November 25, 2016

"One researcher... clocks inner speech at an average pace of 4,000 words per minute—10 times faster than verbal speech."

"And it’s often more condensed—we don’t have to use full sentences to talk to ourselves, because we know what we mean. But it does maintain many of the characteristics of dialogue. We may imagine an exchange with someone else, or we may just talk to ourselves. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a conversation. Our minds contain many different perspectives, and they can argue or confer or talk over each other. 'We are all fragmented... There is no unitary self. We are all in pieces, struggling to create the illusion of a coherent "me" from moment to moment.'"

From "The Running Conversation in Your Head/What a close study of "inner speech" reveals about why humans talk to themselves."

ADDED: If thought-speech really runs 10 times faster than spoken-speech, then 6 minutes of thinking on your own is like an hour of talking with someone else. Assuming the substance and quality of the word flow are exactly the same, it's just way more efficient to think.

There is an obvious up-side to talking with someone else: You're getting feedback and new input, and you're feeling the warmth and excitement of the presence of another human being. To think of the up-side is immediately to see the downside: The quality of what the other person has to say might not be so wonderful, and the relationship might not be so good. And if your mind is talking to you at 10 times the speed of what your interlocutor is saying, how exasperating! The other person will seem hopelessly slow, and you want to interrupt.

But this new statistic — I wonder if it's really true — could help you to become a good listener. Realize that the other person isn't really only 10% as smart as you. It just feels that way, because you're thinking and he's speaking. Tell yourself: I should be having 10 thoughts for every one this seemingly tedious person gets out, and if I don't, I'm the slow one.

This subject reminded me of the much-reported research that supposedly showed that highly intelligent persons are happier with less socializing and more time to themselves. The 10 to 1 ratio is for one individual: The conversation in your head goes 10 times as fast as your spoken word. But what's the ratio between the speed of your thoughts and the speed of the speech of that person you're stuck talking to? If you are a highly intelligent person talking to somebody average, maybe the ratio is 100 to 1. No wonder the HIP wants to stay home and read.

Ah, reading. That's another topic entirely. Just because your thought-speech is fast doesn't mean you're reading that fast. I would hypothesize that a HIP might read slowly because his own thought flow is overwhelming the process of eyeballing words on the page. What is the ratio of the speed of the words generated in your mind as you read? Perhaps some people produce 10 thought words for every word on the page they manage to absorb. Maybe HIPs have a 100 to 1 ratio. Takes him all day to read a blog post.

53 comments:

buwaya puti said...

I used to have a weird mental habit, when walking along or bored on the bus, of explaining the modern world to Jose Rizal.
Lately I've caught myself doing the same to Unamuno or Ortega y Gassett. Its more interesting vis Ortega y Gassett.

When I start seeing distinguished Spaniards, or worse, when they start talking back, I will know its all up with me.

ronalddewitt said...

Does such talking to ones self accomplish anything, i.e., does it close some kind of mental loop that would otherwise be left unclosed?

traditionalguy said...

Pay attention, Self. You are wandering to other thoughts while I am speaking to you.

I guess calling CNN news analysts "Liars" doesn't count. And my wife says they cannot hear me.
Right now the whole crew is out buying a Christmas Tree. And I am invited to help decorate it when they get back. But I can talk back to myself for a while.


rhhardin said...

Barthelme recommends having an interior dialogue as a good alternative to having a girlfriend.

rhhardin said...

How fast is an interior monologue in morse code?

I can copy 40 words per minute but only send 25, in exterior morse.

protestmanager said...

When I talk about my problem "with someone else" (which could be I'm talking, and she's not really listening) I will often realize the solution to a vexing problem that I never solved while "talking in my head".

So it could be that we talk 10x as fast inside our heads, but all that talking uses up the brainpower that would otherwise be used to solve the problem, and talking the problem out loud leaves 90% of your brain to solve the problem, rather than just worry about it.

Guildofcannonballs said...

OK GO answers this/these queries in the smash hit brand spanking new oh my God oh my God oh my God you haven't seen it YET!!! video visually, of course.

They do it verbally too, but the visuals are what really make you trip hard.

I ain't linkin btw. No money in it.

DKWalser said...

When I want a truly intellectual discussion, I usually go into a room by myself. Seriously. After I've talked through and debated all the perspectives I can imagine, I'll try out my take on someone whose views I respect. But, you simply cannot chew through all the aspects of a complex issue with someone else -- it simply takes too long.

traditionalguy said...

This phenomenon is likely why Church attendance is way down among the educated. The
church people adhere to a convoy rule. We can only think as fast as the slowest thinker in the body of Christ can think. And that rule morphs into another rule that we can only believe scripture interpretation that one other happens to remember their Great Grandaddy was stubborn about in1880.

Net result is boredom.

mezzrow said...

What is HIP?
Tell me, tell me if you think you know
What is HIP?
If you was really HIP
The passing years would show
You into a HIP trip
Maybe HIPper than HIP
But what is HIP?

DKWalser said...

Does such talking to ones self accomplish anything, i.e., does it close some kind of mental loop that would otherwise be left unclosed?

It can be very helpful. If you imagine you're discussing the matter with someone who's skeptical, but respectful, of your views, you'll often spot wholes in your argument. A similar thing happens when you try to commit your thoughts to writing. Having to write out your thoughts and explain them fully prevents your taking mental shortcuts. But, writing things out takes much longer than hosting a debate inside your mind. The downside of holding a mental debate is that it doesn't offer as much protection from making unfounded assumptions.

YoungHegelian said...

A phenomenon I always found interesting in the years I was doing computer programming was the debugging technique of "explain your code to me". When someone had a bug in their code that they couldn't figure out, you had him sit down side by side at a table & talk someone who didn't know the code through it line by line.

What was amazing was that, 9 out of 10 times, in explaining the code to the "know-nothing" person, the programmer would come to the buggy lines & code & go "I see it; I see the problem!". It was actually better to have a know-nothing rather than the local guru, because the programmer's expectation became "Oh the guru will fix it" if he worked with an expert, rather than "I've got to see what's my problem" if he worked with someone who didn't know the code.

I bring this up because it highlights a major problem of "interiority". There's nothing like a good dose of the outside world, however it comes about, to force some needed veracity on a situation.

traditionalguy said...

This is the place to remember Bill Gates year 2005 goal for his industry: Business at the speed of thought.

The old retailers pushing online sales websites to keep up with Amazon are unable to keep up today.

They are placing allblame is on pent up demand released by "certainty" following the end of the terrible election. Trump winning gets no credit. Can I say "liars!"

bagoh20 said...

Like I need another reason to love myself and hate the rest of you slow ass blabbermouths.

This comment has dozens, I mean literally dozens of hidden messages that none of you can pick up on, because you're just slow. Don't even try. It's too late. I'm so disappointed in you.

Joe said...

YoungHegelian: Been there, done that, many times. Even weirder is explaining code and suddenly realizing that the code is fine and the bug is in some other, obscure part of the code (and you know exactly where.)

Or something like:

Other: Why are your calculating A from B instead of C?
You both call the architect over. He looks annoyed
Architect: You're both wrong, you're supposed to calculate it from D.
Both: There is no D, you got rid of it last week.
Architect: Shit. Do something else, I have to figure this out.

boycat said...

Anyone who has had to deal with bipolar people in their manic phase has a special understanding of this concept.

Joe said...

I'm one of those that always has a million things going through my head at the same time. To solve a deep problem, after mulling it over, it really helps to explain it to someone because it a) slows everything down mentally and b) reduces the "noise".

If there's nobody to talk to, it often helps for me to speak out loud to myself. Fortunately, in these days of cell phone earpieces, I don't look like a lunatic anymore.

To really focus, I write it down.

traditionalguy said...

Note:Setting Audible replays at 2, much less 3, defeats the purpose. But slowing it down is even worse. I am a traditional 1.

Beth said...

About twenty years ago someone told me the phrase rapid thought syndrome and it perfectly described my brain. And I have said of some people that I can't listen as slowly as they talk. Sometimes I get so engaged in my own thoughts I forget there aren't other people around.

Beth said...

About twenty years ago someone told me the phrase rapid thought syndrome and it perfectly described my brain. And I have said of some people that I can't listen as slowly as they talk. Sometimes I get so engaged in my own thoughts I forget there aren't other people around.

Michael K said...

I used to do a fair amount of expert witness work on trauma and med-mal cases. I was very aware of this internal conversation going on as I was being cross examined by the opposed counsel. I would be thinking ahead about where he was going while I was answering his questions.

I was usually right.

traditionalguy said...

The human input still Trumps all , if it is the right human. Detroit Lions beat Minnesota with Highland Park's Matt Stanford, but not before Aretha Franklin sang a 5.5 minute National Anthem. It wore out the heart over the chest saluting Vikings.

Pettifogger said...

OK, but it often does help me to think through a problem if I discuss it with someone else. That's a valuable collegial aspect of working with other lawyers.

Alex said...

I'll use this article to justify calling Trump voters Trumpanzees. They are only 10% as smart as me.

wildswan said...

My mind holds secret conversations with itself reaching far-fetched conclusions and then reporting back without the causal evidence. This I have to dig up on my own and if I try to ignore "my" conclusions - well, my mind has a mind of its own and simply sits down and does nothing. If my mind is reporting on the Civil War it's no use trying to think about Syria. Yet there may be secret negotiations going on between the Civil War and Syria which might suddenly erupt six months from now.

Sebastian said...

"Perhaps some people produce 10 thought words for every word on the page they manage to absorb. Maybe HIPs have a 100 to 1 ratio. Takes him all day to read a blog post." Nah. Read 10 words, predict the rest, write comment, done.

jimbino said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Original Mike said...

"And it’s often more condensed—we don’t have to use full sentences to talk to ourselves, because we know what we mean."

I've often wondered if our internal conversations require any words at all. My intuition says yes, but maybe that's just a lack of imagination.

jimbino said...

"10x faster than verbal speech"

What in the world is meant by "verbal speech"? Something not Whistling? not Humming?

tim maguire said...

Original Mike said...I've often wondered if our internal conversations require any words at all. My intuition says yes, but maybe that's just a lack of imagination.

I've tried to think without words and can't even imagine what it would be like. How do animals remember anything?

Pettifogger said...

"What in the world is meant by "verbal speech"? Something not Whistling? not Humming?"

The "speech" of an inner conversation with oneself. The subject matter of this post is one of the few occasions where the phrase "verbal speech" is not pleonastic.

JML said...

I say out loud a lot less than I'm thinking...and I still get in trouble...

traditionalguy said...

We are bordering on a basic insight that human behavior is regulated by this inner speech. Hence cultural zeitgeist differences. And the inscrutable Chinese , and words as suggestive hypnosis inseminated in the minds of people we manipulate to control.

And we only use 2% of our brains. Faster, faster, faster...got to hit 3%.

SteveR said...

I'm glad to know how much I'm "thinking". I don't feel any pressure to make sense of it all, however.

Every once in a while you hit a good groove and its nice not to interact.

Terry said...


'We are all fragmented... There is no unitary self. We are all in pieces, struggling to create the illusion of a coherent "me" from moment to moment.'"

This is how Buddhists view the self. All reasonably orthodox varieties of Christianity insist on the unity and indivisible nature of the human person. Catholicism, I think, emphasizes the identify of the mental self and the physical body more than Protestantism.

wild chicken said...

I went several years not thinking in words, don't recommend it.

It's just feelz.

Terry said...

traditionalguy said...

And we only use 2% of our brains. Faster, faster, faster...got to hit 3%.

I don't think that this is true, trad guy. If you try to find the source for the claim that we only use a small part of our brain's power, you get tied up in lnots. It's one of those things where everybody quotes everybody else.
I figure we are hitting on all cylinders, even when we dream.

David said...

Thought to self: SHUT UP!

BN said...

Tim M said: "I've tried to think without words and can't even imagine what it would be like. How do animals remember anything?"

Senses.

It's like the smell of that chick, you know the one.

Michael K said...

I think there are three speeds. I think very fast and always have. I read very fast but not as fast as thinking. Back when I was a student and an intern some of used to have memory contests. I describe one of them in one of my books. My resident had brought speed reading teachers to County Hospital and was very proud of his photographic memory, I was proud of mine. One day we got into an argument about dog kidneys, which function differently from human. (Details available on request) We disagreed. He marched everybody down to the hospital library and got the current Bible on renal function, called Maxwell and Kleeman.

He said the reference was "on page 264 on the left hand side near the bottom," or some such thing. We got out the book and there was the reference but he had got the explanation wrong, Photographic memory is not perfect.

Speech is the slowest.

Kelly said...

So like an episode of the Gilmore Girls.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

I showed this to my brother, who thinks a lot and doesn't talk much, he doesn't buy it.

Jupiter said...

"One researcher the book cites clocks inner speech at an average pace of 4,000 words per minute—10 times faster than verbal speech."

This genius is from the "Department of Communication" at Wooster College. What a reeking load of pseudo-scientific bilge. Presumably, this guy does nothing with his life except produce nonsense like this. He has done nothing else, he will do nothing else. How much do you suppose we're paying him?

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Apparently the key to speed reading is to minimize subvocalizing--speaking the words to yourself in your mind. I haven't been able to do it, but some widely-used techniques include "singing" internally while reading (to occupy your "voice"), counting internally while reading, and tapping out a beat/rhythm while reading. None worked very well for me--I tend to talk quickly and read quickly, so when I want to speed up I just speed up my subvocalization...but I never got near real speed reading wpm.

Anyway, related.

tim in vermont said...

It's kind of funny, while I admit to spending much time ruminating, cogitating, and otherwise cerebrating, usually the productive new thoughts that solve problems for me arrive unbidden when I am not thinking about the problem.

tim in vermont said...

A lot of times, concepts and ideas appear as unpronounceable symbols that work as a kind of shorthand. I think that is what happened to Rick Perry when he seemed to freeze up that time. He was used to thinking about that idea, but not talking about it.

tim in vermont said...

Nah. Read 10 words, predict the rest, write comment, done. - Sebastian

LOL

PBandJ_Ombudsman said...

"Tell yourself: I should be having 10 thoughts for every one this seemingly tedious person gets out, and if I don't, I'm the slow one."

I don't want to sound like a dick, but it's not the pace of interlocutors that has my pea brain questioning their smarts, it's the stupid/wrong stuff they say/believe. If they said it ten times faster, it seems like they'd be ten times more obviously dopey. IOW, being dumb and slow could be a better disguise than being dumb and fast.

Just sayin.

Terry said...

I know that during WW2, and some time before, the military and spy agencies were very interested in how little bandwidth could be used for communication. They also did some work on whether or not a new way of writing -- a new alphabet or a special language -- would transmit and process information more quickly than a reading using the existing alphabet.
I'm getting a bit hazy here -- the article I read years ago was an encyclopedia entry on information theory -- but I believe they determined that the brain could process two or three different symbols each second, and that the number was no higher for native readers of ideograms, than it was for native readers of alphabets.

Kyzernick said...

Around the time my parents got divorced I started having panic attacks. I was in the lower middle school grades at that point, and had been told I was now the man of the house. I took it too seriously. At night, I'd hear noises and worry about burglars and things, and over time these worries got worse because I kept them to myself. The defining aspect of these attacks was an internal dialogue that sounded almost audible, narrating my fears and all the horrible ways they could manifest. The conversation would be moving so fast that I couldn't keep up even though part of me realized the thoughts were my own. While this went on I was almost physically frozen into a tense figure of worry, and usually sweating profusely, especially my head and neck.

Luckily my school had a good counselor who taught me methods to generate and maintain inner peace and introduced me in a limited way to meditation. Took almost half the school year, but eventually the panic was put to bed. I think part of how those techniques work is they help slow your thoughts and direct them better, maybe leading to better interpretation in the forebrain. I still use them today, especially when repairing things or thinking through complicated problems at work. Seems to help.

Henry said...

I'm glad Terry mentioned Buddhism. Buddhist teachers call this phenomenon "monkey-mind" and they are unimpressed:

Somewhere in this process [of meditation], you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking, gibbering madhouse on wheels barreling pellmell down the hill, utterly out of control and helpless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way, and you just never noticed.
-- Bhante Gunaratana

Rex said...

This speed differential is why I hate watching videos, whether training videos or news videos. At times, the differential feels like several thousand to one.

Jason said...

This is why "Ulysses" and "The Sound and the Fury" are so damned long.