Lack of “inner voice” seen as clue to consciousness enigma 

by | Jun 4, 2024 | Consciousness, Life Experience, Mindfulness & Meditation, Psychology, Story Ideas | 0 comments

May/June 2024

In mindfulness and meditation practices, the importance of silencing your “inner voice” is often emphasised. The never-ending chatter going on inside is sometimes referred to as the “monkey mind”.

Thinking can obviously be any kind of inner imagining, but it is commonly described as “the voice in your head”. Maybe it shouldn’t. Not everybody has one.

Recent evidence suggests that the experience of inner speech in adults varies from near constant to nonexistent, according to a new study by researchers in Denmark and the U.S.

The inability to imagine inner images, sounds, tastes or smells is called aphantasia. The researchers suggest the inability to imagine hearing yourself speak should be called anendophasia.

The researchers examined how a group of 46 people who reported low levels of inner speech performed on certain memory tasks compared to a similarly sized group of people with high levels of inner speech. The former group fared worse when tasked to assess whether the words for objects they were shown rhymed, or to recall certain words silently (verbal working memory task). When the participants were allowed to say words out loud, there was no difference in performance between the groups.

People with aphantasia can feel anxiety when they realize other people have imagined experiences that they cannot.

“These feelings may be deepened when others assert they are merely confused or inarticulate”, writes psychology professor Derek Arnold in a commentary in Live Science.

Scientists are continuing to debate how many senses we have. Some argue the number is greater than 20. Besides the traditional five, there is thermoception (our sense of heat) and proprioception (awareness of the positions of our body parts). Thanks to the latter, most of us can close our eyes and touch the tip of a finger to our nose. 

Although the study doesn’t expressly explore consciousness, the findings raise new questions about the nature of human experience. Most of us know that imagining outer experiences within – spoken words, a vision, a sound, a touch, or any other kind of sensation – can be almost as vivid as the “real thing”.

Prof. Arnold thinks the study of people with anendophasia could help reveal the mysteries of consciousness.

“This question – how and where our conscious feelings are generated – remains one of the great mysteries of science”, he concludes.

Anders Bolling 

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