Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Inner Speech vs. Inner Hearing? Inner Sketching vs. Inner Seeing?

Okay, I'm on an inner speech kick. I admit it! I also keep talking about Russ Hurlburt. I'm writing a book with him, so his stuff is on my mind.

Russ draws a distinction between what he calls "inner speech", which is experienced as in some way produced by the thinker, and "inner hearing", which (though obviously in some sense produced by the thinker) is experienced more passively, as "coming at you as a recording would". Many of the people he interviews about their experience seem to find such a distinction intuitive and classify the sentences running through their minds as either one or the other (or both, or sometimes one, sometimes another).

So, first, is there a legitimate distinction to be drawn here? What do you think? If so, it's one that most philosophers who've discussed "inner speech" have been insensitive to.

And, second, if we grant that there's a distinction between inner speech and inner hearing, is it a fairly epiphenomenal distinction, with no real functional significance? Or is there something more passive, or alienated, or something, about those thoughts of ours that come in inner hearing as opposed to inner speech? Or...?

Although Russ doesn't draw a corresponding distinction with respect to visual imagery (nor does anyone else who comes to mind), I'm inclined to wonder whether maybe such a distinction could be drawn -- a distinction between "inner sketching", felt as actively produced by the visualizer, and "inner seeing", felt as passively received.

I cast my gaze inward, I reflect on my own experience. If Descartes were right, I should know nothing with more certainty. Yet I am perplexed....


Pete Mandik said...

Hi Eric,

I'd say yes, there's a genuine distinction between inner speech and inner hearing. I'd be inclined to characterize it in terms of degree of spontaneity or control. Perhaps relevant are literatures on pathologies involving the distinction, such as vocies heard by schizophrenics and so-called thought-insertion.

Re: inner sketching and inner seeing, I'd say there's a distinction to be had there too. I have pretty vivid mental imagery and some of it comes accross as not something I've actively sketched. If I've been working for a long time on a painting (or playing a video game for a long time) later in the day those images pop up in my minds eye. It's the visual equivalent of an ear-worm: a song you can't stop "singing" to yourself.



Brad C said...

(1) Your post brought to my mind the phrase "a thought occured to me". I often find myself drawn to the phrase when I am telling someone else about a thought that came to mind while reading, and this seems to be the passive sort of inner speech to which you refer.

(2) But this makes me wonder about your concept of inner hearing: is it meant to cover the cases I have in mind?

If so, I agree with pete that the distinction carves experiences at a joint.

But maybe you do not mean to include the cases I have in mind, and mean to restrict 'inner hearing' to cases where the person literally hears a voice speaking. I guess it would be a case where they report hearing a voice but no-one else does and there are no relevant sounds in the air. Call this 'the restricted understanding' of inner hearing. I do not have such experiences and suggest that they should be distinguisghed passive thought-episodes one might refer to with by saying "a thought occurred to me while I was in the shower" (or, e.g., "a thought about Kant's argument popped into my mind while I was washing the dishes").

I doubt that the restricted understanding of inner hearing is what you intend because I doubt that you mean to similarly restrict the concept of inner speech. Am I right on both counts?

(3) If either concept is unrestricted, I wonder why you prefer to use the terms 'speech' and 'hearing' - in this context they would be metaphors and I wonder why you think they are useful ones.

More specifically: I may have missed this in an earlier post, but what is gained by employing the metaphor of speech/hearing? Why not stick with 'thought' and then make the distinction by use of 'passive thought' and 'active thought'?

Just wondering.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this, Pete and Brad. It's interesting to find that you both think there's a joint to be carved here, since it's gone (as far as I can tell) almost completely unnoticed by philosophers -- a joint (whether it goes by the "inner hearing" / "inner speech" label or not) having something to do with activity or passivity. But I wonder, is a thought in "inner hearing" really more passive, in some substantive sense -- less deliberately created, say? -- than a thought in "inner speech"? Or does it only feel that way...? Hm, this is going to be hard to find a good measure for!

I'd prefer to reserve the distinction between "inner speech" and "inner hearing" for that (apparently fairly normal) distinction you both seem to be affirming, between the normally active and normally passive stream of heard or spoken words. I think this is probably somewhat different from related phenomena you mention -- such as schizophrenic thought insertion and auditory hallucination (despite some similarities).

On Brad's #3: One reason to avoid the word "thought" here (or at least what I'd suggest) is that some people report thoughts as not involving any kind of auditory/spoken string of words at all -- e.g., so-called "imageless thought", or thoughts by visual imagery. "Speech" and "hearing" capture the active and passive side of worded thought in the auditory medium -- active vs. passive auditory visual imagery, you might say. That's the idea anyway.