that our inner voice at first seemed to be not ours but the gods telling us what to do. That voice in our heads was at first a stranger’s.

(This theory was part of the background in season one of HBO’s Westworld series, which was when I first started a draft for this post. I was way into Westworld … at first.)

As an aside, Neal Stephenson, in Snow Crash (1992), views language, especially written language, a form of mental programming. In the book, the rise of written language, the Sumerian language, afforded a new way for humans to program humans. A written language enables and fixes thought patterns. Our ability to express ideas seems to depend on language (although our ability to have them actually may not).

All-in-all it seems humans do have voices — or at least one — in our heads, but we may not think of them as such. I’m not sure it’s possible to have language, let alone writing, without those thoughts forming mentally.

But perhaps some people don’t have a voice they hear. Comments by those claiming no inner voice sometimes seem to refer to something akin to what we experience when we listen to someone speak. Almost as if they expect something very much like the voice of god appearing in their thoughts. Some have expressed how weird that would seem.

There seems also some correlation between those claiming to have no inner speech and those who are multi-lingual. Perhaps when thoughts can be equally expressed in multiple languages, one loses a strong sense of a voice in any given language? Our inner speech, unless we’re recalling others, tends to be similar to our speaking voice. I really wonder if some just don’t identify that as their inner voice but merely as having thoughts.

§

There is what seems the opposite of no inner voice: having no “mind’s eye” — lacking the ability to internally visualize something. This is called aphantasia.

SciShow did a short video about it:

There are many unknowns about this and about having, or not having, an inner voice. The difficulty in both cases is trying to understand what goes on in other minds when all we have is our own experience and what others report — both of which turn out to be unreliable.

Here again I wonder if part of the confusion comes from different self-expectations about what inner speech or the mind’s eye involves.

That said, inner visualization seems seems more testable, and some of the tests mentioned appear to indicate real differences in how people visualize. I’m a bit more inclined to think people might be confused about inner speech.

The canonical test is to try to mentally picture a red apple. When you do, what, if anything, do you see? There is apparently a range from a vivid image, perhaps a remembered one, to drawing a literal blank.

§

One of my favorite quotes is due to Albert Camus: “An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself.” I’ve been paying attention to my mind, including my inner speech, for quite some time now.

One weird thing I’ve noticed is how often I use the pronoun “we” rather than “I” — I’m not sure if it’s editorial, royal, or just plain schizoid. For instance, I might think, “I need to fix that,” about something, but equally likely to wonder, “What shall we have for dinner tonight?” I think it’s editorial-ish (but I can’t guarantee there isn’t some royal “we” in there). I’m quite sure I’m sane (but I would be wouldn’t I).

Maybe I do have an imaginary friend, and it’s me! (Looking at the two phrases I just conjured, I think there might be some correlation between potentially sharable things and tasks I’d do alone. “We” might have dinner, but “I” write blog posts. And there’s no temptation to use “we” in writing.)

A constant monolog from anyone is boring (and many who claim no inner voice are even appalled by the idea). But ongoing dialogs are more interesting, and maybe the “we” is just a way of staying sane while living most of my life alone. It was a weird thing to notice, that I use “we” when thinking. Sort of like having an imaginary friend without the crazy of actually imagining one.

§

There is also something of a cast of characters in my head, although I recognize them as puppets I operate. People, even fictional characters, I’ve come to know well exist as mental models that allow me to predict what (I imagine) they might say.

Some, call them manifestations of my superego, act as advisors. For instance, there’s one part of me that acts as my “shrink” — it asks tough questions and doesn’t take excuses for answers. Another part of me reflects the kind of views my mom used to take, both the kind ones and the fearful ones.

[I don’t go so far as to unplug my toaster when not using it, but I can’t bring myself to throw a spent match into the trash (even if held under running water) until it’s sat out in a safe place, like an ash tray, for several hours. That’s my mom in me.]

I think we all have multiple actors in our head — various versions of ourselves that percolate to the surface of our mental tar pits when needed. Or when least expected in some cases.

We all have our Johari Window. The arc of an intentional life involves reducing the side of the self we don’t know.

§

Final thoughts:

Do people who read a lot develop a stronger inner voice? What about people who write a lot? I’ve noticed that some who claim no inner voice also say they don’t read much, especially fiction. That makes sense to me, and I’d think those with aphantasia would find reading fiction even harder.

When I read, I don’t hear my usual inner voice, but I do seem to imagine and hear the characters, at least somewhat. If I become too aware of my reading voice, it tends to take me out of the story. That’s one place I don’t want to hear myself!

Stay voiced, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

#### 40 responses to “Inner Voice”

• Wyrd Smythe

Below are some interesting video clips featuring people who say they have no inner speech. One of them also has aphantasia.

• Paul Torek

I came away from your discussion thinking that I’d rather take people at their word unless considerable evidence piles up against it. The Neuroscience News article seems to show that people’s self-description generally does fit the behavior that one would expect if their thought processes really do work the way they say.

• Wyrd Smythe

I generally agree our consciousness is incorrigible (in so many ways) and unified. The evidence has shown that studies based on self-reporting can be unreliable. I think such studies face four obstacles:

Definition. Gotta define what’s meant. (It seems easier to test for the mind’s eye. The line between thinking and inner speech seems fuzzy.) Interpretation. Even with a definition, people interpret it per their own understanding and assumptions. What one person sees as just thinking, another might interpret as inner speech. Self-awareness. The Camus quote is on point because many don’t spend much energy on self-reflection and self-analysis. We all have the unseen self half of our Johari Window, but its size varies among individuals. Articulation. Even with a good definition and self-awareness, reporting on our inner experience requires the ability to articulate them, and this varies among individuals, too.

If telepathy worked, or I had a mind-reading machine, and I could share your thoughts, I could indeed take them as 100% accurate. But there are so many translation points between your thoughts and mine … your ability to know, understand, and express them; my ability to hear, interpret, and understand them … the famous phrase about the cup and the lip was never more apt.

I’m reminded of a favorite Bruce Cockburn lyric: “Those who know don’t have the words to tell; And the ones with the words don’t know too well.”

• Paul Torek

Yes, I agree that these four obstacles exist. I don’t take self-report to be decisive, but it deserves some weight. So far, the Neuroscience News piece seems overall to strengthen the credibility of self-reports about thinking styles.

In attempting to improve our definition and interpretation, perhaps we should use the phrase “inner verbiage” rather than “inner speech”? The latter might lead Joe Six-pack to think we’re talking about audio hallucinations. But I think you want to suggest that a congenitally deaf person who uses American Sign Language still has an inner monologue, in the intended sense.

• Wyrd Smythe

Oh, I quite agree self-reporting deserves weight; no question about that. I’ve never suggested ignoring it, just questioning it and understanding its unreliability. My sister, for instance, is utterly convinced she saw our dead mother appear in her bedroom one night about a week after our mom died.

If you’re trying to say these reports indicate people really do have different thinking styles, I quite agree with that, too. I don’t think the differences are as radical as some want to believe (tests show no sign that people have “different learning styles” for instance), but they absolutely exist. I know I’m a more visual thinker than many, but not nearly as much as my artist friends.

I’m not sure “verbiage” is much better than “speech” although I think I can see what you’re going for. I’ve always used the term “inner voice” — which is still problematic, but potentially includes the deaf. (It would be very interesting to study inner voice in the congenitally deaf.) As you say, the problem is the perception of actual voices in the head — which would be crazy, right? — or something more like what we hear when others speak, a voice not ours. (That’s why the bicameral mind thing caught my eye.)

• Paul Torek

The voice in my head tells me I’m not crazy. But yeah, I do see that interpretation of “inner voice” as a communication hazard.

Not only do different people have different thinking styles, but their self-report of thinking style has pretty reliable counterparts in their measured behavior.

• Wyrd Smythe

That doesn’t surprise me at all. I can see that as a big part of digging into their self-reporting. Even just rigorous questioning by a skilled interviewer can dig up riches.

I don’t know if you watched any of the videos, but some researchers have used what they call DES (Descriptive Experience Sampling) where subjects carry a beeper that goes off randomly at times during the day. When it does, the subject writes down what they were thinking about at that moment. It’s studies like these that have surprised subjects who initially thought their inner voice was always going or who thought they didn’t have one at all. Most people seem to vary their modes over time, but it took analysis to uncover that.

• Paul Torek

I didn’t watch all the videos. But I’ve heard of the beeper trick before, from Eric Schwitzgebel. Cool idea.

• Wyrd Smythe

Think of the poor researchers who study animals and don’t even have self-reporting — only behaviors! Per your original point, our human ability to communicate our state is a huge head start. In fact, it’s kind of symbolic of the “Sebald gulf” between animals and humans.

• Wyrd Smythe

I think the gal on the left might be an example of someone misinterpreting, or maybe not being aware of, their inner voice. Her interviewing friend (right), likewise, might be surprised to find she doesn’t constantly have a monolog going.

• Wyrd Smythe

Same guy did a later video interviewing two researchers:

• Wyrd Smythe

This guy is so blown away by the idea of lacking an inner voice, that he actually set up an interview with two researchers, one of whom has been studying inner speech for decades.

It’s the feedback from those researchers that urges caution in our assumptions about inner speech.

• Wyrd Smythe

Here again is someone who is articulate and intelligent claiming they have no inner voice. But here again I sense a possible lack of awareness or a possible misinterpretation.

It would be interesting to have all these folks studied by researchers familiar with how to go about trying to uncover our real thought processes.

• Wyrd Smythe

He raises a question that I think is a good example of why we need really good math teachers. The question involves a simple expression, such as:

$\displaystyle{1}+{x}={2}$

And asks, ‘Why X? Why not a question mark or anything else?’

He’s absolutely right, it could be anything else (including punctuation marks). It’s X pretty strictly because of tradition. Punctuation marks tend to be used for other things, so we use letters for unknown or changing values (and for constants, which probably confuses matters). Single letters make things brief and clear (which this guy should like given his expressed desire for pure content).

I feel as if he’d be a happier person if someone would explain that to him. 🙂

• Wyrd Smythe

All the others seem okay with how their mind works, but this gal has the same feelings of being broken that a buddy of mine did when he found out he was colorblind… and then had all over again when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s. Both created a tiny but permanent notion in his head that he was “broken” — something he’s struggled with ever since.

So I feel for her and hope she figures out that humans come in a wide variety of styles and modes. The downside of all this analysis and understanding is the feelings of exclusion it can create. It’s important to realize how diverse humanity really is.

• Wyrd Smythe

Final final thoughts:

There are many ways consciousness might work. People come in a wide variety of styles and modes. There is a common belief that some are “visual” while others are “textual.” Studies indicate there’s no such thing as “learning styles” in these modes, but perhaps our general thinking can lean towards those modes.

Consider, for example, mathematicians or painters — especially the gifted ones, the natural talents. Do they think in terms beyond or outside language? I sometimes get that with music or programming — mental concepts beyond words. Things that are impossible to fully describe.

I also wonder about the role of training and experience. Music and math are good examples. There are prodigies with talent and hard workers with acquired skill — do they think similarly or differently? Does gaining skill move one towards different modes of thought?

• lorijcollins, I Kissed a Dog and I Liked It

My husband says some of the nicest things to me or makes some of the best shows of understanding and apology when I am all alone in the car commuting to/from work. Yep.

• Philosopher Eric

Interesting topic. The videos gave me a better sense of what’s going on here. We are indeed a highly varied species. I can see how funky traits like being a language speaker that has no or a restricted ability to think by means of words, could provide useful species diversity. Same with an inability to mentally conceive images when they aren’t visually present.

Apparently I’m an extremely lingual thinker like you Wyrd, and yet most conscious life seems to function pretty well without being lingual. A human without language should still think, though perhaps a bit more like some of these subjects do. Language is such a powerful tool that it probably closes us off to other modes of thought somewhat like a blind person will develop others ways of sensing their world.

I always enjoy lessons from Hank Green. His discussions on psychology generally suggest to me how important it will be for the field to gain a broad working model of our nature that should thus provide a better foundation from which to approach questions like this. So given this void it makes sense to me that psychologists seem not to be making much progress here so far.

• Wyrd Smythe

Indeed, all points of view contribute something to the whole. Lots of data points are good. The more the merrier! I agree the variety is valuable. It certainly makes life more interesting.

I do seem heavily text-based, but I’m fairly visual, too. I loved working with light and cameras and editing, and I still do a lot of CGI and 3D design. (A lot of the graphics on this blog I did myself.) That said, language is a key distinguishing trait between us and other conscious life. It allows so many things, shared experiences, retained knowledge, great stories,…

Obviously the subjects claiming no inner voice use language and are fully capable of reading and writing. The issue is whether one hears oneself, and that’s a difficult notion to define. I really do think some of this is based on what people think about it. Those DES tests seem to compress the range of experience somewhat. We differ, but our descriptions of how we differ may amplify our sense of how much.

Humans are so varied that general models are tough. We all have specific mental models of people we know well, but what kind of generic “person” model is even possible? They call sociology and psychology “soft” sciences — implying they’re somehow easier. They’re actually way harder because there are so many variables involved with individuals. The “hard” sciences are way easier when it comes to variables.

• Philosopher Eric

Yeah there should be definitional discrepancies here though the personal accounts that you’ve presented do seem genuine to me. At the moment I’m chalking this one up as some sort of difference in how people generally think. I can speak with reasonable spontaneity when required, so I get the idea. Indeed, lots of people need to be spontaneous for their occupations, such as for sales. That’s definitely not my own skill set though I certainly appreciate the ability of some to subtly work things to their advantage on the go. Indeed, we should try to guard ourselves from such manipulation.

I get that it’s widely believed that our soft sciences are soft because they deal with stuff that is too complex to effectively reduce. In the following comment nine days ago Eric Schwitzgebel told me that as well. https://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/2021/09/does-heart-revolt-at-evil-lynching-of.html?showComment=1633625904513&m=0#c6768128704418919134

It’s a position that I don’t yet accept for a couple of reasons though. Observe that if soft scientists are having problems figuring things out in their fields, it should be in their personal interests to say “Yeah but that’s merely because the domains that we study are far more complex than others’.” Wouldn’t they tend to say that even if they’d actually done a bad job? Furthermore these fields seem to be hoping that a widely documented reproducibility crisis will simply blow over. Shouldn’t physics have once seemed too complex for us to grasp as well? And now after all sorts of progress has been made there’s a hindsight perspective that physics is relatively simple. Of course hindsight is 20/20.

I doubt that soft sciences are soft because they’re more complex than physics, chemistry, biology, and so on, but rather because this is the unique element of nature associated with ourselves rather than with something else. How might something which is inherently subjective explore itself with a reasonable level of objectively? That this issue I suspect. Unlike the rest it could be that this stuff is too personal for general biases to not play a prominent role. Essentially there might be elements of our nature that we’d rather not acknowledge. Science should progressively prevail however, though in these efforts it should be important to formally grasp what’s wrong.

• Wyrd Smythe

I have no doubt those personal accounts are genuine, but human introspection and reporting on that introspection are notoriously unreliable. One person might consider their thoughts inner speech whereas another person might not. They might expect that inner speech is more akin to what they hear when they listen to someone else actually speaking. They might not identify their inner thoughts as “inner speech.”

I think any time we’re “in the moment” we’re free of inner speech. At least it’s that way for me. Sports and playing music are two examples that quiet my inner voice. Dancing is another. Or singing. OTOH, walking or driving I tend to be doing a lot of conscious thinking. (Often writing blog posts in my head.)

“Wouldn’t they tend to say that even if they’d actually done a bad job? Furthermore these fields seem to be hoping that a widely documented reproducibility crisis will simply blow over.”

That miscreants abuse a system doesn’t always reflect on the system. Sure some might try to excuse bad performance with the claim the problem was too hard, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us need to take them as anything but sour grapes whiners. Fie on them I say! 😉

I think the reproducibility crisis speaks to the difficulties involved in these sciences. I continue to believe the problem is the vast number of variables involved. And since natural systems are involved, frequently non-linear chaotic mathematics is also involved. Accurate prediction of chaotic systems with so many variables can be impossible. Consider weather prediction. We can generally predict a day or several, but imagine trying to predict whether it will rain one year from now. It’s impossible to get enough data points, and even if we somehow could, chaos would quickly make the prediction worthless. (In fact, it was in weather simulations that chaos was first discovered by Lorentz.)

Basic physics can enter that same chaotic domain and be just as intractable. Newton’s orbital mechanics, for example, become intractable when more than two bodies are involved. As with the weather, we can only approximate orbits.

It’s true that studying consciousness is a challenge because it’s the only thing we study from the inside as well as the outside, but the difficulty with the “soft” sciences in general is mostly one of huge numbers of variables and non-linear chaotic math. It’s all but impossible to come up with viable mathematical theories. Just think how badly people want mathematics to understand financial markets, how much money would be invested in figuring that out, but the problem truly is intractable — it may never be solved because it may not be solvable.

• Philosopher Eric

Granted in general Wyrd, but let me clarify what I mean by hard versus soft science. It’s not really about effective predictions where tiny discrepancies in current measurements, as well as imperfect models, should render long term calculations ridiculous. You’ve already noted this to be problematic even in harder forms of science so that couldn’t be it alone. Instead it’s about having effective models of how things work in a given field at all. Is psychology, psychiatry, sociology, political science, cognitive science and so on, more complex than even human biology (which we grasp tentatively but are still able to do so well enough to transplant the lungs of one person to another)? So maybe it’s not exactly complexity that hinders us in soft sciences, but rather that this concerns the single element of reality that actually is us. It could be that we’ve been too biased to objectively believe the constant flow of evidence that we naturally have about ourselves. Thus a non-human observer with our cognitive capacity might effectively model us psychologically (if it doesn’t also carry our biases about ourselves I suppose). Furthermore even if I’m wrong, why not hold out hope rather than concede eternal softness in these unfortunately too complex to model fields?

So what basic trait of ourselves might we naturally be encouraged to not believe about ourselves? It could be that personal happiness constitutes the essential value of existing, which seems contrary with the social tool of morality that naturally encourage us to put the welfare of others ahead of ourselves. It could be that science will need to explore these fields just as amorally as they explore harder varieties.

• Wyrd Smythe

Let me wind this back to what I said originally: that so-called “soft” sciences are more difficult than so-called “hard” sciences because so many variable are involved in the former. (In this case “soft” means “fuzzy,” not “easy,” and “hard” kinda means “in focus, or sharp,” not “difficult.” The words make it easy to think “soft” sciences are easy and “hard” ones are difficult.) I was just responding to your lament about the lack of progress.

We do agree that lack is due to inadequate models and, I believe, further agree we can’t create better ones because we don’t understand things well enough.

I think we disagree on the main reason for lacking understanding. I’ll agree subjectivity can make it harder, but I’m afraid I continue to hold that the primary obstacle is that these models have an overwhelming number of degrees of freedom. Subjectivity we can try to compensate for or do something about — science always attempts to remove subjectivity. But the vast number of dimensions involved in these models makes “soft” sciences objectively formidable. The problem is factual.

As an example, a model with, say, eight orthogonal yes-no facts has an eight-dimensional space with just 256 possible states. But a model with, say, 100 such dimensions has 1,​267,​650,​600,​228,​229,​401,​496,​703,​205,​376 states. And 100 dimensions is peanuts compared to the social and psychological models we’re discussing. Even at just 1000 dimensions (of just yes-no facts) the number of states has 302 digits:

10,​715,​086,​071,​862,​673,​209,​484,​250,​490,​600,​018,​105,​614,​048,​117,​055,​336,​074,​437,​503,​883,​703,​510,​511,​249,​361,​224,​931,​983,​788,​156,​958,​581,​275,​946,​729,​175,​531,​468,​251,​871,​452,​856,​923,​140,​435,​984,​577,​574,​698,​574,​803,​934,​567,​774,​824,​230,​985,​421,​074,​605,​062,​371,​141,​877,​954,​182,​153,​046,​474,​983,​581,​941,​267,​398,​767,​559,​165,​543,​946,​077,​062,​914,​571,​196,​477,​686,​542,​167,​660,​429,​831,​652,​624,​386,​837,​205,​668,​069,​376

Managing models with that many states… is a challenge.

(Wouldn’t requiring a non-human observer make creating models hopeless? At least until aliens arrive? Or are you suggesting a powerful AI?)

OTOH, we’re having some luck with ANNs trained to figure out chaotic complex models “from the top down” so to speak. Keep in mind, I said the problem is difficult, not impossible!

• Wyrd Smythe

Look at it this way: Quantum mechanics is a science that truly befuddles us. We have deeply tested very useful math theories for QM, but no understanding of what they mean physically. So we have many competing interpretations of QM, but no idea what any of it means. Yet we have very precise and useful models. So our lack of understanding hasn’t prohibited those models or blocked progress.

In contrast we don’t even have good models or math in the “soft” sciences even though they all have direct correlation with physical reality. Why not? Because those models have so many degrees of freedom. QM models don’t.

The caveat takes us back to where we began: human self-awareness and self-reporting are very unreliable, so science that’s specifically and only about subjective experience (such as whether we have inner speech and what its nature is) does face an extra challenge because data collection is so unreliable. In that case, yeah, the subjectivity is an issue. (But consciousness is only one of the “soft” sciences.)

• SelfAwarePatterns

When I was young, I occasionally wondered if anyone else had an inner monologue going on, or if I was just weird. I don’t know if reading strengthens that voice, but in my case it was what let me know that it’s normal. For someone who doesn’t read much, I wonder if the way the question is asked has any effect on the response stats.

I’ll have to try watching some of the videos when I get a chance. I wonder if anyone’s put subjects who say they don’t have an inner voice in an fMRI and seen if Broca and/or Wernicke’s area lights up. There have been people with injury to those areas. Damage to Wernicke’s in particular tends to destroy language comprehension. It’s hard to imagine those patients retain any inner voice.

Since I began studying the mind, one thing I’ve noticed is I can sometimes go a while without any inner voice, or at least without perceiving it, but it’s usually when I’m doing something physical that requires concentration. Any kind of reading usually includes the voice. But the stretches without it incline me to doubt theories which say consciousness requires it.

I once took a speed reading class which encouraged us to break the habit of using the inner voice when reading. I tried it and decided it wasn’t for me. Too much of my enjoyment of reading involves that inner voice. I can see how someone who might not have it wouldn’t see reading as a pleasurable experience.

I do frequently use the “we” in my inner monologue, along the lines of, “Ok, we’ll try doing this, but if it doesn’t work we can always try that.” So I suspect it’s fairly common.

• Wyrd Smythe

I do think the way the question is asked has a great deal to do with it. The one video that interviews the two researchers is interesting in how both speak of the difficulty of parsing the internal experience of others — of the difficulty we may have parsing our own thoughts, especially if it’s not a skill we’ve practiced. We don’t walk around all day thinking about what we’re thinking about.

The other videos are all personal anecdote, and illustrate the issues the researchers talked about. They’re interesting, but more rigor might change their own thinking about things. Or not. They do seem to have some interesting traits in common. They seem not to be readers, especially not of fiction, and when they do read they seem to intentionally skip all the “irrelevant” parts and go for key words.

Very much like speed reading, I thought (and something I never cared for, either).

Those who claim no inner voice often do show evidence of one, but equally interesting is that those who claim constant inner voice also turn out to be wrong. It varies a lot in any individual. Sometimes that voice is loud, other times essentially silent.

Reading, watching a movie or TV show, listening to music, if I’m totally into it, there’s no inner voice, just pure experience. In fact, unless I’m deliberately analyzing something, that inner voice is a distraction. For instance, if my own reading voice becomes too noticeable to me, I have to take a break and do something else.

I’m not sure our two data points imply anything fairly common… We’re outliers on many counts! 😉

I do pretty much figure the “we” is, as you suggest, editorial, but it startled me a bit when I first noticed it many years ago. Why “we”? It might be something we pick up from reading text that uses it, but I can’t help but wonder if it helps make a single life less lonely. It would be interesting to survey introverts and extroverts and singles and couples. (I don’t have any sense that it refers to there being more than just me inside my head. I am not legion!)

• Anonymole

Damn, that’s a lot of words to read…

“I’m fine alone.” Maybe that’s the key to a robust inner …logue.

How can anyone ask a question of anyone else without having already asked that question in their head? Who do they think they asked that first question to? “Will she mind if I eat that last piece of cake? I know I shouldn’t. But the first three were so delicious.”

• Wyrd Smythe

Sorry! I’m nothing if not verbose.

I think we do rehearse a lot of things in our head, but think about sitting having a conversation. Doesn’t the dialog sometimes just flow responsively, without rehearsing? We just speak as the words come to us.

(And I really do think a lot of this has to do with definition, interpretation, and how used to self-reflection a person may be.)

• Anonymole

That spectrum you spoke of. Everyone does it, but to what degree?

I have to think that shit-for-brains Drumpf had zero capacity for introspection. His 4 year-old’s brain piped directly to his fleshy, disgusting mouth-parts.

• Wyrd Smythe

Yes, exactly. Individuals vary in most traits, sometimes considerably. Height, hair color, strength, speed, etc. It’s hardly surprising we’d vary a lot in our brains and minds, too.

I suspect the spectrum of inner voice is orthogonal to the spectrum of general intelligence. I tend to think there might be a correlation between intellect and inner voice, but that could be, at least in part, due to there being a general correlation between intellectual topics and language.

As you suggested before, one key might be the comfort level of being alone for extended periods. Ever since cell phones became common I’ve noticed how many people seem unwilling to walk somewhere or shop without a cell phone glued to their ear. I’ve wondered if some people are uncomfortable alone inside their own heads. Maybe it seems really empty in there. I enjoy the inside of my head — I’ve got the furniture arranged just how I like it, and the fridge is well stocked with good beers. 😎

• Wyrd Smythe

This maybe kinda got lost, but my actual main point was that when I first noticed it, it sort of spooked me a bit that my inner voice seems so often to be addressing the community in my head. As mentioned, I fully aware “they” are all me, but it struck me as weird that I also seem fully aware of the multitude of distinct “actors” that comprise my mind.

I was sort of hoping someone would say, yeah, I totally know what you mean, me too!

• Wyrd Smythe

Here’s another interesting video:

On thing that caught my attention in this one is the notion that imagining yelling versus imagining whispering doesn’t actually result in a volume change in your inner voice. It’s more a memory of what yelling or whispering sounds like.

• Wyrd Smythe

Here’s yet another video…

(Which I haven’t watched, yet. I’m just stashing it here for later.)