Confession: I talk to myself all day, almost every day. But I swear, it's not because I'm insane.
I actually talk to myself because I have to — I had ruined my wrists with typing by the age of 21, and ever since then I've used voice-recognition for almost all my writing. That's why every now and then a weird homonym shows up in one of my posts, and why I had to warn my roommates that although I might be mumbling about abortion at eight in the morning, they shouldn't call the cops. Despite the warning, I think they still think I'm crazy.
But maybe they shouldn't. According to psychologist Randy Engle, interviewed in today's Times, most people actually talk to themselves. In the absence of mental illness, we usually do it in order to remember something, or to understand complicated text. Engle says,
[W]hen we are reading something that is quite complex, it helps to verbalize it aloud, because hearing it, and hearing the language, gives us another cue for remembering those exact words. Listening to our internal auditory memory has been found to be quite helpful to understand a particularly complex sentence.
Although I've become an accomplished self-talker, I almost never do this. Maybe it's because I hear a voice in my head while reading anyway, so I don't need to speak aloud. A quick googling reveals that this is relatively common, and that some readers even hear other people's voices. Still, plenty of people look at me funny when I say I have a voice in my head that reads to me. Just anecdotally, I've noticed that scientists and engineers are less likely to be aware of a head-voice, even if they read a lot. So maybe it's a right-brain thing?
I also hear a voice in my head when I write, which made the transition from typing for voice recognition pretty easy (except that the software kind of sucks — no matter how hard I try, I can never teach it any curse words, or the name Barack Obama). This seems even less common than the reading head-voice. Other writers I've talked to don't hear a voice, and one says he actually associates composition with the physical act of typing.
Actually, I think my most insane form of self-talk is actually the most common. Engle doesn't mention it, but I'm pretty sure everybody yells "shit!" or some comparable exclamation when they stub their toe or dropped a just-washed white shirt directly onto a dirty boot-print on the floor. But for some reason, I've taken to shouting out "fuck you!" in these situations. Who am I cursing? Myself? The universe? Some demon sent to cause me annoying accidents? Whoever it is, this curse-ee has received a lot of undeserved blame over the course of my clumsy life. Maybe I should start yelling out "sorry."
Thinking Out Loud [NYT]