A luminous exploration of the nature of thoughts, from daydreams to the voices in our heads
At the moment you caught sight of this book, what were you thinking? Was your thought a stream of sensations? Or was it a voice in your head? Did you ask yourself, "I wonder what that's about?" Did you answer? And what does it mean if you did?
When someone says they hear voices in their head, they are often thought to be mentally ill. But, as Charles Fernyhough argues in The Voices Within, such voices are better understood as one of the chief hallmarks of human thought. Our inner voices can be self-assured, funny, profound, hesitant, or mean; they can appear in different accents and even in sign language. We all hear them-and we needn't fear them. Indeed, we cannot live without them: we need them, whether to make decisions or to bring a book's characters to life as we read. Studying them can enrich our understanding of ourselves, and our understanding of the world around us; it can help us understand the experiences of visionary saints, who might otherwise be dismissed as schizophrenics; to alleviate the suffering of those who do have mental health problems; and to understand why the person next to us on the subway just burst out laughing for no apparent reason.
Whether the voices in our heads are meandering lazily or clashing chaotically, they deserve to be heard. Bustling with insights from literature, film, art, and psychology, The Voices Within offers more than science; it powerfully entreats us all to take some time to hear ourselves think.
Academic psychologist Fernyhough (Pieces of Light), whose previous fiction and nonfiction works have explored ideas of memory and consciousness, here dives deeply into "what it is like to inhabit our own minds." Fernyhough proposes the theory of "dialogic thinking," explaining that "focusing on the voices in our heads as internal dialogues" can help us understand our inner lives in new ways. Citing published experiments, his own anecdotal experiences, and religious and literary texts, he makes a thought-provoking case not only for his theory, but also for the idea that although "inner speech" requires language, it functions outside of linguistics it unifies the brain in "a way not specific to any sensory channel." Though the book is not about creativity per se, one of its highlights is its fascinating insight into the process of artistic creation, particularly writing. In another high point, the narrative gently prods readers into a wider and more empathetic view of pathologies such as aural hallucinations. Fernyhough's book is a valuable addition to the literature surrounding the unending human quest to understand the location and the creation of the self.