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.

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“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

Battle of Voices of Authorization in the World and in Ourselves

New Feelings: Podcast Passivity
by Suzannah Showler

My concern is that on some level, I’m prone to mistake any voice that pours so convincingly into my brain for my own. And maybe it’s not even a mistake, per se, so much as a calculated strategy on the part of my ego to maintain its primacy, targeting and claiming any foreign object that would stray so far into the inner-sanctum of my consciousness. Whether the medium is insidious, my mind a greedy assimilation machine, or both, it seems that at least some of the time, podcasts don’t just drown out my inner-monologue — they actually overwrite it. When I listen to a podcast, I think some part of me believes I’m only hearing myself think.

Twentieth-century critics worried about this, too. Writing sometime around the late 1930s, Theodore Adorno theorized that a solitary listener under the influence of radio is vulnerable to persuasion by an anonymous authority. He writes: “The deeper this [radio] voice is involved within his own privacy, the more it appears to pour out of the cells of his more intimate life; the more he gets the impression that his own cupboard, his own photography, his own bedroom speaks to him in a personal way, devoid of the intermediary stage of the printed words; the more perfectly he is ready to accept wholesale whatever he hears. It is just this privacy which fosters the authority of the radio voice and helps to hide it by making it no longer appear to come from outside.”

I’ll admit that I have occasionally been gripped by false memories as a result of podcasts — been briefly sure that I’d seen a TV show I’d never watched, or convinced that it was a friend, not a professional producer, who told me some great anecdote. But on the whole, my concern is less that I am being brainwashed and more that I’m indulging in something deeply avoidant: filling my head with ideas without actually having to do the messy, repetitive, boring, or anxious work of making meaning for myself. It’s like downloading a prefabbed stream of consciousness and then insisting it’s DIY. The effect is twofold: a podcast distracts me from the tedium of being alone with myself, while also convincingly building a rich, highly-produced version of my inner life. Of course that’s addictive — it’s one of the most effective answers to loneliness and self-importance I can imagine.

Being Your Selves: Identity R&D on alt Twitter
by Aaron Z. Lewis

Digital masks are making the static and immortal soul of the Renaissance seem increasingly out of touch. In an environment of info overload, it’s easy to lose track of where “my” ideas come from. My brain is filled with free-floating thoughts that are totally untethered from the humans who came up with them. I speak and think in memes — a language that’s more like the anonymous manuscript culture of medieval times than the individualist Renaissance era. Everything is a remix, including our identities. We wear our brains outside of our skulls and our nerves outside our skin. We walk around with other people’s voices in our heads. The self is in the network rather than a node.

The ability to play multiple characters online means that the project of crafting your identity now extends far beyond your physical body. In his later years, McLuhan predicted that this newfound ability would lead to a society-wide identity crisis:

The instant nature of electric-information movement is decentralizing — rather than enlarging — the family of man into a new state of multitudinous tribal existences. Particularly in countries where literate values are deeply institutionalized, this is a highly traumatic process, since the clash of old segmented visual culture and the new integral electronic culture creates a crisis of identity, a vacuum of the self, which generates tremendous violence — violence that is simply an identity quest, private or corporate, social or commercial.

As I survey the cultural landscape of 2020, it seems that McLuhan’s predictions have unfortunately come true. More than ever before, people are exposed to a daily onslaught of world views and belief systems that threaten their identities. Social media has become the battlefield for a modern-day Hobbesian war of all-against-all. And this conflict has leaked into the allegedly “offline” world.