Tuesday, November 17, 2020

No Internal Monologue is a Thing

Over the years you may have noticed that I don't have a lot of patience with arguments or ideas that require consciousness to be based on or constrained by language. Some of that has to do with experiences from the cognitive science of the early 1990's that I felt gave way too much credence to "symbolic artificial intelligence." That mostly consisted of linguists arguing that if only you could get the word and symbol relationships right in your AI computer program, it would be the same thing as consciousness. I knew it was nonsense from the start, and it never really did work. As it turns out, a lot of time and money was expended on that particular doomed idea, when we probably should have started working on machine learning ten to twenty years before it became the focus of AI research.

While that story in and of itself isn't necessarily relevant to practicing and/or learning magick, how I knew it was nonsense from the start probably is. I don't think in words. I never have. Or at the very least, I don't think exclusively in words. I don't really have any sort of "inner monologue" that guides my thinking unless I deliberately create one - which, for example, is how I write fiction. I guess that a person with an internal monologue experiences the world kind of like how I experience writing a book. The difference is that for me, it requires some discipline to keep my thoughts running that way. Otherwise my focus expands and my thoughts turn back into - well, thoughts. They're kind of like a combination of images, abstract relationships, dynamic unfolding processes, and memories.

When I remember things I don't "hear" a description of the memory in my mind. I literally re-experience it, but without the same intensity of it actually happening. I can take "the experience" of that memory like an object and relate it dynamically to other memories, ideas, concepts, philosophical principles, and pretty much anything else that I can experience internally or externally - up to and including the sensory information I am processing in the moment. I talk about individual differences between magical practitioners a lot, because there are a lot of them, and while I don't have a set of experimental data to draw from in this respect, my guess is that whether you have an internal monologue or you don't likely makes a difference in how magick will work for you.

I have a degree in psychology from the early 1990's, so I've know since college that verbal and non-verbal thinkers exist for a long time, and have also long understood myself to be in the non-verbal camp - eve though I'm a reasonably good writer, which is a purely verbal art form. Lately, though, the distinction has hit social media and apparently a lot of people are quite surprised that the distinction exists at all.

Earlier this year, a lot of people were surprised to discover that some people don't have an internal monologue, while those people who don't were surprised to learn other people do. Having only ever lived in your own head, it's pretty weird to discover that other people think differently than you do.

For instance, I assumed that everyone else had an internal monologue, and like mine, that monologue is voiced by Patrick Stewart. To think that some people don't have a monologue portrayed by Captain Picard was weird enough, without discovering that they hear nothing at all. Shortly after everyone discovered the other group of thinkers exist, people started to explain to each other what their method of thinking is like, and how the other one is plain weird.

In one Reddit thread, user Vadermaulkylo posted, "Today, I told my mom that I have no internal monologue and she stared at me like I have three heads. Is having one common?" They confessed they had thought it was a fictional concept made up as a narrative device in the TV show Dexter (about a surprisingly teary psychopath).

After people had called the poor Redditor a non-playable character enough times to get it out of their systems, several people (including the OP) described what it's actually like to not have an internal monologue.

“So if your boss asks you to do something right at the point you were planning to leave work you don’t think ‘oh f***ing s**t b*lls what a pain? in your head, while saying ‘No problem at all boss,’ out loud?” one user asked. “No. Never had that," Vadermaulkylo responded. "If I’m asked to do something I don’t wanna do, I just get kinda frustrated but that’s about it. I don’t really think to myself.”

Others confirmed their experience was similar. "I’m the same way," said user GohanShmohan. "I don’t have any conscious thought about what I’m feeling, or any stream of dialogue describing it to myself. I just feel it. It’s like the inner dialogue is the middle man in my head, who just isn’t there."

For others, it was a bit more complicated. "I don't have a inner monologue either. Any time I have to communicate outside my head with words, I have to "translate" what I'm thinking. That takes time and effort. It's why I vastly prefer written communication over verbal, since you can take more time than the instant response a verbal conversation requires," Redditor BobbitWormJoe wrote.

"When I know I will need to verbally communicate (such as if I need to make a phone call or bring up a topic at a meeting), I prepare mentally as much as possible so I know what words I actually need to say. On the other hand, if I'm in a conversation where I haven't had time to organize and translate my thoughts ahead of time, I constantly have long pauses where I'm doing it in real time, which comes off as weird to people who notice it. This annoyed my wife for a long time until we both realized why it was happening."

So you can probably see where, for example, the idea of Sapir-Whorf hypothesis as a universal would bug me. It obviously isn't true for me. I have thoughts before I translate them into words, which I only do if I need to communicate with someone else. So the words I know or the language I'm translating my thoughts into clearly have nothing to do with my perception and never could. Maybe a weak form of it is true for verbal thinkers, which I always have been willing to grant, but you know what? That feels hopelessly sad to me. It would be like being blind to your internal world and only being able to experience it through verbal descriptions.

To be clear, it probably isn't sad like that to people whose minds just work that way. I just have a lot of trouble imagining what having a mind like that would be like. For all I know there are downsides to being the way I am that I don't notice. I do know that the "translation step" when speaking makes me slower when speaking off the top of my head, which I have had to work on to improve my public speaking. Likewise, I had to teach myself the whole state of having an internal monologue in the first place to improve my writing. For whatever reason I have no trouble at all with internal dialogues, like conversing with spirits, and seem to be less good at visual scrying than a lot of people with my level of magical experience.

I think that a case can be made for magick being a discipline that develops both verbal and non-verbal cognition, and that this process is part of the expansion and development of consciousness as a whole. Buddhism talks about union of body, speech, and mind - speech being verbal and mind more like total nonverbal consciousness - and in magick we see a similar emphasis on the combination of movements, words of power, and visualizations. It seems pretty obvious that awakening both the verbal and non-verbal faculties should be part of the process. So keep this in mind as you practice, especially if you are a verbal thinker trying to work with my rituals. Keep in mind that I don't really think the way you do, so some modifications might be necessary.

And by the way, if you do happen to work out an effective workaround for verbal thinking that makes my rituals work better for you, please share! More data is always a good and happy thing, and if I can add some adjustments like that to my rituals as optional steps I would love to be able to do that to make them more effective and accessible to more people.

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HalcAre said...

I find this subject really odd, I've always though in a combination of words, images and sensations, and I always thought everyone else did too.

I'm pretty sure people aren't exclusively constrained to verbal or non-verbal. Maybe they're talking about their dominant thought trends? It can't actually be exclusively one or the other, communication of ideas between people would be far more difficult if it was.

Then again, that would explain a lot.

Scott Stenwick said...

Most people do fall on a spectrum, and to some degree you can train yourself - like how I don't naturally have any sort of monologue when I'm just thinking, but developed something a lot like it that I use when writing. Likewise, most people seem to be able to learn visualization in the context of magick even if they don't naturally think that way.

I have heard, though, that there's a small group of people who can't visualize at all. A while back there was some discussion of that on one of the magick forums - how do you teach someone modern magick if they can't visualize? My guess is that the same thing exists on the other side - a small group of people who can't think verbally at all.