People Are Freaked Out To Learn Not Everyone Has An Internal MonologueMar 9, 2020
It’s impossible to get inside someone else’s mind to see how they think. It’s even difficult to quantify or describe the combination of imagery, words, sensations, and emotions that run through our own brains sometimes.
For all of the study that has been done on the human brain, it’s still impossible to examine one and have any clue what it’s thinking about or how it does so.
A recent viral tweet by KylePlantEmoji, a Twitter user who makes funny songs and videos, set off a deep conversation about the nature of consciousness.
“Fun fact: some people have an internal narrative, and some don’t,” he tweeted. “As in, some people’s thoughts are like sentences they ‘hear’, and some people just have abstract non-verbal thoughts, and have to consciously verbalize them. And most people aren’t aware of the other type of person.”
The tweet was a huge revelation to people whose thoughts consist mostly of words, like an internal script that never ends. It was also enlightening to those who don’t have an internal monologue and thought it would be terribly exhausting and distracting to have one.
Some people with an internal monologue find it unfair that others can waltz through life without being bombarded by constant mental chatter.
The tweet got some strong reactions from those with inner monologues.
Those who don’t have inner monologues tried to ease their minds by describing what goes on in their heads.
Although the topic hasn’t been studied intensely, a study found there are three types of thinkers, those who experience inner speech almost all of the time, some occasionally, and others never at all.
But researchers have yet to quantify the percentage of people who experience each type of thought.
What’s it like for people who don’t have inner speech?
A 2011 study found that people who don’t experience inner speech, instead think using images, concepts, and emotions. When they are asked “what are you thinking?”, they can easily translate their non-verbal thoughts into words.
Research shows that people who don’t experience inner speech have brains that are wired differently.
Inner speech requires a network of brain activity connecting the frontal lobe to the auditory cortex. One theory suggests that people who do not produce inner speech are unable to use those networks without also activating their motor cortexes.
The motor cortex manages the movement and coordination of the processes we use to speak. So they would have to speak out loud or physically mime the words to create an inner dialog.
Another theory is that those without an inner monologue aren’t very introspective or have weak connections to their mental processes.
But if you don’t have a robust inner monologue, no need to worry.
“I’m confident that inner speech is a robust phenomenon; if you use a proper method, there’s little doubt about whether or not inner speech is occurring at any given moment,” writes Russell T. Hurlburt, professor of psychology at the University of Nevada. “And I’m confident about the individual differences—some people talk to themselves a lot, some never, some occasionally.”
As the Buddha once said, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” No matter how we formulate those thoughts, the key is knowing how to decipher them for the benefit of ourselves and others.
It is also possible to learn how to gain control of our minds so that we can manipulate our internal world instead of being led around by it.
Who or what lies behind the conscious mind and judges what and how we think? That’s an even deeper question.