IRL image of the author thinking in words.
IRL image of the author thinking in words.
Photo: Pixabay

A question for you: When you are aware of your own consciousness—meaning your own individual scattershot thoughts, like what to make for lunch, whether to cross the street, or when it’s time to go hit the pillow—what do you hear? That is, do you “hear” your own voice in your head? Or do you hear nothing at all?

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A recently published blog post titled, “Today I Learned That Not Everyone Has An Internal Monologue And It Has Ruined My Day,” cited a viral tweet that’s since been duped by dozens of bots on Twitter. In short, the tweet noted that some people “hear” an internal narrative while others—somewhat unbelievably to me and several of my colleagues—do not.

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I, for example, am a person who hears my own thoughts in an almost conversational way, as with dialogue. I was best able to describe my thoughts as a kind of chat with a friend, but the friend is your own consciousness. When I’m speaking, for example, I hear the words in my mind, just as I do as I’m writing this very blog. I also hear words, however, when making as mundane a decision as pulling my credit card out of my wallet to pay for something.

Gizmodo’s science editor Rose Pastore described her thoughts similarly, though she noted that she experiences non-language thought organization as well. But a number of our colleagues noted that they experience thoughts in a non-worded way, or as my colleague Victoria Song put it, more like an “associative web.” And as appeared to be the case with the blog’s author, many of us were absolutely astonished to discover that not everyone regularly hears their own thoughts.

“I’d describe my thoughts as a cloud of abstract noise, linked together by associations. Sort of like a web of images, memories, emotions, and ideas—not unlike falling into a Wikipedia hole where you just click link after link and wind up somewhere totally random from where you began,” she told me. “I can definitely ‘think in words’ if I put effort into it, and honestly, that’s why I started writing to begin with because it can get too noisy in my noggin. When I’m thinking or in conversations, it’s like rapid-fire associations.”

She added: “Maybe you say ‘communism’ and I simultaneously see images of Marx, Lenin, the hammer and sickle, Republicans yelling, the whole entirety of McCarthyism. That entire time, I’m also feeling a snapshot of every emotion I’ve ever had about those images at once. If I’m trying to make a decision, it’s like seeing all the steps play out at once as multiple, wordless movies and then I just go with the scenario I like best. I guess you could say forming words slows down the whole process and gives order to the chaos.”

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As I read this, I am hearing words in my head telling me that this is unbelievable! A mind without words knocking around inside on a near-constant basis! So, obviously, we now ask you, reader: Do you think in words? How do you experience your own thoughts? Perhaps you are hearing words—or not!—at this very moment. Let us know below.

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