The Voices Within: The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves
By Charles Fernyhough
Basic Books. 305 pages.
Our brains, like our minds, are full of voices,” writes psychologist Charles Fernyhough in The Voices Within: The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves, his exploration of the thoughts and images that course through our heads. “I am interested in all of these voices: the kindly ones, the guiding ones, the encouraging and commanding ones, the voices of morality and memory, and the sometimes terrible, sometimes beneficent voices that some people hear when there is no one else around.”
With this premise, Fernyhough had me hooked. As someone with a history of struggling with obsessive-compulsive ruminations, I’ve always felt a certain confusion in the midst of an episode about the point of origin of the unstoppable irrational voice that would suddenly spring up, as if from nowhere, and overwhelm any coexisting calming thoughts. The rational part of me never doubted that these ruminations emanated from somewhere within, and yet the unending barrage of self-critical thoughts also felt like an invasive weed of unknown origin, an intrusive voice that was both me and anti-me. How could that voice have gotten there in the first place? And how could it have coexisted with the mostly benign, even banal, internal musings that usually accompany me as I go about my daily…