The ability to use and interpret language is, as far as we are aware, a characteristic unique to the human species. It is an ability to express thoughts and feelings with spoken sounds, or written symbols, and for others to recognize and understand the meanings of these sounds and symbols. The term “language” may also refer to the rules associated with the spoken word, or written code, such as parts of speech, sentence construction and web programming.
The ability to use and interpret language is associated with a particular area of the brain. In most individuals the left side of the brain is dominant for language. It has been suggested that in people with schizophrenia, the language area of the non-dominant right side of the brain is still active and this can lead to psychotic symptoms.
Usually someone has an inner thought voice which may, or may not, be the same as their speaking voice. They will also have a self-image and a set of life pictures within their mind that are the memory of life experiences: kind of like a video that they can move forwards, or backwards, shaping character. This will obviously grow longer with time. Together these help form a person’s conscious identity. If the inner voice changes, or any of the inner pictures change, so will the sense of identity.
When reading a fantasy novel some people will read the words “inside their mind,” with their own inner voice. They may absorb the words into their head without any conscious knowledge of any voice type at all. Others will role-play the voices of the different characters of the book inside their mind, kind of like soap opera characters. Some may even pick up the inner character of the creator of the story reading it to them. Would it be a great assumption to suspect that the least likely to suffer from schizophrenia-type symptoms would be those without the creativity and imagination necessary to put them at risk—i.e., the first type of readers?
Thoughts, pictures and words are inextricably linked. Words lead to thoughts and thoughts lead to words. A person who is reading a book vividly imagines the scene as described by the words, while others see nothing at all. Some famous authors even claim that their characters became alive inside their minds and almost wrote the stories themselves.
Could this theory of schizophrenia-susceptibility also be supported by the observation that, when you are role-playing someone else’s voice and character inside your head, you are momentarily creating a split from your own personality in favor of another’s. Although many writers and actors are conscious of controlling this ability with a high degree of skill, some people of this personality type may be susceptible to tiny disassociations.
Research using brain-scanning equipment shows that changes occur in the speech area of the brain in people with schizophrenia while hearing hallucinatory voices. The brain reacts as if the voices are real. This causes confusion in the patient who may develop irrational beliefs that their thoughts are being controlled, that there’s a microchip implanted inside them, and other such imaginings.
In a recent study comparing patients with psychotic symptoms to a control group, brain activity during verbal fluency tests was analyzed. Decreased lateralization and greater activity in the right superior lateral lobe was found in the patients. However, when a group of non-psychotic subjects who suffered from isolated auditory hallucinations was tested they showed no significant difference in brain activity vis-à-vis the control group. Thus, there is no established link between auditory verbal hallucinations and language lateralization.
It would be interesting to try a different approach, scanning the brains of different types of reading and visualization personalities to see if the brain sometimes puts out the signal for hearing a real voice while reading.
In 2015 an Italian study found that when looking into each other’s eyes for a long period of time, some people experience symptoms of dissociation, including feelings of detachment from one’s body and from reality and sometimes even full-on hallucinations.
Returning another’s gaze can stimulate a subconscious reaction. The type of reaction depends on the parties involved and the circumstances. For example, being stared at by a stranger who appears large, or ominous, can be seen as a threat and elicit a fear response. This is common in the natural world where it has been noted that jaguars sometimes stare at monkeys in treetops, causing them to suddenly fall to the ground from the branches, thus providing an easy meal. It is likely that the intimidating cats cause a severe stress response by eliciting fear.
We know that certain prolonged visual information can cause visual hallucinations, so can auditory information similarly cause auditory hallucinations? Does this all depend on the induced state of mind? I would hate to say it in such a simply put manner.
Sometimes a vivid imagination can lead to a problem in distinguishing fantasy from reality in creative people. It is very subtle at the beginning, almost like (for a tiny instant) the brain enters a parallel reality, and fantasy and reality at a single point become confused and interchanged within the mind (inside the aforementioned video of live memory). The false memory may then grow like a seed inside the mind and eat away at the video-type memory, like a virus, until it becomes totally impossible to distinguish fantasy from reality. In the end fantasy takes over and there is no real sense of the correct reality, or identity, left. As I said before words, thoughts and pictures are closely interknitted. Creation of auditory hallucinations may be described as a similar kind of subtle momentary dissociation. For an instant the thought-voice, whatever its origin may be, is created and heard as if it’s real.
It is a well-known psychological rule that when presented with a random pattern and asked what they might see, a person will try and form it into a familiar shape such as a face. In the same way random sounds can be converted into words with a little stretch of the imagination; indeed, this is commonly used in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).
Another point of interest would be to look at the brain, linked to the state of mind present when people create characters’ voices in their mind. Small children often have irrational fears such as the proverbial monster in the closet. When lying in a bed alone the dark voice in the closet may clearly be heard. It is a simple trick of the mind, and not necessarily a symptom of mental illness. Even adults, caught alone in the woods at night, may experience the “wild wood” syndrome depicted in The Wind in The Willows: every shadowed tree is a face, every rustling leaf becomes a stalker. Could such a brainwave pattern create susceptibility that—alone with a natural ability to create role-plays in the mind—can create and maintain a tormenting voice? Also, are “nice” voices created when positive emotional areas of the brain are activated at the same time as words are read about pleasant characters while “nasty” voices are created when negative areas of the brain are activated at the same time as reading about horrible characters?
When reading, creating a fantasy voice in the mind does not normally register as a real voice. Yet can it reach a level where this fantasy voice registers in the brain as real? Frightened people in the woods can turn natural sounds into voices because they are in a susceptible state of mind; however, are these voices registered in the brain as real voices? Presumably yes, even though it is a real sound of nature. In the same way mentally ill people will sometimes change a dog barking, or a train in the distance, into a voice aimed at themselves, could a link be established between these two different types of voice creation?
A Final Word of Warning
Beware of the uncertainty principle. This may be better known in particle physics, but trying to study someone’s natural inner voice is very difficult simply because of the fact that the monitoring itself can change the observation.
Advances in V2K—voice to skull, mind-control technology—are blurring the distinction between “madness'” and what can reasonably be considered possible and, hence, the distinction between patient and victim.