Internal discourse

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An inner discourse, or internal discourse, is a constructive act of the human mind and a tool for discovering new knowledge and making decisions. Along with feelings such as joy, anger, fear, etc., and sensory awareness, it is one of the few aspects of the processing of information and other mental activities of which humans can be directly aware. Inner discourse is so prominent in the human awareness of mental functioning that it may often seem to be synonymous with "mind". The view is then that "mind" means "what one experiences when thinking things out", and that "thinking things out" is believed to consist only of the words heard in internal discourse. This common sense idea of the mind must either block out the fact that the mind is constantly processing all kinds of information below the level of awareness, or else rename that activity to some putatively "non-mental" status such as "reflex reaction" or even, sometimes, "demon possession".

An inner discourse takes place much as would a discussion with a second person. One might think, "I need $27 for the paper boy. I have some paper currency in my wallet. Ten plus ten plus five... I have $25. Damn. Maybe I dropped coins in the sofa. Ah, here they are..." The ideal form of inner discourse would seem to be one that starts with statements about matters of fact and proceeds with logical rigor until a solution is achieved.

On this view of thinking, progress toward better thinking is made when one learns how to evaluate how well "statements of fact" are actually grounded, and when one learns how to avoid logical errors. But one must also take account of questions like why one is seeking a solution (Why do I want to contribute money to this charity?), and why one may keep getting results that turn out to be biased in fairly consistent patterns (Why do I never give to charities that benefit a certain group?).

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Further reading[edit]

  • Fromm, Suzuki, and de Martino, Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (1960). New York: Harper & Row.