Speaking Is Hearing

We modern people are used to hearing voices in our heads. This is taken as normal. The inner self that speaks inwardly arises in the individual hearing that self speak. Speaking is hearing. And hearing is authorization, what elicits a response and gives language psychological force and social persuasion.

When someone catches us muttering, we can feel exposed and often embarrassed. Usually, we didn’t even realize we were muttering, until someone asked us what we said or who we were talking to. Well, we were speaking to ourselves or rather one of our selves was speaking to us. It was a private dialogue and someone eavesdropping on us catches off guard.

This muttering is the adult version of what Lev Vygotsky called private speech. It’s what children do in talking to themselves before they learn to internalize it. This private speech is social in nature, even though it only involves the individual. This is because it develops from learning language from parents speaking to them. So, the child learns to talk to themselves in the way their parents talked to them.

The internalization of this is imperfect and incomplete. This is why we can fall back on spoken private speech, in helping to hear ouselves think. But none of this necessarily happens consciously. Neither the speaker nor listener in this self/selves-dialogue typically involves the ego-mind. It’s other parts of ourselves that are talking to one another and it mostly happens on automatic pilot.

We observed a related phenomenon in others. One person on multiple occasions was heard muttering when they didn’t think anyone else was listening, but it wasn’t clear that they were consciously listening either. The muttering was of a specific kind, that of echolalia. In each incident, the person had just left a conversation and, while walking away, they repeated what they just said. It’s as if the dialogue was somehow continuing or replaying.

The muttering might have only been one side of a dialogue going on. But as an outsider, we were only privy to the outwardly spoken voice. Maybe the muttering was a response to a comment or question we did not hear. What was said in the prior conversation with another human was then being inwardly conveyed to some part of the self. Not all of the inner selves were present and needed to know what was said. Or something like that.

There is ongoing communication and translation between the inner and outer worlds. It’s amusing, partly because it’s so common. We all do such things, usually without realizing it, until someone catches us and forces us to take notice. But even then, we quickly rationalize our odd verbal behavior and just as quickly forget it again, as we slip back into our narrative of a single coherent egoic consciousness.

* * *

“What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”
~ Matthew 10:27

“There are almost always words inside my head. In fact, I’ve asked people I live with to not turn on the radio in the morning. When they asked why, they thought my answer was weird: because it’s louder than the voice in my head and I can’t perform my morning routine without that voice.”
~ Carla

“We are familiar with the idea of ‘inner speech’ as developed by Lev Vygotsky (curiously unused by Jaynes). It is part of our consciousness that we ‘talk to ourselves’, urging ourselves to do or not to do something, hearing what we have to say. One of the huge benefits of this linguistic consciousness, Jaynes speculates, is that our ancestors became capable of sustained work over time.”
~Ciarán Benson, The Cultural Psychology of Self

“In the truly bicameral period, while bicameral individuals heard the voices of gods and ancestors, no supernatural entity speaks through a mortal’s mouth (though given neurocultural plasticity, exceptions were possible). Bicameral hallucinations were organized and heard from the right hemisphere. But in possession, what is spoken is left hemispheric speech (the left hemisphere’s Broca area) but controlled or under the guidance of the right hemisphere’s Wericke’s area). Like modern practitioners of spirit possession, a prophet would often not be aware of the divine message coming from his or her mouth (Jaynes, 1976; 353). The OT prophets may have been engaing in  “hallucinatory echolalia.” Echolalia is the phenomenon that occurs when an individual involuntarily repeats, parrot-like, the words of others. The causes of this disorder are vareied. For individuals who were possessed, whether by Yahweh or another supernatural entity, this phenomenon becomes halluncinatory echolalia in which a person is compelled to repeat out loud the voices of the entity that is speaking to him or her.”
~Brian J. McVeigh, The Psychology of the Bible

The Spell of Inner Speech
Who are we hearing and talking to?
Reading Voices Into Our Minds

8 thoughts on “Speaking Is Hearing

  1. What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am. Who am I, then? The one who sees that. ~ Eckhart Tolle

    About these “bicameral hallucinations,” though…. Are we so sure they’re hallucinations? We’re so quick so classify everything that falls outside what we consider “normal” experience or “normal control,” e.g. synesthesia, “hallucination” and/or a “disorder” in the West.

    I stumbled across a short, somewhat comical film the other day, when I was actually looking for something else, about a woman with a soundtrack accompanying her life having trouble connecting with others. But it got me thinking about paracusia (quite different, perhaps, from the “voice in your head” of which you write) and whether or not it is as “abnormal” as we tend to think. What if such phenomena are actually representative of latent and largely untapped human potentials?

    Yes, I’m weird.

      • Thanks for sharing. That was really awesome and watching it was a great way to start off the day. It put me in a good mood. I love the idea of entirely other ways of experiencing life, being in the world, and relating to others.

        That short film reminds of a tv series from this past year, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. Have you seen it?

        The show is mostly a light comedy, but it’s fairly well done and amusng at tmes. The main character can hear other people’s thoughts but hears them as songs while seeing them as choreographed dances.

    • No, I can’t claim to be sure of many such things. That isn’t necessarily how I think about things. You might notice that I usally don’t refer to voice-hearing as ‘hallucinations’, not that I’m absolutely opposed to using the word. But I might have a less typical notion of hallucinations as particularly vivid imagination.

      The thing is imagination is always inseparable from perception. Everything we experience is, in a sense, being hallucinated. Our minds take information and shape it according to expectations, past experience, the language we use, metaphorical frames, etc. What results is a result of our imagination. As there is no single coherent self, there is no single coherent world.

      We are on the same page in this ‘weird’ attitude. My tendency is to always see everything about humanity and the world as potential. This is largely because of my New Thought upbringing. My bias is to assume there is immense, maybe infinite, potential until proven otherwise. That radical sense of experienced reality was, of course, also shaped by taking psychedelics.

      I’ve gone so far as to argue that the the drugs we use has been a determing factor of the kind of society we have. Our present modern civilization has been built on highly addictive drugs, primarily stimulants. Some have speculated that the Enlightenment was fueled by coffee, tea, tobacco, and sugar. Suddenly people were able to stay hyper-focused for long periods of time, including staying up late reading and working.

      It wasn’t merely what kind of drugs that became dominant but what they replaced. There is evidence that not many centuries ago psychedelics were regularly being used in Europe. In the early 1800s, someone suggested that tea replacing bear as the favorite English drink was the cause of the fairies disappearing. And in a discussion about this, there was a comment that beer at the time sometimes contained mildly psychedelic herbs.

      That was even more true of tribal societies. The use of psychedelics used to be highly common among populations all over the world. Even wild animals will partake of plant psychedelics. In some traditional societies, magic mushrooms would be given to hunting dogs to incresae the acuity of their senses.

      Some psychedelics, by the way, have an anti-addictive property. People have taken ayahuasca and had their addictions disappear. It’s as if it resets the brain. Also, psychedelics loosen psychic boundaries, opposite of how addictive stimulants tighten and harden them. I suspect the hyper-individualistic ego mind would not be possible without such rigid boundaries.

      • Good thoughts to ponder.

        You might notice that I usually don’t refer to voice-hearing as ‘hallucinations’

        So I noticed. McVeigh, on the other hand, does so consistently as per quotations included in the post itself. Would that be a correct assessment?

        I cannot, unfortunately, continue working my way through an ever-growing recommended reading list for the time being. I’ve no way to get my hands on the books themselves at the moment. It seems that McVeigh has as much a proclivity to proclaim his own opinions as irrefutable truths as do most of us today. Considering whether or not I should bother adding this author’s name to the (short) list of authors I find most worthy of attention.

        • I doubt you’d like McVeigh. He was Jaynes’ student and he has pursued Jaynesian scholarship within academia. His writings aren’t intended for the casual reader. He isn’t my favorite of the Jaynesian thinkers as his stuff is a bit dry. But he does bring together a lot of good info, even if he doesn’t always have as much insight as I’d prefer. Besides, I’ll read almost anything about or related to Jaynes’ theory.

          The other thing about McVeigh is that he is more conventional than I am. He doesn’t appear to be studying for any practical application or personal reason. It’s simply academic work. I see great radical potential within Jaynesian thought, but I have yet to come across a Jaynesian scholar who seems to fully appreciate this. I find that peculiar as the radicalism seems obvious to me.

          I was reading some of the discussions between Jaynes and McVeigh. They were published as a book by McVeigh. In it, the two of them were talking about the hope that this knowledge could in the future help people shore up their sense of individuality. I’m of the opposite bent, as informed by psychedelics and Eastern religion, in that I want to loosen or maybe even dismantle individuality as we know it or somehow shift it into something else entirely.

          • I want to loosen or maybe even dismantle individuality as we know it or somehow shift it into something else entirely.

            I get the sense that’s already happening. Peterson, et al., obviously have a very modern (i.e. atomistic) idea of individuality just as obviously predicated on a derivative of the philosophy of individualism, i.e. “rugged individualism” or the individual as a completely self-contained entity separate from everything else. What Jung termed individuation, however, is a very different concept that is finally beginning to see the light of day once again. Peterson doesn’t understand Jung’s concept of the individual any more than he understands Nietzsche because his vision is clouded with the atomistic idea. If he would drop that idea, his in-sight might clear up.

            It doesn’t help that we’re all using the same language in reference to oftentimes wildly different ideas and concepts. :/ I suppose we’ll see how it goes in the case of “individuality.”

    • https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/christian-approach-to-psychedelics/
      Michael Pollan:

      “The model suggests that our perceptions of the world offer us not a literal transcription of reality but rather a seamless illusion woven from both the data of our senses and the models in our memories. Normal waking consciousness feels perfectly transparent, and yet it is less a window on reality than the product of our imaginations — a kind of controlled hallucination.”

      https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/truth-and-subjectivity-jungle-gods/
      Daniel Everett:

      “Even I could tell that there was nothing on that white, sandy beach no more than one hundred yards away. And yet as certain as I was about this, the Pirahas were equally certain that there was something there. Maybe there had been something there that I missed seeing, but they insisted that what they were seeing, Xigagai, was still there.His young daughter came out to have a look, and like her father, saw nothing.

      “What had I just witnessed? Over the more than two decades since that summer morning, I have tried to come to grips with the significance of how two cultures, my European-based culture and the Pirahas culture, could see reality so differently. I could never have proved to the Pirahas that the beach was empty. Nor could they have convinced me that there was anything, much less a spirit, on it.

      “As a scientist, objectivity is one of my most deeply held values. If we could just try harder, I once thought, surely we could each see the world as others see it and learn to respect one another’s views more readily. But as I learned from the Pirahas, our expectations, our culture, and our experiences can render even perceptions of the environment nearly incommensurable cross-culturally.”

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