Thoughtless

I do not have an inner voice. I found this out by reading about mind exercises designed to stop you thinking, I found I did not have a voice to stop. I checked and tested some people and found they do have a voice and I was different. I have a reputation for just blurting out answers to problems and memorising data from long ago. I am INTJ* and highly functional in the technical area I work in. I have all the classic INTJ traits. I won’t say I have no inner voice, I just try to keep it out of the way and let my brain work on any problem I have submitted it. Sometimes when I blurt out an answer even I am surprised (whoever I is). I never believed a small little voice in my head limited to words could ever be an efficient thinking machine so perhaps I suppressed it.

Quote from a graduate with a Masters in Engineering & Software Engineering (1982), University College Dublin. Submitted to Quora in 2017. https://www.quora.com/I-do-not-have-a-subconscious-voice-inside-my-head-Is-this-normal

* INTJ (Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judgment) is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to refer to one of the 16 psychological types. According to Myers–Briggs the INTJ represents “The Mastermind”. INTJs are one of the rarest of the 16 psychological types and account for 2%—3% of the population. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INTJ


Mental illness, at the risk of stating the obvious, is evidence of mental life. Mental life, when functioning well or otherwise, is experienced in part through the medium of thought. And the greater part of thought is experienced, by most people (there are exceptions – see above), as a species of inner voice or inner speech. A combination of mental imagery and inner language, in elusive and changing proportions, characterises most thought. The treatment of mental illness is hampered by a focus on symptoms as they arise rather than a policy of prevention. It is the view of researchers that ‘while the revolution in personal fitness, diet and medicine over the past half-century has transformed physical health, there have been few similar efforts to keep people well mentally.’ (‘Global call to step up earlier mental illness prevention’ by Mark Rice-Oxley, The Guardian, 08/06/19)

A reductive view of thought might be that it is the carrier or importer of illness – it is the mold on an exposed cheese. Setting aside the myriad and complex actual causes of mental dysfunction, the penultimate element in a causal chain of mental disruption could be seen as the array of thoughts or messages that appear to impinge on the mind. If this is the case then the possibility of shooting the messenger can arise. Thought is upsetting – how could it be neutralised?

Such a response is typical of the cognitive behavioural therapy school which, while dependent upon classical Freudian assumptions, chooses to minimise the significance of the unconscious by regarding disturbing or habitual thought patterns as suppressible and replaceable.

What gets thought a bad name is its unreliability, variability and unpredictability. Just as you start to use it to solve a problem or clarify a position, say, it turns on you like the bear in the Werner Herzog documentary Grizzly Man that ate the man who was confident he had tamed it. Thought may confront you with alternatives that block the path to an equilibrium in which the mind ambles along in an uncontentious way. Most of the time such inconveniences are manageable and are expressed by an inner voice that sounds just like your own outer voice. Sometimes inner speech is taken over by a voice or voices that are not yours. This may increase the leverage of contradictory or confusing messages but the phenomenon is still generally manageable. It need not be mistaken for its distant yet unsettling cousin, auditory verbal hallucination. Such a condition can be indicative of schizophrenia but the criteria for diagnosis are as pathologised as the pathology they purport to describe.

On occasion, when the inner voice is rendered in the wrong voice and mounts some sort of critical campaign it is tempting to characterise it as alien or even an alien. It can, equally, be regarded as an invasive spirit or as a ghost. The intensity of such ‘invasions’ can be mild and unperturbing or nagging, insistent and haunting. At such points, in the interests of preserving the thinker a distinction may be made between ‘thinking’ and ‘hearing’, where ownership of the latter is denied and quarantine is introduced.

We approach the possibility that thought comes to be regarded as a medium for the dissemination of fake news. It is a hoax. Clearly it has its uses – it would certainly be difficult to work things out without it. Nevertheless, it is unmannerly and impertinent insofar as it does not petiton for entry – one moment it is not there and the next moment it is. There’s not much you can do about that.

Thought, as far as we tend to be aware, lacks the material qualities that render the body, to a degree, tractable. In addition to being impertinent, it is soft and difficult to grasp. It is teasing, coy, coquettish – it has feminine qualities. It is feminine yet it is found in male bodies. How can this be?

A luxurious possibility arises. Given that it is so slippery, it would be better to extinguish it. Not entirely, of course, you need some to work out train timetables, for example, but given its generally inconstant and ill-disciplined nature, the greater volume of it can be turned off.

It is at this point that true luxury is found. Little is lost. The grand hoax is trumped. Now we can get on.

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