Do you debate with yourself? I do. Are you always aware of what you’re thinking? If yes, does that mean you’re always aware? Will you be able to know what you were thinking before you become aware of it?
Sounds circular, doesn’t it?
Whatever was happening, it’s likely that your true inner experience – what you were thinking about just before you started trying to figure out what you were thinking about – is now lost to the mists of time.
Interrogating what’s going on inside our own minds doesn’t seem like it should be a difficult task. But by trying to shine a light on those thoughts, we’re disturbing the very thing we want to measure in the first place. Or as American philosopher William James put it in 1890: “The attempt at introspective analysis… is in fact like seizing a spinning top to catch its motion, or trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks.”
...for psychologists like Fernyhough and Hurlburt, researching inner speech is not an easy task. Simply asking people what they’re thinking about won’t necessarily prompt an accurate answer, says Hurlburt. That is partly because we’re not used to paying close attention to our wandering minds, but also because the questions that surveys tend to ask about our thoughts might prompt us to answer in a particular way – something he thinks leads people to report more inner speaking than they truly experience.
Hurlburn uses a method of investigation called Descriptive Experience Sampling. Here, you go about your normal day-to-day activities and carry around a device with you which, when it beeps, you tune in to what was going on in your mind right before the sound. Then you take note of it, whether it’s words, pictures, and emotion, physical sensation, or something else.
What did the voice within you say when you’re done reading this?