“illusion of a completed, unitary self”

The Voices Within:
The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves
by Charles Fernyhough
Kindle Locations 3337-3342

And we are all fragmented. There is no unitary self. We are all in pieces, struggling to create the illusion of a coherent “me” from moment to moment. We are all more or less dissociated. Our selves are constantly constructed and reconstructed in ways that often work well, but often break down. Stuff happens, and the center cannot hold. Some of us have more fragmentation going on, because of those things that have happened; those people face a tougher challenge of pulling it all together. But no one ever slots in the last piece and makes it whole. As human beings, we seem to want that illusion of a completed, unitary self, but getting there is hard work. And anyway, we never get there.

Kindle Locations 3357-3362

This is not an uncommon story among people whose voices go away. Someone is there, and then they’re not there anymore. I was reminded of what I had been told about the initial onset of voice-hearing: how it can be like dialing into a transmission that has always been present. “Once you hear the voices,” wrote Mark Vonnegut of his experiences, “you realise they’ve always been there. It’s just a matter of being tuned to them.” If you can tune in to something, then perhaps you can also tune out.

Kindle Locations 3568-3570

It is also important to bear in mind that for many voice-hearers the distinction between voices and thoughts is not always clear-cut. In our survey, a third of the sample reported either a combination of auditory and thought-like voices, or experiences that fell somewhere between auditory voices and thoughts.

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Charles Fernyhough recommends the best books on Streams of Consciousness
from Five Books

Charles Fernyhough Listens in on Thought Itself in ‘The Voices Within’
by Raymond Tallis, WSJ (read here)

Neuroscience: Listening in on yourself
by Douwe Draaisma, Nature

The Song Of The Psyche
by Megan Sherman, Huffington Post

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Keep Your Experience to Yourself

Voice-hearing is one of those odd experiences that most of us ignore. Unless you’ve personally experienced it, it isn’t real. But for those who have, it can be one of the most real things they know, voices that can be as ever-present as the air one breathes.

In a book I was reading, the author mentioned visiting a conference for voice-hearers. Some people had been attending such conferences for years and they were old hands at talking about the voices they hear. Others were attending their first conference and it was a new experience to meet other people who also heard voices.

At the conference, there was a young man who came with an assistant. He was a voice-hearer who had autism. The author explained that he would get irritated. He heard voices and couldn’t believe that everyone else didn’t also hear voices. He thought others were putting him on by pretending they didn’t hear like he heard. I can imagine how autism would complicate the experience of voice-hearing.

What interested me is the basic situation of that young man. We all have experiences and we tend to assume that others experiences are more or less like our own. It is the opposite problem of lacking some experience and assuming everyone else also lacks it. Even language can’t overcome such gaps of experience. Sometimes language hides the gaps, to such an extent we don’t even suspect anything is unusual.

It amuses me to think of a scenario in an ancient bicameral society. Voice-hearing, according to theory, would have been the norm. Someone who didn’t hear voices would have been the crazy one. That person might assume everyone else was speaking metaphorically when they mentioned voices they heard. And so that person might even act like he was hearing voices because that is how everyone else was acting. It might not even occur to him to argue with anyone about whether the voices are real. If he did argue with others about it, it wouldn’t likely lead to happy results and easy relationships.

It’s not wise to argue with people about their experience of reality, especially when they are part of the majority.