My day was completely ruined yesterday when I stumbled upon a fun fact that absolutely obliterated my mind. I saw this tweet yesterday that said that not everyone has an internal monologue in their head. 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, so I did not believe that it could be true at that time.
Literally the first person I asked was a classmate of mine who said that she can not “hear” her voice in her mind. I asked her if she could have a conversation with herself in her head and she looked at me funny like I was the weird one in this situation. So I began to become more intrigued. Most people I asked said that they have this internal monologue that is running rampant throughout the day. However, every once in a while, someone would say that they don’t experience this.
My life began to slowly spiral out of control with millions of questions. How do they get through the day? How do they read? How do they make decisions between choice A and choice B? My friend described it as “concept maps” that she sees in her brain. Another friend says that she literally sees the words in her head if she is trying to think about something. I was taking ibuprofen at this point in the day because my brain was literally unable to comprehend this revelation. How have I made it 25 years in life without realizing that people don’t think like me?
I posted a poll on instagram to get a more accurate assessment of the situation. Currently 91 people have responded that they have an internal monologue and 18 people reported that they do not have this. I began asking those people questions about the things that they experience and it is quite different from the majority.
I would tell them that I could look at myself in the mirror and have a full blown telepathic conversation with myself without opening my mouth and they responded as if I had schizophrenia. One person even mentioned that when they do voice overs in movies of people’s thoughts, they “wished that it was real.”
And to their surprise, they did not know that the majority of people do in fact experience that echoey voice in their head that is portrayed in TV and film. Another person said that if they tried to have a conversation with themselves in the mirror, they would have to speak out loud because they can’t physically do it inside of their mind.
Some people communicate with a “God” everyday, others are alone in their heads. Mileage varies.
My reaction to that title can be rendered in language as – “Wait. People actually have internal monologues? Those aren’t just a cheesy artistic convention used to concretize the welter of pre-verbal feelings and images and maps bubbling in peoples’ brains?”
Apparently not. I’m what I have now learned to call a quiet-mind. I don’t have an internal narrator constantly expressing my thinking in language; in shorthand, I’m not a head-voice person. …
Instead, my thought forms are a jumble of words, images, and things like diagrams (a commenter on Instapundit spoke of “concept maps” and yeah, a lot of it is like that). To speak or write I have to down-sample this flood of pre-verbal stuff into language, a process I am not normally aware of except as an occasional vague and uneasy sense of how much I have thrown away. …
Learning that other people mostly hang out at (3), with a constant internal monologue…this is to me unutterably bizarre. A day later I’m still having trouble actually believing it. But I’ve been talking with wife and friends, and the evidence is overwhelming that it’s true. …
A friend reports Richard Feynman observing that ‘You don’t describe the shape of a camshaft to yourself.” No; you visualize a camshaft, then work with that visualization in your head. Well, if you can – some people can’t. I therefore dub the pre-verbal level “camshaft thinking.” …
For me there are actually three levels: (1) the roaring flood of free association, which I normally don’t observe; (2) the filtered pre-verbal stream of consciousness, mostly camshaft thinking, that is my normal experience of self, and (3) narratized head-voice when I’m writing or thinking about what to say to other people.
Jordan Peterson reckons the Genesis stories in the Bible are a story of the coming of modern consciousness to humanity. If it’s that recent, it cannot be genetic, or in our hardware. So it is learned way of organizing our thoughts, transmitted by culture, like software. There will therefore be a range of experiences or arrangements — so the above makes a lot of sense.