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Medical The voice

  1. Feb 13, 2006 #1
    When one thinks to ones self, ie. trying to resolve an issue or problem alone- what is the origin of our "inner voice"?
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  3. Feb 13, 2006 #2


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    Can you be more specific? What aspect of inner speech are you trying to understand-- the cognitive component (where the informational content of inner speech comes from), the experiential component (why thinking to one's self should involve an auditory experience), or what?
  4. Feb 13, 2006 #3
    How can we hear our "inner voice" without the mechanism of our ear? Are these "sound bytes" stored in our brain, only to be "re-played" by our conscience?
  5. Feb 13, 2006 #4


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    A very simple, quick and dirty explanation would go like this: the physical mechanism most closely tied to our experience of hearing is not the ears, but rather, certain regions of the brain's temporal cortex. Various kinds of neural activations in various regions of temporal cortex are correlated with various kinds of auditory experiences. The function of the ears is to serve as a sophisticated kind of input device to these regions, not to actually generate the auditory experience itself.

    Imaging studies have shown that similar regions of the temporal cortex are activated when one is listening to sounds in the environment and when one is conducting inner speech. So for inner speech, there are some neural mechanisms that activate certain parts of the temporal cortex internally, and this is why inner speech is experienced as auditory.

    You may be interested to follow an upcoming presentation in this forum's journal club. The topic of this presentation is "Neural Activity in Speech-Sensitive Auditory Cortex" and it will begin this Saturday. Here's a link.
  6. Feb 13, 2006 #5


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    Ahh, so this is why some people "hear voices." What about like in books or when you imagine a situation, "painting a picture in your mind." Same thing going on there? Hallucinations? You're smart Hypnagogue.
  7. Feb 14, 2006 #6
    I don't ever "hear" my interior monolog in any auditory way. There is never anything like the experience of "hearing" an externally generated sound involved.
  8. Feb 15, 2006 #7


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    Hey Zoobyshoe, that strikes me as a bit odd. I started wondering about this recently in fact. For the most part, I'm always thinking in words, in fact it's tough to shut them off. If I'm watching TV or being entertained I don't generally have that 'inner voice' going on, but if I'm not being entertained in some way, I'm generally thinking in words - talking to myself so to speak. When I read for example, I'm thinking the words as if I'm saying them to myself. I wonder how common that is.
  9. Feb 15, 2006 #8
    I think that phenomena is pretty common. I experience it all the time.
  10. Feb 15, 2006 #9
    This activity is exactly why I started my thread. I have plenty of "quiet time" while I pour over my notes and experimental data. I just thought it was interesting that I could hear my voice without uttering a sound. We use our voice to communicate with others-could we ever develop our "inner voice" to do the same? Have you ever thought about someone and within an instant, the phone rings- with that person calling? It's especially weird if you haven't talked to that person for a long time...
  11. Feb 15, 2006 #10
    There's some confusion here, I'm sure. I definitely think in words. The experience I'm trying to separate that from is "sound". I "think" the words, but have no experience of "hearing" them as I think. It's all completely non-auditory. The experience of mentally saying something to myself is completely different than saying it out loud, and there is no way I could ever confuse the two, they're too different.
  12. Feb 15, 2006 #11
    Theres pretty strong evidence that telepathy isn't possible pinestone. Although it would be really cool if we could do that...I don't think we will ever be able to unless somebody makes a neural implant someday that can read our inner voice and transmit it to other people who can pick it up via their neural implant.
    A decent book that talks about parapsychology research and is by a former parapsychology researcher is : Consciousness: An Introduction By Susan Blackmore, Chapter 20 on pg 288 talks about telepathy. The book itself is also pretty good.
  13. Feb 15, 2006 #12
    Yes, sound is not the correct word here. How about "auditory image". Does anyone know what this phenomenon is really called? Is this our thought process at work? And, I was just kidding about the telepathic stuff. We humans are so pre-occupied with education, entertainment and frustration, I doubt we could ever develop such abilities.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2006
  14. Feb 15, 2006 #13
    Thinking or the interior monolog. Sometimes the interior dialog when you're imagining a conversation with someone else.

    I was surprised to read in hypnagogue's post that they'd found parts of the brain associated with sound processing activated during this. It bears almost no resemblance in my experience of it. It's verbal for me, having to do with language and words, but completely non-auditory: no hint of exterior sound, no connection to hearing or the ears.

    I brought that up in response to MK's mention of auditory hallucinations, which are a whole different thing. People who experience those say it is indistinguishable from hearning another person talk it's so vivid and apparently connected to the ears, although the location of the source of the voices often appears to be in the head or ears themselves. However, they all maintain there is a distinct and clear difference between such things and their own thoughts or interior monolog.
  15. Feb 15, 2006 #14


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    Yes, I had this exact experience just once in my life, in 1968. It was an astounding experience.
  16. Feb 15, 2006 #15
    I've never had it myself, but imagine it would be astounding.

    This is the sort of thing where I'd expect them to see the hearing parts of the temporal lobes activated, not from mere thinking. That still confuses me.
  17. Feb 15, 2006 #16
    Would the perception of the voices being not our own come from inactivity or activity within the temporal lobes? I thought our "sense of self" sort of came from there from what research points to in articles that I've read......
    The voice thats in my head that is supposed to be me, sounds nothing like the way I sound on a videotape or tape recorded, yet I know its my voice. Sometimes the voice talks to me like I'm another person like "You shouldn't have done that!" or "They probably didn't mean to make you feel that way" in my internal dialogue. In a situation like that I know all the dialogue is originating from within me. When I'm in a hypnagogic state a lot of times I have auditory hallucinations where I think I hear things like people talking or a door slam that didn't actually happen...or I think that the dream I had was real....its all internally generated but somehow I think that it WASN'T me for the time that I'm in that state.
    So lemme rephrase that....what in our brains allows us to distinguish that the internal dialogue that we have in our brains is indeed ours and not something akin to a hallucination? Schizophrenics and people with Multiple Personality Disorder attribute different interpretations upon the auditory hallucinations that they experience....does anybody know what causes that in them that differs from what the mainstream experiences?
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2006
  18. Feb 15, 2006 #17
    I don't know. A few years ago I went to a lecture by a PhD candidate who was studying the origins of auditory hallucinations. She was doing pet scans on mentally ill volunteers with chronic conditions to see if there were correlations. She found all kinds of different areas lighting up from patient to patient. The only common denominator was the thalamus, so she felt that was the point of origin.

    I doubt that's a reasonable conclusion, though, because the thalamus is a kind of grand central station for sensory imput into the brain and you'd expect it to always be quite active.

    As far as "sense of self" being in the temporal lobes, I'm sure it depends on how you define "sense of self". I've never happened to come across anyone defining that and ascribing a brain location to it.
  19. Feb 15, 2006 #18


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    zoob, to say that the experience of inner speech is auditory doesn't imply that it should sound like, or be confused with, an external sound that is detected by the ears.

    I'd say that my experience of my own inner speech is much more ephemeral and somehow insubstantial, and much less vivid, than my experience of e.g. my own voice when I'm actually speaking. But for me it is still unambiguously auditory; it definitely belongs in the family of "auditory experience," differing from the experience of externally generated sounds only along metrics like intensity and maybe perceived reality and things of that nature.

    To call it "verbal" or something like that I think misses the point, because we can have the same sort of experiences with non-verbal, internally generated/imagined sounds. For instance, you can have the same sort of auditory experience you have with inner speech by mentally playing a song in your head. You likely will not experience this 'inner song' as if it's being played on a radio, and you won't confuse it for some external sound source, but it still is pretty clearly auditory.

    And of course there is a clear analog to the internal auditory experience with the internal visual experience. I can visualize, say, a familiar face in my head. I won't think I'm actually looking at the person or anything like that, and the experience will seem rather ephemeral and insubstantial in ways that are hard to pin down in words when compared to my experience of actually looking at the person's face. But I think the experience is still pretty clearly visual in the most basic senses; it definitely exists in the sensory modality of vision, having elements of perceived color and form. Likewise for imagined sounds or inner speech, in which the experience clearly has elements of pitch, timbre, etc.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2006
  20. Feb 15, 2006 #19
    "auditory: of, relating to, or experienced through, hearing"
    You might argue that thoughts are related to hearing since we acquire speech through that sense, but it seems clear to me that it becomes a separate, unrelated activity. A person who goes deaf can still think in words. To say a person "hears" their interior monolog is really just a choice of words. I have always characterized it as "being conscious of" my thoughts. There is something very non-auditory about the means by which I sense this activity.
    While the details of the experience you describe fit with what I experience: ephemeral, insubstantial, less vivid, leading me to suppose we experience pretty much the same thing, I can't get to your "unambiguously auditory" conclusion. Again, I'd have to describe my experience of this as a "consciousness" of the thoughts that isn't sense specific. I'm not employing a sense to percieve them.
    I called it verbal to make it understood it involved words, grammar, language, and wasn't some kind of sub-lingual or pre-lingual, amorphous experience.
    All the senses can be modeled in the mind, yes, but I wouldn't call imagining someone's face a visual experience, or imagining the feel of warm sand on the beach a tactile experience. I am not employing those senses to percieve these mental models. It is a radically different kind of perception, and lost for better, all I can say is I'm "conscious" of them.
  21. Feb 15, 2006 #20
    One of my psychology professors said that consciousness originated in the temporal and frontal lobes. I don't think thats completely just his theory...I know a little bit about brain anatomy, but I forgot a lot of what I learned since the course I took on in was almost 4 years ago. The "sense of self" definately has different degrees. Theres a sense of self for the boundaries of our body, a sense of self when regarding the emotions of others etc...
    From what you say Zooby (from the earlier post), I'd wonder if the thalamus was really the point of origin too...I would say its part of the chain of activity involved in the problem, but not the origination point.
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