Are the "voices in your head" always bad/self destructive?

Not you personally, of course. When people hear voices in their head that tell them to do things, are those things always bad and/or self-destructive?

No, some people hear voices that tell them how smart, well endowed and respected they are, even when there is much over whelming evidence from numerous sources to contradict them. Not naming any example as this is GQ.

Seriously, well adjusted peoples inner voices tell them good things as well. Give themselves good advice.

Please, no snark, even lightly disguised. I am talking about people that hear actual voices in their head that tell them to take action.

It’s my understanding that harmless hallucinations of all sorts are much more common than people think; it’s just that people usually don’t talk about the harmless ones for obvious reasons. It’s especially common among older people; as their senses get worse their brain sometimes manufactures hallucinatory sounds and images as it tries to compensate.

An article.

Julian Jaynes in his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind* spends some time talking about how common hallucinations, including hearing a voice in ones head, is. He gives several examples, some good.

E.g., a woman who converses with her deceased mother while cleaning house. The woman enjoyed these “conversations”.

In some cultures, having a spirit animal like a fox talk to you is common.

The stigma of having such experiences reduces the likelihood of reporting them, even to a therapist. It’s people with the more troubling kind that end up drawing attention to themselves.

  • Altered states of mind, including schizophrenia and such, provide data for his theory.

I would think that a lot of religious/mystical experiences would fall into this category. If the voice tells you to kill people, you will be locked up in a mental hospital. If the voice tells you to give money to the poor, you will be hailed as a saint.

Auditory hallucinations often accompany schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders, which inherently involves dissociation from reality, dysregulated emotions, and compulsive behaviors. Not all compulsions are harmful, but those that are dangerous are quite evident for obvious reasons. Because a frequent affective dysfunction involves paranoia and fear, it can result in someone committing violent acts intended for self-defense. However, most people with schizoaffective disorders are not violent or a danger to anyone but themselves.

It is quite possible to have auditory hallucinations without being schizophrenic or having other associated mood disorders, and such hallucinations are not compulsive or harmful. In fact, many people have had the experience of hearing a dead relative seem to speak or other familiar noises with no source; this can particularly happen with sensory deprivation, where the mind will start hallucinating sensory data to is not receiving normally. Certain psychoactive drugs can also have the effect of stimulating auditory hallucinations, hence why people sometimes report talking to gods, or aliens, or inantimate objects while on a drug trip.

There is no real explanation for how the brain produces auditory hallucinations other than it involves spontaneous memory recollection or formation combined with some kind of positive feedback loop between the basal ganglia and the inferotemporal cortex, with activation in the auditory langiage association cortices near Wernicke’s area. There is a curious lack of activiation of the speech-directing locus (Broca’s area), which explains why people who are having auditory hallucinations often stutter or speak nonsensically. FPET scans of people having auditory hallucinations show activiation in the amygdala and the right obritofrontal cortex. Some people have hypothesized that the hallucinations are similar to what is experienced during non-REM sleep dreams (as you are clearly “hallucinating” during dreaming) but the brain activiation patterns look very different from what can be observed in functional neuroimaging.

On a more humorous note, Thomas Magnum was always talking about “the little voice” in his head warning him about some problem, and it was usually right to be cautious. It’s certainly possible that Magnum was actually hallucinating the entire show and was actually suffering a mental breakdown from stress, which would explain away a large number of inconsistencies and incongruities of the show. But I’ve already ruined Gilligan’s Island and Casablanca for people so I’m not going to expand on this theory.


Not if you’re called Jesus or Mohammed.

I mean that seriously: which is more plausible, that prophets who say they talk to deities actually talk to actual deities or that they have a light/high-functioning form of schizophrenia/voice hearing? Robert Sapolsky has a lecture on schizophrenia where he talks about how the siblings of schizophrenics are particularly likely to be religious. In primitive societies, those with light cases of schizophrenia can be shamans who “communicate with the spirits”.

All it takes is for the brain to fail to recognize one’s inner voice as inner for the person to get the impression that someone else is talking to them. It might also be one part of the brain perceiving another part of the brain as being distinct/not-self.

It’s even possible to chemically induce the impression that you’re in the presence of some entity who communicates with you, or so I hear.

“Interior locution” is the theological term for it.

No. Cf. Michael White’s work with people with schizophrenic spectrum disorder who are not taking medications in Adelaide, Australia for an example of how cognitive interventions can help people evaluate whether to do what voices say based on understanding how trustworthy that voice normally is.

Personally, I talk to myself all the time in my head.

Me: Hey, Me.
Me: Yeah, what?
Me: Ever hear the one about the nun and the blind salesman?

You can see that, in a way, the whole concept doesn’t make sense, a dialog with oneself. More like a monologue- who are you talking to? And, why would you ask yourself a question? You know everything you know, so why not just skip to the answer?

But whatever. I am going to keep doing it as it seems like a decent enough way to turn propositions over in my mind. Don’t like it? Tough.

I have a decent audio memory such that I can basically “replay” music in my head. The library is rather large. I can compose music that way as well, pause it, chop it up, rewind it, the whole nine. If that’s crazy, I don’t want to be sane.
Someone in town told me that they are being visited by their deceased father and also their deceased neighbor. The neighbor acts as a sort of octogenarian ghost yoga instructor. She had not realized this guy was once a dance instructor until after he died, which was corroborated by others once she got the idea to ask around…
Socrates spoke of a not-himdivine inner voice:

Absolutely not what I am asking about, which I thought I had made clear.

Is that really true? Say you are talking to someone in a dream. Even though the conversation is taking place entirely in your head, do you know everything they are going to say, as though you are reading lines from a script you studied in advance?

I very occasionally have this happen–it is usually a word or two in a familiar voice (often my name) or the sound of a car door slamming. It is always on the edge of sleep, and if I replay it in my head I can “tell” that it wasn’t external.

(BTW, it is my pet hypothesis that it is dreams and these “near dream events” that are the ultimate origin of the idea of life after death.)

I have cited your one-line OP above. Were you really, fully clear about that which you were asking about?

See post #3.

Well, dreams are basically dissociative states, no? I did mean waking, conscious experiences.

Well, I am presenting the idea that there is a spectrum of phenomena along this vein. Me, telling jokes to myself. The lady in town who lives in the happy ghost house. And, Socrates. The saints. Jesus. Also, psycho killers.

I think sometimes the voices tell people to do good things, sometimes bad, and often What in the Everlasting Eff…!!!

I think it was Ramana Maharshi who said, “Silence is the language of the gods.” Or, " Silence is ever speaking; it is the perennial flow of “language.” It is interrupted by speaking; for words obstruct this mute language. Silence is permanent and benefits the whole of humanity. . . . By silence, eloquence is meant. It is the best language…"

Sort of a roundabout spiritual endorsement of your position, in which the inner voice doesn’t say anything.