I will stipulate at the start of this post that I might be insane. That will save you the time of pointing it out in the comments.

Lately I've been contemplating the dual nature of my brain. When I think about almost anything, I do so in the format of a conversation with myself, in full sentences. But what exactly is happening when one talks to oneself?

People don't multitask well. You can't commit the same part of your brain to two distinct tasks at the same time. At best it's sort of a packet situation (excuse the geeky reference) in which you do one thing for a short burst, then quickly switch to the other, then back. It might look like multitasking but it's just quick switching.

It can seem like multitasking when you use one part of your brain for habit-based stuff such as walking while using another part of the brain for talking. That works because walking and talking don't draw on the same brain resources.

So what is happening when I talk to myself? As far as I can tell, the part of me doing the talking has full mental capacity while forming words, and yet I also seem to have 100% ability to listen to myself. Why doesn't the concept-comprehension part of my brain get confused when it is talking and listening at the same time?

Now you might say the listening-to-myself part is an illusion because I can't form sentences in my mind without understanding in advance what they will mean. In a sense, the listening is naturally integrated with the process of forming a sentence in the first place. That's clearly part of the explanation. But it feels as if something else is going on.

The part of my mind that seems to be listening to the other part talking is also doing some filtering and judging. I form my thought into a sentence, experience the sentence in my mind as if it had been spoken, and evaluate it for effectiveness after my mind hears it. That last step, where I evaluate and often reject my own thoughts has the feel of an entirely different person. It feels like a pitcher and a catcher. The pitcher might have the more active function, but the catcher is sending hand signals and performing a key function too.

It makes me wonder if the part of my brain that controls my speaking functions is tied to the same higher thinking part of my brain that my hearing/comprehension is connected to. In other words, is the part of my brain that knows that a chair is, and how it is used, connected to both my speaking and my listening parts of my brain? Or do I have two completely different areas in my brain that both understand the concept of a chair, but one connects to my speech center and the other is connected to my hearing and comprehension centers? How else could the hearing part of my brain sometimes disagree with the speaking part?

For purely practical reasons we count one human body as one "person." That makes sense for all sorts of legal and economic purposes. But it sure doesn't feel as if I have only one person in my head. It feels like a conversation between two friends.

Like most people, I'm also capable of holding opposing views simultaneously. One part of me argues that something is a good idea while the other firmly disagrees. I don't experience that situation as one mind that is sorting through the data. It feels like two people having a debate. Stranger yet, there might be a third me observing the debate and being a judge.

I often wonder if people who don't mind being alone - and I am one of them - have a more distinct feeling of the "other" in their own head. I'm never lonely when the two of my personality are having an interesting conversation in my head. But sometimes I lose the feeling of the other, or get bored with it, and then the loneliness can be overwhelming. Fortunately there are also real people in my life so the cure is always nearby.

My question for today is this: Do you feel the presence of two people who are both you at the same time? And if so, do you enjoy being alone more than most other people do?

My hypothesis is that people who can't feel the presence of another entity in their minds have a hard time being alone.

[Update: Two readers made reference to some actual science by Julian Jaynes supporting the bicameral mind idea. It's fascinating. -- Scott]

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Oct 8, 2012
I wouldn't say you're insane. I'd say you're possessed by the devil. Knowing your previously published religious beliefs, I'd say he's convinced you he doesn't really exist.
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Oct 8, 2012
No and yes respectively. I'm quit capable being alone by myself, but it's more link to my better that average imagination. Or I analyze some past even of my life, or I imagine some stuff, or I just try to do something, like math. I don't feel I'm two different person and I pretty much think you are just trying to over rationalize it.

You said that in the act of formulating the sentence in our mind, we understand it in advance, well that pretty much it. Actually where you seem to not understand is the part how you can focus on taking two side of a debate and even judging the result of such "inter-debate".

It's pretty easy, for the whole part of inner speaking and listening, well that just because word are the key to concept and thus just by the fact of speaking one (verbally or internally) you are putting the concept in your mind. Combining multiple concept give you the context and thus the discriminatory information to make sens of it.

Calling upon concept is one part of the brain, formulating idea from them (the taking position) an another and finally, judging if what you are saying is coherent, pertinent and rational an another.

You don't even need to do some fancy alternative job sequence, doing such thing is like drawing out power out of a multicore processor when you clearly specified that this function is done by one core, and the other by the other core. If you ain't using the exact same resource, you should not feel any mental difficulty.

And for your last theory, I pretty much think it's about insecurity, "generally" "loner" are people a bit insecure sharing (note that I give a large definition to sharing) with others while "social" people are less secure about sharing with themselves.
Oct 8, 2012
I'm so glad you posted this, Scott. I have had those same dualistic thoughts as long as I can remember; indeed, I cannot imagine having only one 'voice' in my head. The distinctness of the separate individual thought processes became extremely apparent to me when I was under the influence of LSD.

I am quite comfortable with being 'alone' with my thoughts.
Oct 8, 2012
I look at it as two processor chips in the brain. The "reptile" chip is connected to sensory inputs and has access to embedded RAM that stores physical and emotional input/response codes. It leads to reflex actions as well as thoughts like "I ought to... ".

Non-reflex output signals from the reptile chip must pass through the "monkey" chip prior to taking action. The monkey chip accesses long term disk storage that stores a learned library of intricate cause and effect relationships. It acts to moderate or cancel output streams from the reptile chip.

So those conversations in your head may simply be signals passing between your reptile chip and your monkey chip.
Oct 8, 2012
I think you are describing the experiences that most people feel, as a result of the division of tasks between left and right brain hemispheres.

The left side generally handles tasks such as language, logic and reasoning. The right side handles emotions, intuition, etc.

When you are thinking to yourself, the left side is talking to the right side.

In some cases, where there has been trauma to the brain, and the connections between the sides has been damaged or split, there can be very strange effects, such as Alien-hand syndrome, where the person feels that the right-side of their body (controlled by the left-side of the brain) is functioning independently. This feeling happens because the left-side of the brain does not communicate through language.

It's a bit like having an argument with your wife. Since women don't understand logic or reason, they just starting throwing stuff at you. (Ok, that was a joke.)
Oct 8, 2012
You just described exactly how I behave when mulling things over on my own. And yes, I live alone and enjoy periods of solitude (interspersed with normal social interaction... I'm not quite !$%*!$% crazy yet).
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Oct 8, 2012
it's too bad there is such a social taboo against "talking to yourself" because that's how my mind works pretty much all the time. I am in near-constant dialogue with myself very similarly to the way you describe. There are probably at least three of "me" inside my head. and yes, I do enjoy being alone more than most people, though sometimes I get on my own nerves! but interestingly, I usually have this dialogue even when I am talking to other people. sometimes I'll say something stupid and instantly regret it, and one of "me" will scold the "me" who said it, which results in me both scolding and feeling scolded at the same time.

another interesting aspect is that I am bi-lingual, and sometimes the dialogue will be in one language, sometimes in the other, or in a mix of both. and occasionally parts of the dialogue use abstract thoughts when I can't find the right words for what I am thinking. this indicates to me that the thoughts behind the dialogue actually take place before being "translated" into language inside my head.
Oct 8, 2012
Do I have a problem being alone with my own thoughts? No. Is it because my brain works in the manner you describe? Not quite. In my case its because Im usually 'writing' stories in my head. Sometimes it comes close to what you describe but not quite. I think maybe people who don't mind being alone each came up with their own related but slightly different way of keeping themselves occupied with their own thoughts and you and I are just two examples.
Oct 8, 2012
There's a fine line between crazy and scientology. Embrace your inner Thetan.
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