As a matter of fact, many of us thoroughly enjoy having conversations. We seek them out to achieve catharsis, form strong social bonds of trust and friendship, learn surprising new things, and obviously the list could be endless. So, it never even occurs to us to ask why we would spend our time talking to others. We couldn’t even list half of the good reasons to do so. Why is it then so surprising to us that people might get exactly the same types of enjoyment and benefit from talking to themselves? More poignantly, why is there such a strong social norm against self-talk, such that we experience shame and embarrassment when caught in the act?
In an article I recently published open access in Mind and Language, called ‘The Social Epistemology of Introspection,’ I try to show that talking to oneself and talking to others are much more alike than people have usually assumed. A little more precisely, I argue that the cognitive mechanisms, motivational profiles, and normal functions associated with each kind of action are essentially the same.
There is reason to suppose that we can derive enjoyment and benefit merely from the skillful exercise of this singular capacity; just like the poet or public speaker we can seek the pleasures of communicative acts for their own sake. And so, it should not be surprising that people might like to talk to themselves. More surprisingly, perhaps, we should also expect various epistemic or practical benefits from self-talk, which would mirror the benefits of conversing with others. So, for example, by posing a question to myself directly in a communicative act, I may unearth an answer which otherwise might remain hidden from consciousness.
This does have other, more troubling consequences, however. Any malignant purpose we are afraid others might have in talking to us, we are just as likely to have ourselves in the privacy of our own minds. Thus, social epistemology has been too focused on various doxastic or epistemic effects of informational interactions between agents, to the detriment of studying the very same effects as they manifest themselves in reasoning and cognition themselves.