This is a follow up post to my last one in which I try to explain some of the weird and wonderful ways my brain works. In the last post I talked mostly about SDAM and touched on Aphantasia, today I’m digging into another aspect of thought: the inner monologue or vocalisation. This is another part of the human experience that no-one really talks about.
In the last couple of years it’s been a bit of an internet meme that people find out some people don’t have an internal monologue and are astounded. Before the dawn of the internet though I imagine people could go through their whole life without ever really discussing these sorts of things with other people. Lack of an inner monologue doesn’t seem to be linked directly to aphantasia. Some people are full Aphants and talk in their head constantly. Some people who arent Aphants have no inner monologue at all.
Thoughts without words
Personally, I have no internal monologue. The best way I can explain my thought processes are as abstract thought. If you’re walking down a street and see a stop sign you don’t (I assume) vocalise the word ‘stop’, but you have the idea or concept of stopping in your head uncoupled from any words. That’s essentially how all my thinking works. If you ask me at any point what I’m thinking about, I can give you a reasonable description….but I’ll have to put the words to the thoughts at that point. Prior to you asking, there were no words involved in my thought process.
This, combined with my SDAM means that quite often I find myself in a weird, disassociated state. I’ll suddenly become aware that I’m thinking about my thought process, and have no idea what I was doing or thinking 10 minutes ago. I find it hard to form a stream of conciousness stretching back to what I was thinking even an hour ago.
The thread of conciousness
Life almost seems to progress in ‘scenes’ based on what I’m doing, or who I’m talking to. Once a conversation has finished or I’ve moved onto a new activity I have very little connection to that previous activity or conversation. I’m currently sat in my office writing this post. Honestly in some sense my entire life could have started half an hour ago when I walked in here.
There’s a thought experiment about teleportors (yes, like in star trek) which could work by destroying whatever is put into them and recreating it at the other end. Some people think that this would break the thread of conciousness that people have running through their life. I….don’t think I have that thread. Intellectually I know (obviously) that I was alive yesterday and the memories (brief though they are) of yesterday are real. Emotionally though I have no real connection to those memories. This is more a SDAM thing that an internal monologue thing but the lack of a consistent ‘voice’ in there contributes I think. I imagine having recognisable ‘thoughts’ in words would anchor me to those memories more.
Other areas of my life where the inner monologue and Aphantasia or SDAM overlap include reading. I, somewhat surprisingly I guess, read a lot and get though maybe 2 or 3 novels a week. I read quickly due to a few factors I think. First I don’t read words. If you asked me in the middle of a page I couldn’t tell you anything about the words I’d just read. I pretty much stream meaning from the page, bypassing any kind of vocalising. Sometimes there’s a misspelling or a strange looking word that ‘trips up’ this mechanism though. Obviously there’s some word deciphering going on. In general though individual words don’t really have much impact on my reading experience.
I also tend to skip or skim through any kind of descriptive text. I have no way of visualising the thing being described, so subconciously I don’t even try. As an aside, this means that when I watch a film of a book I’ve read previously I have no expectation of what people should look or sound like, what places should look like etc.
Audio books or having to read things out loud myself are irritatingly slow. I can’t vocalise anywhere near as quickly as I can read or parse information so get increasingly frustrated the longer I have to slow down and actually ‘read’ things. At work, or when digesting information I find it very easy to quickly parse and understand things. I mentioned in my last post that I somewhat compensate for my lack of personal memory by picking things up very quickly. My mind not relying on language to express thoughts definitely helps here.
I imagine (I have no idea if this is true or not) that people with an inner monologue or vocalisation based thought processes have to translate everything into words before they can understand it. It almost feel like I skip a step here and work at the level of the underlying meaning.