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.

“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

Why not?

Hearing voices. We all hear voices, both in and outside our heads. But obviously not all voice-hearing is the same.

Some people hear voices that others don’t hear. Children talk to imaginary friends who talk back to them. Schizophrenics hear all kinds of voices, from disembodied beings to the thoughts in other people’s heads. Even ordinary people, during periods of grief and stress, hear voices that can’t be explained (the Third Man Factor popularized by John Geiger). Studies show this is a lot more common than people realize, because few people talk about the voices they hear for fear of being called crazy.

These voices are as real to those hearing them as the voice of a physical person speaking before their eyes. According Julian Jaynes, entire ancient societies were based on this kind of experience, and he proposed that visual hallucinations often accompanied them. As such, it would have been the only reality the bicameral mind knew. Our sense of reality is nothing more than what we and those around us experience.

Some people dismiss Jaynes’ speculations. He hasn’t always been respectable, quite the opposite, although his intellectual currency has been rising. Over time, more and more people have taken him seriously, even when uncertain what to make of his theory. It’s such an intriguing possibility based on evidence that typically gets ignored and dismissed. But bicameralism or not, the evidence remains to be explained.

Indeed, it is challenging to make sense of it. As Tanya Lurhman, a Stanford anthropologist trained in psychology, simply stated it: “Julian Jaynes blew my mind.” It didn’t just blow her mind for it also set the course of her professional career. Research that she has done follows from the possibility that Jaynes first presented. In her work, she has looked at different cultures in how they relate to voice-hearing. She has compared cultural experiences and also religious experience, both among schizophrenics and the mentally healthy.

Her book on Evangelicals hearing God’s voice is what got my attention. I liked her approach. She treats her subjects with respect and tries to understand them on their own terms. It reminded me of Jaynes’ own approach to ancient people, to take them at their word and consider the possibility that they actually meant what they said.

What if we took all people seriously, not just those who confirm our biases? What if we tried to understand their stated experience, instead of rationalizing it away according to present social norms? Why not?

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When God Talks Back
by T.M. Luhrmann

Our Most Troubling Madness
edited by T.M. Luhrmann & Jocelyn Marrow

Is That God Talking?
T. M. Luhrmann

My Take: If you hear God speak audibly, you (usually) aren’t crazy
by T.M. Luhrmann

Living With Voices
by T. M. Luhrmann

Toward an Anthropological Theory of Mind
by T. M. Luhrmann

Cognitive Science, Learning, and ‘Theory of Mind’
by Ann Taves

Hallucinatory ‘voices’ shaped by local culture, Stanford anthropologist says
by Clifton B. Parker

The voices heard by people with schizophrenia are friendlier in India and Africa, than in the US
by Christian Jarrett

Tanya Luhrmann, hearing voices in Accra and Chenai
by Greg Downey

Hallucinated voices’ attitudes vary with culture
by Bruce Bower

Psychotic Voices In Your Head Depend On Culture You’re From: Friendly In Ghana, Evil In America
by Chris Weller

More Evidence for Vestigial Bicamerality
by Gary Williams