The phenomenon of "hearing voices" in one's mind can be approached
from several different angles, including the neurological, the
psychological, and the spiritual.
"Hearing Voices" as a Neurological Phenomenon
Here's an article that describes a fascinating finding: when
schizophrenics hear internal voices, there is increased activity in
the areas of the brain involved in the perception of hearing.
"Thomas Dierks of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universitüt, Frankfurt,
Germany, and colleagues announce in the March issue of Neuron that
there seems to be a clear neurological explanation for the distinctive
'realness' of auditory hallucinations. Using a brain-scanning
technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the
researchers have found that the brain areas involved in understanding
as well as generating speech are the same ones that exhibit increased
activity [as measured by increasing blood flow] when people feel that
they are hearing voices.
Dierks' team worked with three schizophrenic patients who were able to
signal the beginning and end of their hallucinations, and who
experienced hallucinations lasting only a couple of minutes at a time.
They found that when these subjects reported themselves to be hearing
voices, or when they were played real sounds, metabolic activity
consistently increased in, amongst other places, the part of their
brains known as 'Heschl's gyrus'; a region known to be involved in the
perception of hearing... So although these findings in no way explain
what makes some people hear voices, they do shed light on the reasons
why for some people, non-existent sounds can appear to be so real."
"There are numerous theories about where the symptoms of psychosis
come from, and a great deal of controversy still surrounds the
subject. However an increasingly popular focus amongst medical
researchers in recent years has been on the idea that psychosis is
produced by an underlying biological issue in the brain.
Support for these ideas comes from new computerised image scanning
research, which has found differences in the brains of the psychotic
compared to normal control subjects. In particular the temporal lobes,
the part of the brain that lies closest to our ears, appear to be
smaller in the psychotic. The temporal lobes are involved in
processing auditory material, which may explain the link between
psychosis and hearing voices."
"In normal persons who hear real sounds, only the auditory centres of
the brain are activated. PET scans now show that in schizophrenic
patients who see sights and hear voices in their heads a whole range
of different centres are linked together into a complex,
many-dimensioned operation. These centres normally integrate current
and past experiences, drawing together perception and memory with
emotional experience in order to interpret the input of the senses...
The PET scans of schizophrenic brains seem to reveal the human mind
working at its most creative. No outside impulses are involved. The
brain is making its own, highly realistic world - a particularly
convincing "virtual reality". However, lacking the controlling
function of the prefrontal lobes, the persons who suffer from this
unusual ability cannot judge the true nature of their own inner
experience. They cannot command these mental capacities, being instead
There are important implications here. Since the prefrontal lobes were
the last part of the brain to evolve one can surmise that our distant
forebears might have been less able to distinguish between different
visual and auditory phenomena than we. 'Hearing voices', and seeing
ghosts, spirits and demons, was probably a far more common, and real,
experience in the past than it is today - as Julian Jaynes pointed out
in his book 'The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the
Bicameral Mind'. Nevertheless, the explanation for these phenomena
would seem to lie more with the prefrontal lobes than with separation
of the two brain hemispheres as Jaynes suggested."
The Manysided Mind
"We have made significant progress in mapping patterns of brain
activity during auditory hallucinations and in comparing how
individuals with and without hallucinations process auditory stimuli.
Two papers have been submitted for publication. The evidence suggests
that the advent of auditory hallucinations may follow from deficits in
how closely auditory processing areas of the brain are working
together, as well as connections between frontal and temporal
Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria
"Hearing Voices" as a Psychological Phenomenon
"Hearing voices when there is no one there is the commonest
hallucination in schizophrenia. The voices sound so real that the
hearer is convinced that they come from outside - perhaps from hidden
microphones, loudspeakers or the spirit world. Voices are heard in
some other mental illnesses, but in schizophrenia they typically talk
about, as well as to, the person. Visions and hallucinations of smell,
taste or being touched also occur in schizophrenia, but much less
oftem than voices."
Mental Health in the UK
"There is no one diagnosis associated with the single complaint of
'hearing voices.' Much depends on the other symptoms the patient is
reporting, and on the nature of the 'voices.' For example, individuals
with schizophrenia or some types of severe depression may hear voices,
but their overall clinical picture makes the diagnosis hard to miss.
Thus, in schizophrenia, the patient shows a decline in social and
vocational function, often shows problems with organizing his/her
thoughts, and usually has delusional beliefs around the voices; for
example, 'the Devil is sending me messages,' or 'Someone has put a
radio transmitter in my head.'... In cases of posttraumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), the individual may hear, from time to time, fragments
of conversations or 'voices' relating to one or more traumatic
events... Some individuals who have been abused or traumatized may use
a defense mechanism called 'dissociation,' in which one part of the
mind becomes, so to speak, disconnected from the personality as a
whole... Such individuals may sometimes be misdiagnosed as having
schizophrenia, because they describe 'voices.'
In the case of DID [dissociative identity disorder[, the voices may be
experienced as one identity shifts to another. DID is accompanied by
inability to recall large amounts of important personal information.
Finally, voices may be due to various neurologic disorders, such as
seizures in a part of the brain called the temporal lobe."
Mental Health InfoSource
"People who are abused as children may be more prone to developing
schizophrenia, research suggests.
Psychologists have found evidence of a high rate of childhood physical
and sexual abuse among children who were later diagnosed as
schizophrenic. They found a particularly strong link between childhood
abuse and hearing voices. In some cases the voices being heard were
those of the people who carried out the abuse."
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Santa Cruz County
"This book [Raising Our Voices: An Account of the Hearing Voices
Movement] is written by Adam James, the Mind Journalist of the Year
2001. It is an account of the hearing voices movement from its
beginnings in Holland with the psychiatrist Marius Romme and the
growth of the Hearing Voices Network in Manchester.
James challenges the biological and genetic models for schizophrenia,
and the diagnosis of schizophrenia itself. He believes that hearing
voices could come from social and environmental causes and traumatic
life events... Cognitive therapists believe that voices are self
generated thoughts that the person believes are voices but are only
their own thoughts with the volume turned up."
Mind in Manchester
"Hearing Voices" as a Spiritual Phenomenon
"Some people hear voices inside their heads. Many others deem that
such individuals are crazy, as it isn't considered normal in most
cultures to hear such voices. However, it can happen more often than
some realize, and in many different ways. For example, the voices
aren't always inside ones head; they may be in the background.
Some theories for these voices lie with ghosts of other spirits. It is
thought that dead family members or friends may come back to guide the
living through tough situations or other endeavors. This theory is a
more normal explanation. It is paranormal, but its discussed more
freely in general society, as many have had such experiences once or
twice. Also, many do believe in ghosts.
Another theory is spirit guides. This is often associated with
religion and is somewhat accepted by culture. This is different from
random spirits as the individuals will go into a trance state and call
on these voices for counseling, rather than it happening unasked for."
"In researching his newly published book, 'Hearing Things: Religion,
Illusion and the American Enlightenment,' [Leigh] Schmidt found that
hearing has long been marked as a spiritual and emotional sense.
However, experiences like hearing heavenly or demonic voices came
under particular attack during the Enlightenment, a philosophical
movement of the 18th century marked by a rejection of traditional
social, religious and political ideas, and the embracing of
The thinkers of the Enlightenment were threatened by the unstable
power that immediate revelation possessed, especially when combined
with the unruly passions and proclamations of the devout. In order to
establish a civil society governed by reason and not religious
authorities, it was necessary for the natural philosophers to place
sharp limits on divine speech.
In many ways, the campaign succeeded... Hearing voices increasingly
became associated with trickery or insanity.
Humorist Lilly Tomlin has remarked, 'Why is it when we talk to God we
are said to be praying, and when God talks to us we're said to be
schizophrenic?' Schmidt writes in his preface, providing an example of
the long shadow that the Enlightenment cast on spiritual arts of
"We have seven three-dimensional senses that are part of our spirit
consciousness which allow us to feel and experience from multiple
levels of sensing that we have never been taught exists. Just because
we are ignorant of the design of our dual soul and spirit and its
relationship to our physical body, does not mean that it ceases to
function. Therefore, if we suddenly see the physical image of a human
form standing before us and we hear that human form speak our name or
give us a personal message, we should listen and heed the message.
Instead, we frequently judge ourselves as mentally ill and we
discredit the entire physical experience. It is not uncommon for us to
be conscious of hearing voices and seeing physical or energy images
when we begin to release our subconscious fears. In reality we all
hear multiple voices speaking to us at all times, but for many people
it is so habitual that we do not have a consciousness of the voices.
An inspiration comes to us as our spirit voice. A negative message
comes to us as our subconscious ego voice. Our thinking comes to us as
an internal objective voice."
Institute of Metaphysical Studies
It is worth noting that, although the mentally ill may hear voices,
the hearing of voices may not necessarily be a sign of mental
infirmity. In some cultures, hearing voices is seen as a spiritual
gift rather than as a symptom of illness:
"Voice hearing occurs in social and cultural context. Whilst hearing
voices has come to be associated with psychiatric illness in the west,
illness is not a universally accepted explanation. Throughout history
voice hearers have influenced the development of humanity, including
people such as Socrates, Plato, Joan of Arc, Carl Jung, Winston
Churchill and Adolf Hitler (Baker, 1995). Even Florence Nightingale,
is reported to have been influenced by hearing voices (Woodham-Smith,
1952, p.14). The way the experience is constructed and explained, as
well as the person's position in society will influence whether or not
the person who hears voices is accepted or considered deviant in some
Personal Page of Richard Lakeman
Search terms used:
"hearing voices" + "explanation"
"hearing voices" + "schizophrenia"
"hearing voices" + "schizophrenic(s)"
"auditory hallucinations" + "explanation"
"auditory hallucinations" + "schizophrenia"
"auditory hallucinations" + "schizophrenic(s)"
"hearing voices" + "spiritual"
Thanks for another intellectually challenging question, qpet. It is
always a pleasure to seek data on the subjects that you choose. If
anything is in need of explanation, or if further sources are needed,