The Voices Within: The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves (Hardcover)

Staff Pick Logo
The Voices Within: The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves Cover Image
On Our Shelves Now
1 on hand, as of Apr 23 10:01am

Staff Reviews

This is an interesting book about something that is so common, so quotidian, and so useful that we overlook it: inner speech. Charles Fernyhough details his own “dialogic theory” of inner speech, which posits that we have silent conversations that take place in our heads with “virtual” partners of our own creation. All of us may have distinct, different conversation partners (the Faithful Friend, the Proud Rival, etc.), each of whom serve a different pragmatic purpose, which quite often involves planning. This ability to juggle many virtual perspectives is also something that is key for creativity. His chapters on reading to yourself and having linguistic interactions with characters while writing novels are fascinating. Fernyhough and many colleagues are also putting their research into the service of destigmatizing and alleviating the symptoms associated with “voice hearing” that have often fallen under the now very problematic label of schizophrenia. Fernyhough refreshingly supports a pluralistic view of inner speech. He gives the reductive theory he has been working on and makes room for other theories that, in the end, each have something to contribute to our understanding of this very complex and still (by his own admission) poorly understood phenomenon.

— Andy


A luminous exploration of the nature of thoughts, from daydreams to the voices in our heads
At the moment you caught sight of this book, what were you thinking? Was your thought a stream of sensations? Or was it a voice in your head? Did you ask yourself, "I wonder what that's about?" Did you answer? And what does it mean if you did?

When someone says they hear voices in their head, they are often thought to be mentally ill. But, as Charles Fernyhough argues in The Voices Within, such voices are better understood as one of the chief hallmarks of human thought. Our inner voices can be self-assured, funny, profound, hesitant, or mean; they can appear in different accents and even in sign language. We all hear them-and we needn't fear them. Indeed, we cannot live without them: we need them, whether to make decisions or to bring a book's characters to life as we read. Studying them can enrich our understanding of ourselves, and our understanding of the world around us; it can help us understand the experiences of visionary saints, who might otherwise be dismissed as schizophrenics; to alleviate the suffering of those who do have mental health problems; and to understand why the person next to us on the subway just burst out laughing for no apparent reason.

Whether the voices in our heads are meandering lazily or clashing chaotically, they deserve to be heard. Bustling with insights from literature, film, art, and psychology, The Voices Within offers more than science; it powerfully entreats us all to take some time to hear ourselves think.

About the Author

Charles Fernyhough is a writer and psychologist. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Pieces of Light, shortlisted for many prizes, and A Thousand Days of Wonder. He directs Hearing the Voice, a project on inner voices based at Durham University. He lives in County Durham, United Kingdom.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780465096800
ISBN-10: 0465096808
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication Date: October 4th, 2016
Pages: 320
Language: English