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My inner voice

Published 2021-04-10

Yesterday, a (year-old) thread on Twitter prompted me to reflect on my “inner voice.” It’s like a tiny narrator inside my head that constantly verbalizes my abstract thoughts. Until yesterday I thought everyone thought this way. Or rather: I never much thought about how I thought, or that other people thought in different ways.

I was lying in bed at about 4am when I had this thought, and in the stream-of-consciousness style that Twitter encourages, I wrote:

My internal voice writes

Really really fast

It edits itself continuous & has no frame in time so it edits things it hasn’t written yet

I was now minutes old when I finally realized this

Words and numbers are the only abstract things in my head. Everything else is a real physical scene. To imagine a triangle my inner voice literally (mentally) draws a triangle on literal (mental) paper

“I” don’t do this, my inner voice does. But my inner voice speaks in the first person who is me. it’s not like a tiny ghost it’s me, watching my own life

Rn I’m lying in bed mentally and really composing tweets but also experiencing getting up and doing yoga which I have not done yet but “remember” as if I have. If I were to “think” about the yoga it would (& is) become a torrent of words

Ironically the torrent of words makes it hard for me to actually DO yoga. I can either “think about” something or actually do it, not both. When I’m doing yoga I’m not thinking about yoga at all. & if I tried i would probably have to stop

This is probably why I suck at sports?

No I actually do think about the yoga while I’m doing it but usually concretely & if I tap into the narration (ie think about like work) I bomb. Yesterday I did crow pose for the first time in decades bc I “remembered” myself doing it again instead of rationalizing it

This explains why I have so much trouble writing about design. My brain can either do (draw, build), or think (write, rationalize). Not both

Time to stop thinking and do yoga

One of the things I’ve learned about myself as I grow older is that I am very concrete thinker. But on a bike ride yesterday I got to thinking about thinking, a surprisingly slippery endeavor. I can best represent those thoughts as questions

Have I always been a concrete thinker? Or is this something that changed in my mind as I’ve aged? Would I be capable of remembering how I used to think? I used to imagine myself, for example, as a very abstract thinker. As I have grown into my personality, I assumed that I was simply wrong. But maybe not!

To what degree does writing technology influence the thought process? Do preliterate people think in spoken words? Is my constantly-edited stream-of-words mode of thought something that I acquired when I started to write with a computer? Is the streaminess getting streamier because of social media and Twitter? I tend now to compose my thoughts, even for writing, as if they were small tweety chunks. Did I used to think differently?

I often imagine the future in a way I might describe as “remembering the future.” Is this a new way of thinking for me? I reckon I have always thought this way, but then my life is much more predictable now than when I was 23. It’s easy to “remember the future” when you’re pretty sure it won’t be too different from the present.

I do a lot of abstract (read: wordy) thinking when I’m riding my bike, or driving. (I think other people do similar thinking in the shower.) I often wish I could write while I ride my bike. I once “wrote” a story while driving between Nebraska and North Dakota by dictating into a tape recorder. It is, maybe not coincidentally, my favorite story that I have written.

I am certainly capable of thinking without words, but as a sort of multisenstory movie with smells and physical sensations. When I think like this, I often have a disembodied sensation. (My favorite trick to do this is to try to make myself smell an old smell.) Is this how nonverbal people, or animals, experience the world? I have had a couple of times in my life, something I might describe as an out-of-body experience. These were accompanied by an inability to perceive myself — is that what Buddhist monks do?

One of my favorite phrases, adapted from the title of a Richard Linklater film, is “you can’t learn to plow by reading books.”