How We Think

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Enoch Orozco

This is a visualization of the comparison of two people’s thought processes. One thinks with an inner voice, while the other has a vague conceptualization of the same idea (Photo courtesy of Enoch Orozco).

Although it may not always seem like it, everybody thinks. According to successconciousness.com, “Experts estimate that the mind thinks between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day. That’s an average of 2500 – 3,300 thoughts per hour.” However, as one might expect due to the sheer mass amount of people on the earth, not everyone thinks the same way. An interesting observation has concluded that humans either think with an inner voice that monologues their life or with a vague conceptualization that lacks any words or sentences. The phenomenon has changed the way we think about thinking and what that means. 

The inner voice, put in very simple terms, is simply a voice in your mind that monologues what you think and what you do. It does not mean whenever you walk you would think, “I am walking, step, step, step,” but more like having a narrator or something in your mind that you talk to. Many people with said inner voice have conversations in their heads as to how they are feeling and what they are doing. The voice is said to be their own voice or the voice of someone close to them, but nevertheless there is a voice. Those with an internal monologue, or inner voice, are said to be more self-aware and introspective but are more prone to negative self-talk, dampening the way they feel about a situation.

Contrary to the inner voice is the absence of an inner voice, what I refer to as a vague conceptualization of what’s going on. A new hypothesis known as the “language of thought” hypothesis suggests that our brain has a language of its own that this conceptualization stems from. The brain simply “thinks” on its own and can conceptualize from the neurons that were fired in the process, excluding the “translation” portion that the inner voice would entail. People that conceptualize are not less aware of their surroundings; their brains just don’t have a need to “translate” into thoughts a language we understand. Those who conceptualize may be better problem solvers or in general more productive, but they lack a strong sense of self that anyone with an “inner voice” might have a stronger connection to.

For me, I do not have an inner voice and believing people have an inner voice first sounded psychotic. The belief that someone constantly has a narrator saying everything they do sounds like it would be very very slow. However, I guess the same goes for someone with an inner voice. They would be shocked to realize that someone is not “verbalizing their thoughts” but is instead conceptualizing them.

I was able to speak to two of my close friends, Cannon Bedenbaugh and Aaron Thomas, who both believe they more strongly have an inner voice. “The problem with describing thoughts is we use our thoughts to do it, but we have to express them verbally, which causes a translation error,” says Thomas. “Unless we can be in someone else’s mind and understand what’s going on in their mind, we could never compare it to our own way of thinking,” says Bedenbaugh. After talking to them I was able to get a better understanding of how they think, but we all came to the similar conclusion that we may just never completely understand the situation. 

All in all, thoughts are thoughts and one way of thinking is not any better than the other. Additionally, most people can even switch back and forth between the two, but their brain simply has a preference either way. Brains are very hard to understand, and until we fully grasp what they’re capable of we cannot make an assumption over what different types of thoughts mean.