The Voices in My Head

Apparently, some people think in words, while others think in images or general senses. Apparently even when we put thoughts into words, like in preparation for speaking them, our brains don’t recognize them as words in the same way as when we perceive the words with our senses.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I for one structure my thoughts with words all the time. Sure there are some thought processes going on in my head that are done without specific words, but the top layer of my consciousness carries out its business entirely in lexemes, like a constant internal dialogue with myself.

Words seem to completely structure my worldview. Maybe it has something to do with being a writer (which is to say, maybe the predeliction to be a writer is connected to the tendency to think in words). Certainly that seems to influence how I think in words. I often find myself structuring my thoughts in terms of scenes, or dialogues.

This happens especially when I’m thinking about possible future events. I’ll imagine the situation, the scene, the interaction, and I’ll even carry out actual conversations with people in my head — imagining what they might say, or anyway what I might say in their place. Actually, it’s entirely possible that what I imagine them saying isn’t necessarily what they would say or what I would say, but what I would have them say were I to write the dialogue. It’s whatever advances the conversation while at the same time making the conversation interesting.

If that wasn’t enough as it is, I often find that what makes the conversation interesting, in my mind, is an argument. After all, there can be no drama without conflict. So I’ll have this scene in my mind where I’m talking with someone, and they start arguing with me. And I’ll defend my position or my action (maybe this is all just a subconscious attempt to self-justify…). Of course, part of all this is that I have a very active imagination — and a very vivid one. The result of this is that somtimes, imagining an argument with someone in a future situation, I will find myself actually angry at that person in real life, for no reason. (This is all even more absurd, because I’m not often an argumentative person. While I can be quite stubborn at times, I usually try to avoid actual argument at all costs.)

My thoughts are so word-oriented that sometimes, rather than getting a song stuck in my head, I’ll actually get a piece of dialogue stuck in my head — perhaps a quote from a movie or something, that just keeps playing through my mind over and over and over.

This is just how I view my life. It’s all a story, a narrative, which I’m constantly writing and rewriting in my head.

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  1. I submit that you (and others) may interpret the goings-on in your head as happening in words, but that’s not necessarily what’s actually going on.

    The question of whether or not thoughts are in words is a tricky one that tends to vary in definition – it certainly hasn’t been answered to the satisfaction of cognitive psychologists and philosophers of mind and linguists, anyhow!

    It might be of interest to look at Jerry Fodor’s theory that we have a Language of Thought ( ), a symbol system that our minds use and that language some interprets.

    Also there’s the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis ( ) that every language constructs concepts of the world different, and so that people who speak different langauges really think about the world in different ways – because they think in their language.

    My own suspicion is that whether or not your thoughts are implemented in words depends on the task at hand and the context in which you are doing it.

    • Lucas J.W. Johnson

      Thanks for the links! I don’t pretend to know what’s going on in my brain. I just know that, a lot of the time, I have conscious thoughts in the form of words. Maybe it’s just how that level of my thinking interprets my thoughts to better make sense of them, or something. I’ve no doubt that many other levels of my thoughts do their thing without reference to actual words.

      It’s like a UI. I put things into words in my mind to better interact with my thoughts, but really it’s just a surface representation of what’s actually going on. (Analogies ftw!)

      Long story short, the brain is awesome.

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