Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hearing Voices

This item has been languishing in my bookmarks since January: Many children 'hear voices'; most aren't bothered.

The gist is that 15-ish percent of kids hear imaginary voices, and that the majority of the time, the voices don't interfere with their thinking or cause them much distress*. The voices aren't linked to schizophrenia, violent behavior, or any real ill effects. It's part of their lives. Part of how they think.

What struck me at the time is how much of my own thinking could be framed as "hearing voices." Don't worry, the neighbor's dog isn't telling me to kill, aliens aren't informing me of imminent planetary destruction. But I often think in a babble of voices: friends, family, voices from books and movies. Often it's a dialogue between me and the other voice. When I'm writing I hear character's voices talking. Sometimes I talk to a younger version of myself (usually asking him "what the f@ck were you thinking?"). And while I can't speak for the inside of anyone's brain but my own, I'd wager most other people are the same way. Linear, orderly, point A to point B thinking occurs in bad novels and Psych 101 classrooms. Which is why I don't like most interior monologues in fiction. Easy. False.

The unpredictable, wandering minds of real people, engaged in real life, is more subtle, more fractured, and much messier.

I like messy. I trust messy.

* an interesting footnote: "Although urban children were less likely to hear voices, they were more troubled by them."


Margaret said...

Hearing voices . . . that's just thinking theatrically, right?

The bit about talking to your younger self made me laugh; I get the "what the fuck are you thinking?" from present self. (Not that it has much of an effect; it's more of a counter-commentary.)

I trust messy - I like that line.

ArtSparker said...

There may be two different kinds of voices at play here - there is the internal dialogue that we are all familiar with, and there are voices that seem to come from elsewhere, see under Julian Jaynes and the bicameral mind. A quick check on the internet confirms that the corpus callosum continues to grow in childhood, so that kids hearing voices are possibly those born with late-developing ...callosi, that is, one side of the brain experiences the other as foreign.

Eric said...

I hear voices from time to time before I go to sleep--somewhere above that liminal state of the half-dream-- and used to hear them virtually every night when I was younger, from 15-19 or so. It was like listening to a scanning radio, but picking up snippets of conversations from people doing all sorts of things. I'd rarely remember what was said, but it was a pretty distinct experience from dreaming because I could think to myself while listening to them "I'm hearing voices again. That's a bit odd".

And come to think of it, sometimes I hear a sort of "tuning in" sound, like the sound an old TV makes when you turn it on or off and the screen zaps from white to black or vice versa. Heard that last night.

Clowncar said...

Thinking theatrically - exactly, M. I'll be cleaning out the car, see a bag of peanuts and leave it, thinking "little did he know those peanuts would one day save his life"

Art, a worthy distinction. I remember hearing years ago about the bicameral brain being responsible for the pantheon of Gods in early religion and lit. That voices from the other side of the brain were interpreted as voices of the Gods.

Clowncar said...

Eric - maybe you are a character in a TV show. You hear that tuning in sound right before you wake up because you didn't exist until the TV was turned on.

Poet in Residence said...

I agree with Art Sparker that there are two kinds of voices. The internal dialogue voice is a voice that everyone is familiar with. It's our way of handling information.
The other voice, the so-called external voice or as Art Sparker calls it "from elsewhere" is the the voice we should be interested in. This external voice may say for instance that some danger lies ahead, and the person has then heeded the voice or not as the case may be ...
I think this is a phenomena that is worthy of study.

Clowncar said...

I'm not sure children would be sophisticated enough to tell the difference between internal dialogue and voices from elsewhere. Though I agree they are two separate things.

How they phrased the question doesn't really make the distinction either: "one or more voices that only you and no one else could hear."

Nancy Dancehall said...

I'll go you one further. Walking down the steps from the parking garage to the hospital a couple of weeks ago, I high-fived the air imagining my 'afternoon self' coming up the steps and high-fiving me because we'd had a good day. It worked.

There is nothing better in the world than listening to your characters talk to each other. Writing becomes dictation.

"Trust messy" should be a bumper sticker.

Laurita said...

"little did he know those peanuts would one day save his life"

I'm so thrilled you said this! It's like self-narrating, I guess. I'll walk down the street thinking "She walked down the street without realizing the danger that lurked behind the mailbox."

I would imagine life is much more interesting when you think in voices. Loved this post. :)

Clowncar said...

Wow Nance. Glad that worked. What if you had gone to high five her and she said "don't bother, today sucked."? Lucky you don't allow Future Nancy tat kind of autonomy.

The fun bit is that it's such a large variety of voices. It's like a cocktail party in your head.

Margaret said...

"cocktail party in your head" reminds me of a bit by Oliverio Girondo which starts thus:

"I don't have a personality: I am a cocktail, a conglomerate, a riot of personalities. In me, personality is a species of inimical furunculosis in a chronic state of eruption; not a half hour can pass without my sprouting a new personality."

The rest is posted under the number 8 here:

Fresca said...

Fun post!

I don't "hear" words, I sort of "see" them, almost as if they're scrolling through my brain on an unending ticker-tape.

An artist friend says she never thinks that way:
she sees pictures, colors, forms and the like all the time, not words.

Clowncar said...

I have a good writer friend with synthasia - everything is a swirl of color and voices. Here writing reflects it.

And I suppose my writing reflects the voices thing - particularly in my earlier writing, people would tell me they could "hear" my voice when they read it.