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Are the voices in my head...voices?
I am not schizophrenic -- or at least, I have never had cause to believe I am, nor has anyone ever suggested in seriousness that I should be examined for schizophrenia -- so I have no first-hand knowledge of the "voices-in-your-head" symptom of schizophrenia.

Without this first-hand experience, I have no answer to the question which just popped up: do the "voices" present as actual voices, as in auditory hallucinations, or are they unbidden thoughts which come to mind seemly counter to one's normal thought processes?

I am a verbal thinker in that, to me, my conscious thought process presents itself as a running monologue in my head. Walking down the street, a continuous track is playing, going "ok, so getting back to the nuclear physics post I'm planning, it's worth pointing out that Heisenberg's uncertainty principle localizes protons to a space 2,000 smaller than it does an electron -- hmm, I've never seen a purple polka-dotted New Beetle before -- it'll be a couple of minutes before this light changes and I'm running late -- so the electrical forces and thus energies between protons is about 4,000,000 stronger than -- ok I can cross the street -- between nuclei and the electron cloud...". I never said the running monologue was ordered or single-tracked, just that it's verbal.

My understanding is that that verbal mode is a common, if not the most common, method of thought. In fact, I've heard some researchers express the opinion that without speech, there is no thought. I don't know enough to say if I agree with that.

With "voices in my head are telling me things", does that work by auditory hallucinations of voices, thoughts in the running monologue which upon reflection don't seem to be what you would normally think so must not be your own ("Bill and Sally are nice people. kill them. I should invite them over for dinner, wait what? 'kill them'? where'd that come from?"), or thoughts which appear to be coming from "someone else" ("Cecelia seems nice, and genuinely interested in me." "She's just spying on you" "Why would she be spying on me?" "Do you really think someone as nice as her would really like you? She must be working for them, and you are just her current mission"). Or does it present differently? Or does it vary from person to person?

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Most mentally ill people who hear voices describe them as coming from an external source, occasionally another body part but most often completely outside. It's distinctly different from the running monologue everybody has in their head and different from the thinking out loud that's often called talking to yourself. These folks don't think they are talking to themselves at all; they know they are talking to someone else. Those are auditory hallucinations and can be accompanied by visual hallucinations that also seem real.

Some people do hear voices in their head and think someone is broadcasting alien thoughts into their mind. The technical term for that is thought insertion. And yes, it does vary from person to person. It also varies depending on how sick a person is. Often the voices will become less and less real as psychotropic meds began to take effect. Give Ted a call sometime and ask him about it. Or better yet, over dinner when you come to see us. We should have the boxes unpacked (mostly) by this summer.

As for the "no speech, no thought" concept, I guess it would depend on one's definition of thought. We've certainly seen examples of complicated problem solving by animals who don't have speech. The rooks putting stones in the bottle to raise the water level is an example. It wasn't trial and error, it was reasoned. While rooks do call, it's not believable to me that they reasoned this out verbally the way a human might.

We also have documented examples of the passing of complex information by crows. Google "crows remember faces" for an example. It's hard for me to see how that could happen without some sort of thought process. If that's not considered "thought", then the definition of thought must include "that thing only humans do"

Edited at 2011-04-01 07:00 pm (UTC)

From Lori:

From what I understand, both presentations are possible; but with more acute / severe psychosis, the person experiences the voices as auditory delusions rather than hallucinations. Ever see some poor soul on the street talking to or fighting with someone who isn't there --and he's not wearing an ear-bud?

To clarify, hallucinations, which I do experience due to narcolepsy (mine are mainly visual), fall in to the "Wait...What?!?" category and the person experiencing them can define them as not real. Delusion happens when one is no longer able to make that distinction.

I've never had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and don't have any experience of 'voices telling me to do things' type experiences but I can tell you that my PTSD/paranoia induced auditory hallucinations/ auditory flashbacks were definitely processed as external sound.

This is quite different to the internal 'intrusive thoughts' which are a seperate symptom (which I also have experience of) and might be akin to what you describe.

which is in turn different to the insistent echoey thoughts that I used to get sometimes when my OCD was really bad.

that's probably as clear as mud, sorry :-)

I think the problem is when you can't tell what's inside your head and what's outside.

I have what I think is called eidetic memory for sound -- I can "play back" what I've heard and listen to it like the original -- but I can always tell the difference between this and hearing external sounds. It doesn't work for my other senses, like vision. Probably why I'm a musician rather than an artist.

I have experienced auditory hallucinations, too. Some of them happen in trance states (in Native terms, when I'm with my spirit guides, for example) and some happen in that hypnogogic state between sleep and wakefulness. They can be fun, when you know you're hallucinating. If you can't tell, that would probably be unpleasant.

Richard Feynman didn't get drafted in part because of auditory hypnogogic hallucinations (of his dead wife talking to him when he was going asleep, which he knew were hallucinations). The other part was because he reasoned (when asked if he thought people were watching at him) that there were a bunch of guys on the bench with nothing to look at, so one or two were probably watching him. That was regarded as paranoia.

The time in high school I SWORE I was developing some kind of split personality the psychologist my parents coughed up classified as "mild depression". I had at least one other distinct, different voice in my head that hadn't been there before. He put me on the LCD bar of hypnosis and I got fed up with him after about a month.

Nowadays, my conscious thought processes usually run like a dialogue between various aspects of myself. I know it's all me, even though I often turn to the empty space next to me and say "Hey, good point." or "Thanks for reminding me". I also talk to myself all the bloody time, because it's the best way for me to remember any and all tasks, especially when I'm interrupted.

Honestly, I'm surprised I'm not harassed about that more at work.

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