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Aphantasia: Home

The Language of Thought and the Absence of an Inner Voice

Francis Galton on Language and Thought:

"To my astonishment, I found that the great majority of the men of science to whom I first applied, protested that mental imagery was unknown to them, and they looked on me as fanciful and fantastic in supposing that the words 'mental imagery' really expressed what I believed everybody supposed them to mean. They had no more notion of its true nature than a colour-blind man who has not discerned his defect has of the nature of colour."
Aphantasia, Anauralia, and the Lack of an Inner Voice

The language of thought hypothesis (LOTH) is the hypothesis that mental representation has a linguistic structure, or in other words, that thought takes place within a mental language, often called "mentalese." The hypothesis is sometimes expressed as the claim that thoughts are sentences in the head.  This hypothesis was first postulated by Jerry Fodor in 1975, and more info can be found here.  In its most simple explanation, the hypothesis postulates that thought, like language, has a syntax.

But what if you don't have a language of thought?

Recently, cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, and psycholinguists have looked at what percentage of the population does not have mentalese, or as some laypersons call it, an inner voice.  Recent work by Adam Zeman from the University of Exeter has put a name on a lack of mental visual imagery that he has called aphantasia from the Greek word phantasia, or imagination, and the prefix a-, meaning without.  Recent studies have likened the lack of an inner voice as a related phenomenon that some researchers are calling anauralia, from the Latin auris for ear as well as the prefix an-, meaning without.  

This webpage will gather information about the LOTH, and its seeming opposite, the lack of inner voice that is experienced by some aphantasiacs and is speculated to be a condition associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and other cognitive states that result in a difference in cognitive functioning.  I will link information on the cognitive differences to the use of language and how some people don't experience an inner voice and what some limitations of that inner voice may be, especially as it concerns how we use language to communicate.  I'll include links to current and past research and open studies and surveys that may be of interest.  The last tab in this page will include a link to an interview with someone who has a lack of an inner voice, and lacks visual imagery as well.  The interview will be available as a video.

I hope you enjoy learning about this new research avenue and that it sparks conversations you have in your lives about how we've thought about communication and language and what it means when we have different perceptions of language use!



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