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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 1/26/24 – The Longest Monologue of My Life

While we may think we all experience the world around us in the same way, we do not. The senses actually function diversly in a range of ways to inform our awareness. There are people who can “see” time. If from birth, you saw dates arranged in boxes, with dates closer to you larger and dates father from you smaller like the person in this article, you would assume, at least in your early life everyone experiences time in this way. We think that how we experience the world is how other people experience the world. It is a false assumption. Most people do not see time in boxes in their heads, it is relatively rare. The scientific name for these phenomena is called spatial-sequence synaesthesia.


The term, synaesthesia, refers more broadly to perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. They are not considered a form of cognitive deficit, but as strengths or at times challenges to the capacity to process information. In delving into the topic, there are at least 22 types of synaesthesia identified so far. There is even a web site titled the synesthesia tree that delineates the various forms. It can assist in identifying what form (if any) you have. It has an alphabetized list and tables by type and frequency. Researchers have also developed a test for synesthesia.


I find this all quite fascinating. There are wide variations of synaesthesia, including some people who see numbers in color, this is called Grapheme–color synesthesia, it is one of the forms of synaesthesia termed Chromesthesia. Other people can experience what is called mirror touch in which when they see someone else being touched, they feel like they are being touched. There are also forms called Tickertape synaesthesia. People who have this can see a string of words underneath someone while they are talking.  I found this relatively recent study that focused on how they tend to cluster together. People can experience multiple forms of synesthesia. So a person may see a tickertape of words in different colors for example.


I do not have any of these, yet I find it fascinating our brains can have such broad variation in how they function. I do experience inner speech. A rich internal dialogue occurring at nearly all times. Inner speech is defined as the experience of language in your head absent audible articulation. I experience it like a chorus of ideas and data that I hear in my head. It is relatively common, but not a universal human experience to hear thoughts. One thing that I found earthshattering was that a lot of people do not have an internal monologue! It has been estimated that only between 30% and 50% of people frequently experience inner speech. It is hard for me to even imagine a silent internal world. I also found it quite interesting that introverts tend to have richer internal dialogues.


Research has indicated there are three dimensions to inner speech:


·        Condensation - In some instances, one’s inner voice may be descriptive and talkative, with self-talk that includes whole sentences and paragraphs, while at others it may only use a single word or fragments of a sentence.

·        Dialogality - Sometimes we may only hear one voice in our heads, such as when we tell ourselves things we need to remember or encourage ourselves before tackling a difficult task. But other times, we may think in multiple voices, such as when we anticipate future conversations by imagining what we and the other person will say or when we have an internal debate in which we think of several different perspectives at once.

·        Intentionality - In some cases, such as when we want to practice an upcoming presentation, we may intentionally employ our inner monologue. However, in other cases, such as when our mind wonders, our inner monologue may be active even though we didn’t make a conscious decision to use it.


I experience all of these dimensions rather robustly, at least from my subjective view. Inner monologue is associated with personality and not a measure of intelligence. There are numerous theories on how inner speech develops and its significance in how we function. I learned that deaf people who have an inner can experience visual hand signs or see lip movements. In writing this, I tried to consider what it may be like to NOT have an internal monologue and I found this post on what it is like. There is a description in it of a person asked to visualize and apple and all they see is darkness. I am seeing an apple as I write this. People with brains don’t imagine their next moves; they just do it.


This gratitude Friday post checks two boxes for me. The first being that I learned a bunch of new things as a result of pursuing this topic. I love learning new things. The second is an appreciation of my inner voice, which I have taken for granted over the course of my life. I have an internal monologue now for approaching 60 years, and I am grateful for it! I could not imagine internal silence!  At times, I do things like birdwatching to quiet it all down, which tends to work but in considering the alternative, I prefer the voice in my head to silence.

What are you grateful for today?  

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