Thoughts on Thoughts by Richard Bleil
A friend of mine (yes, I have a friend) sent me a link to a blog about internal monologues. According to the post, some people think in a monologue, and others do not. It sounds as if a poll of this individual’s friends comes back about 20% with no internal monologue. My friend suggested this as a possible topic for a blog, and I like making my friends happy, so, here’s a blog!
What I mean by this is the manner in which we think. I have an internal monologue. I hear a voice in my mind as I think about problems, issues, what have you. Some people, on the other hand, apparently think more abstractly, with no voice in their head.
I’ve always been fascinated by the different ways that people think. The physicist Richard Feynman in one of his autobiographies (wonderful books, by the way, called “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” and “What Do YOU Care What Other People Think”, both written as anecdotes from his life) suggested that people “count” in their heads differently. He was discussing how to count to sixty seconds. In his unofficial poll, apparently there are two kinds of people, those who “hear” the numbers to sixty, and those who “see” them. He, of course, did the experiment. He found that those counting in their heads with a voice would be thrown off if he spoke, and those “seeing” the numbers were thrown off if he showed them something.
Personally, when I hear of different ways of thinking, I like trying it. My mind works with an internal monologue, so it should be no surprise that if I were to count to sixty, I hear a voice in my mind counting. For a time, I tried counting by “seeing” the numbers. Richard Feynman spoke of a friend who described it as seeing a tape scroll with numbers on it. When I tried to see numbers, it was more like LED numbers from one of the old digital clocks from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s.
I suggest you give it a try. It’ll be a fun BleilBanter experiment. Count to, oh, say twenty in your mind. Do it naturally at first (for me, it would be a voice), then try it the other way. I would have to intentionally quiet my voice (a challenge in and of itself) and find a way to see the numbers. Personally, I find that I can do it, but it feels, well, alien.
I never knew there are people that don’t have an inner monologue, but I must admit, I’ve often been very curious about it. Some questions are obvious. When I think, it is, of course, in my native tongue of American English. My inner voice has the “neutral” Midwest accent as you would hear in Ohio, although I can change this if I focus, but when I do this it usually interrupts my train of thought. As I type this, I’m hearing a voice, but maybe I should explain this a bit further.
See, as I start this particular paragraph, I know what it is that I want to say, but I don’t have the words all laid out in my head. The voice I hear is basically one word at a time just as I begin to type them. So, I know what I’m going to say in this sentence, and about how I am going to say it, but not the next, and I’m only hearing one word at a time. I suppose that this is akin to the “abstract” form of thinking that people without inner monologues might experience.
For those of us with inner monologues, there are a lot of interesting questions. If I were to move to another country that speaks another language (and assuming I were to learn it), would I continue to think in English? I understand that people who speak other languages long enough begin to change their “native tongue”, meaning they find it difficult to move back to English if they haven’t spoken it in a long time. In this case, does their internal monologue switch to their more comfortable language? How long does that take? Do they notice the transition?
I’ve tried the abstract thinking experiment as well. I’ve tried quieting my inner dialogue and thinking about a problem. I have more difficulty doing this than the counting experiment. I think it was successful, but I couldn’t maintain it.
It’s been an amazing few months. Not too long ago, I was talking with a friend who has, apparently, a very rare form of color blindness. I wasn’t even aware that there were different versions. Apparently, he “sees” shades of colors differently than other people. In some ways this makes some differences more vibrant; what I might see as a shade difference too subtle to be noticeable on first glance he sees as a stark contrast. I’ve often wondered if people “see” colors the same way; my red, for example, might be how you see green. How would we know? Apparently, it is possible at least in his case. I still wonder about the rest of us, though.