Talking to Yourself

Image via Tom Häkkinen
As cute as he is, it's not rational to talk to him -- he doesn't
understand a word you're saying.
It’s been said that talking to yourself is the first sign of madness. But surely that means all the world’s mad because everyone’s done it - at least once.

Surely you’ve been caught talking to yourself before - in childhood perhaps? I remember my own childhood running around muttering fantastical conversations between knights and sorcerers under my breath as I sought to re-enact some sort of Arthurian Romance playing in the garden. Another alternative when compelled to play by myself was the ubiquitous “commentator’s voice”, which I know I wasn’t the only child to have recourse to, as I kicked a football around passing it to myself and imagining future glory leading the Eels to Premiership victory.

Even as adults people continue to talk to themselves. What about that passive aggressive muttering that occurs when a large and rude person steps in front of you in a queue. Something about the role of mothers in teaching manners, or perhaps an idle reflection on the patent visibility of queues? Because of course, I’m sure if the gentleman or lady in question were to turn around and query whether you were directing such comments to his or herself, especially if the person in question was a large bogan with a violent aspect, I’m sure you would maintain that it was nothing: “just talking to myself.”

The plausibility of this excuse bears testament to the fact that even bogans occasionally can be found “talking to themselves”. What about, for example, the “That’s how it’s done!” that might slip out during a “Eureka” moment?

Or talking to your computer? Like that’s rational.

Talking to other drivers on the road -- ditto.

“Talking to Go--” “Um, let’s not go there.”

The worst is when you remember something funny or think of something funny and nearly laugh or you do laugh or you’re trying not to laugh and maintain a straight face but the best you can do is only one side of your face -- so that one side of your mouth rises up in a bizarre sort of schizophrenic smile.

That’s when your afraid people think you’ve got some sort of mental condition.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
A metaphor for random thoughts -- unconstrained by the
limits of language.
The reality is that we think in words. Our thought is expressed, and indeed constrained, by language. Surely I’m not the only person who has some sort of continuous dialogue running through my head as I go about my daily routine? I remember once speaking to a friend about the phenomenon of having a song stuck in one’s head and the friend mentioned that she couldn’t imagine not having a song stuck in her head -- but what I find even more difficult to imagine would be to exist without some dialogue of words running through one’s head. In fact, I can’t imagine conscious thought without words.

It’s not quite as socially acceptable to comment on though. Whilst people complain of having certain songs stuck in their heads, I’ve never heard one complain having a fantasy interview on The 7:30 Report stuck in his or her head before.

Because that’s something I do all the time. I see a politician on the news one night and often can’t but think what I would’ve said in the circumstances or how I would’ve phrased a particularly unpalatable policy position.

I anticipate, in my head, things that I might say in a future conversation that I will have to a person who I’m on the way to meeting. Like a sort of rehearsal of the funny events or observations I intend to relate and hope to receive some sort of positive feedback from.

This post, for example, began it’s life as a running dialogue in my head on the nature of why it is socially unacceptable to talk to oneself. The genesis of which came from accidentally muttering under my breath after receiving a text message on the train.

When I was a child I used to imagine myself as an adult and famous, after having for example, realised my ambition of world conquest, and sitting with Parky:

Parkinson: “But did you always know that you were going to be world dictator? I remember in your book at one point it says that as a child you had ‘strong premonitions of future greatness’ and I find that that drive must have been necessary to achieve what you have achieved.”
Me: “Well, as a child I always greatly admired Julius Caesar and I was conscious that I would like to emulate his great achievements. I’d also like to recognise the influence of Sid Meier’s celebrated PC game “Civilization” for making me realise that world conquest was a legitimate ambition --
Parkinson: “Yes, as you mention in your book, through world conquest comes world peace.”
Me: “Yes, that’s exactly right, and that’s what I set out to achieve in my life.”

As you may have gathered, my ambitions have been somewhat revised downwards since those ambitious childhood years. I think it might have had something to do with my school career’s advisor. I don’t think he considered it a very realistic ambition. In fact, I think I remember him being not at all convinced by the “world peace” argument either.

Yes that’s right, I remember now, I was referred to the school counsellor after that discussion. I think his report to my parents said something about concerns regarding “delusions of grandeur” and “megalomania”? Something like that.

But I digress. Now, what was I talking about? Oh yes, those first signs of madness.
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Tom Hakkinen said...

Need I add a disclaimer about the fictional referral to the school counsellor? I suppose so, as a school teacher I should know well enough that some people are dead to irony even when spoken to them with a wry smile and preposterous tone. In the written form I'm sure some people are bound to take the story literally...

JJ said...

Akseli: I noticed you even respond to your own posts. Definitely madness!

Oh, and the post was outstanding.

Anonymous said...

I agree with JJ- an outstanding post! I think if more of us were honest about the continuously running dialogue in our heads, it would be discovered we all have delusions of grandeur.
In fact, I'm the best driver on the road... I know everything. Haha!

Tom Hakkinen said...

Thanks JJ - that's what I suspected.

PAMO, I'm so glad I'm not the only one!

Roxy said...

Excellent post, Akseli. (My imaginary friend and I both agree on that one.) I tend to mutter curse words at my computer. And tell myself jokes. I worry about this last, weird habit. I must look mad, laughing at nothing.

Judie said...

OMG! JJ's comment has me laughing!!!

In a way, I am a little disappointed that talking to one's self is considered normal. I talk to myself frequently, and I so wanted it to be a sign of brilliant eccentricity, and vast creativity!

This is a wonderful post, Akseli, and I will remember it for a long time!!

JJ said...

Akseli: It works like this: If you talk to God, they say you're praying. If God talks to you, they say you're schizophrenic.

Francis Hunt said...

Great post, Akseli!

Me, myself and I talk to ourselves all the time - we get on very well together ...

Like you, I am fascinated by the relationship between language and consciousness; it keeps coming up for me in all sorts of contexts. I even tried to write up some of my ideas about it here and here.

Arti said...

Great post, there are so many occasions when we talk to ourselves... And that awkward laugh when trying to keep a straight face is fabulously described!!
Have a nice day:)

Judie said...

O.k., stop talking to yourself, and give us another post to comment on!!! Your adoring public awaits!!!

Tom Hakkinen said...

Haha! Thanks for the vote of confidence Judie. School life has been a bit all-consuming these last few weeks -- sorry to disappear off the face of the blogging-planet like that though!