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

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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.

Praise For…

"Talk to yourself? We all do, all the time, and the voices persist even when you'd rather they shush. The 'inner voice' is becoming a prime-time topic in brain studies, and Fernyhough's book is a solid entry in the discussion. It provides enough science to ground the argument, but the real achievement here is the writing. The author is a psychologist and a novelist, and his prose has a narrative feel that separates it from most books on the psych shelf."—David DiSalvo,, Best Brain Books of 2016

"Fernyhough has built up an interesting picture of inner speech and its functions."
Jerome Groopman, New Yorker

"In The Voices Within, [Fernyhough] has rendered complicated mental experience without losing its human texture, as so often happens when psychological questions are addressed in the lab.... [It's] an intriguing and deeply humane book."

"A must-read for those seeking to understand the voices in their heads."—Discover

"The author's investigations, at once scientific and humane, represent the discipline of psychology at its rare best.... After reading The Voices Within, you may never again be quite as thoughtless about the fact that you think."—Raymond Tallis, Wall Street Journal

"The Voices Within...intriguingly challenges conventional assumptions about the self as unified and coherent, while also posing the question: how might that which we deem pathological be shaped by the mores of our times?"—Christine Gross-Loh, Guardian, Best Books for Summer 2016

"[Fernyhough's] account is fascinating, not only for the ideas he raises but also for his vignettes of historical thought and research."—Lancet

"This sophisticated and appealing work scrutinizes a tangled topic with aplomb and will leave readers permanently observing their own thought processes differently. Perfect for readers of Oliver Sacks and Malcolm Gladwell."
Booklist, starred review

"Fernyhough's book is a valuable addition to the literature surrounding the unending human quest to understand the location--and the creation--of the self."
Publishers Weekly
Product Details
ISBN: 9780465096800
ISBN-10: 0465096808
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication Date: October 4th, 2016
Pages: 320
Language: English