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Paradox25's avatar

How is it possible that we can hear our own thoughts?

Asked by Paradox25 (9895 points ) 3 months ago

This can be a song that’s stuck in our heads, someone’s voice, etc. Do we really even hear our own thoughts, or not? If so, do we ‘hear’ these thoughts in a similar way to how we perceive sound coming from an outside source? I have not been able to find much information on this.

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18 Answers

Dan_Lyons's avatar

“How is it possible that we can hear our own thoughts?”

The real question would be how do we not hear our own thoughts.

Whatever you hear in your head is your own thoughts, except for when you are reading other people’s minds. Then you hear their thoughts as if they were your own.

ragingloli's avatar

You do not “hear” thoughts. It is an internal approximation to sound, calculated by your brain based on expectations of how it would sound if spoken.
It does that, because after years and decades of conditioning, that is the only thing your conscious layer understands. That is also why your thoughts are in the language that you speak.
That is how weak and pathetic the human consciousness is. It does not even understand its own brain’s language, forcing the brain to translate it into something the human consciousness does understand.

Smitha's avatar

Actually we don’t hear thoughts like ears hear sound, they are in our minds. Thoughts are merely conceptual and it comes out of our inner consciousness at will.

jerv's avatar

@ragingloli Those of us who think in pictures instead of words beg to differ….

ucme's avatar

Because it is, sometimes it’s that simple.

Pachy's avatar

We hear what we are thinking when we’re awake, and both see and here what we’re thinking when we’re asleep.  Both the hearing and seeing are only mental perceptions, probably more acute to some than others depending on a number of factors.

Bill1939's avatar

Reality is a mental construction. Consider the sense of reality one experiences when dreaming. One’s consciousness can create the experience of physical sensations such as sight, sound and smell without stimuli in the same way it creates experiences when senses are stimulated.

ninjacolin's avatar

I imagine the answer is something related to both Bill and Raginloli’s comments. I would say, you can’t hear (in your head) a sound that you haven’t already got in memory. I mean just go ahead and mentally listen to the sound of a zylobantramagrephone playing “row row row row your boat”.

Difficult task, huh? It’s so much easier to imagine the song played by sounds you do happen to know and remember already (regardless how strange) like: a fog horn quartet. A really poor whistler. In farts.

My point is, I think what we’re doing when we hear thing internally is really just remembering what things or conversations sounded like in the past. And of course it seems we are complex enough that we can put remembered sounds in our head together to create brand new remixes of sounds we’ve never heard together before.

Mimishu1995's avatar

@jerv I’m one of them…

cazzie's avatar

I have conversations with myself and arguments with other people in my own head in two different languages. It isn’t hard.

dappled_leaves's avatar

Think of the whole process of sound being created, travelling to your head, going through your eardrum, then interpreted by your mind. You are imagining these “heard thoughts” as if they were still outside your eardrum. They’re not. Instead, compare these thoughts to the interpreted versions of any sound that has already passed through your eardrum. It’s all happening inside your brain.

Symbeline's avatar

Well @ragingloli might have a point. How many of you sometimes have thoughts in your minds that you can’t put to words? Sometimes it happens to me, where I think of something, but cannot describe it, because there seems to be no way in the languages that I know to do so. Apparently humans don’t use all their brain, but sometimes perhaps a small glimmer of its potential flashes and leaves again.
Or perhaps it is mental illness? Like a guy who can’t tie his shoes or eat without spilling everything, but knows everything there will ever be to know about…bridges. Kind of like Rainman I guess.
Not so related, but here’s something I thought of; when you dream about…say an object, let’s keep it simple. A ruler. You dream that you have a ruler in your hands, and you’re showing it to someone going, check out my ruler. But in the dream, you’re not actually holding a ruler, what you see is a comb instead. But everything else in your dream registers it as a ruler. Does that have anything to do with how your brain works, and is that normal? Is there a thing of perception here that is not properly working, or are dreams just like that?

hominid's avatar

As others have mentioned, it does appear to be a simulation, and it depends on our memories putting together sounds we have heard in the past.

I am curious, however – when I worked with adults suffering from schizophrenia in the past, many of them suffered from “voices” in their head. I wonder if there is a quality about these that is different in some way? One guy claimed he was simply unable to hear me at times due to the voices (he claimed they were the result of a chip implanted in his head by the FBI and Robert Redford).

Bill1939's avatar

I also worked for a few years with men diagnosed paranoid schizophrenics who experienced auditory hallucinations. I noticed that some had this experience mostly in noisy environments, such as the sound of a large floor fan or the hubbub of the day room. I imagine that it is possible for “brain noises” analogous to tinnitus provides the background that they impose thoughts upon, “hearing” usually a derogatory castigation.

hearkat's avatar

Interesting concept, Bill. I do think that musical auditory hallucinations are related to tinnitus and the brain matching the tones it hears to melodies; but I am not of the impression that “voices” speaking in their head telling them to do something is from the same mechanism as tinnitus. This is all speculation, of course, but I suppose that the “voices” phenomenon occurs in the higher-functioning part of the brain where language and speech are processed, whereas straight tinnitus is more lower brain function, and musical hallucinations possible overlap both systems. As an audiologist, I see patients with musical hallucinations often, but have only had a few patients complain of voices in their heads (sadly, one was an elementary aged child).

I am really hopeful that the Brain Initiative will find a lot of this information out. Tinnitus is getting a lot of research now, because more and more people have it, and it is the number one complaint of veterans. Merging that with the work being done in the Brain Initiative, and I am hopeful that we’ll have more concrete answers relatively soon.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

I dunno @Bill1939 I worked with a couple of psychotic out-patients in an assisted living environment and they would hear voices and respond to them in perfectly quiet rooms, just sitting quietly or lying down.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@jerv I think in pictures as well.

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