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Inner Voice

by on March 26, 2017

                                                                                   Inner Voice                                                                                                                                               by Marco M. Pardi

“Deep down, below the surface of the average man’s conscience, he hears a voice whispering, ‘There is something not right,’ no matter how much his rightness is supported by public opinion or by the moral code.” Carl G. Jung (1875 – 1961) Analyse der Kinderseele.1931


All comments welcome.  To those readers who have been hesitant to comment or ask questions, please be assured you may do so freely. In recent days several new people have signed on as followers, enabling them to comment freely, and it is hoped they will. All previous posts are open for comment by clicking on “uncategorized”. Reader participation keeps this site vibrant. MMP


I confess. It’s true. I hear an inner voice. Furthermore, I talk back to this voice, sometimes even argue.  But I rest in the conviction that every reader does the same. We probably even have the same name for it: Conscience.

In Homo Deus, the follow-up to his excellent book, Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari examines this voice in the context of cultural change.  He asserts that, before The Scientific Revolution, Man found guidance not internally but externally. In seeking the answers to the existence of Famine, Plague, and War he turned to gods, kings, scriptures and priests – the earthly spokespersons for gods.  Thus, he asserts, Man felt himself just another part of Nature which, in its totality, was subject to the whims of forces above Nature. These included the stars and the super powerful but capricious Olympian type gods found in so many forms and places. As Man advanced he devised a formula for knowledge: Knowledge = Scriptures x Logic. The Scientific Revolution changed the formula to: Knowledge = Experiences x Sensitivity. Putting it briefly, he asserts that Man began to recognize the superiority of his personal experiences over the graven claims of those who lived long before, and he developed the sensitivity to be aware of and immersed in the fullness of these experiences.

As a broad brush approach I agree with him.  But amidst the intense and well done detail work leading to his conclusion I feel he missed the actual meaning of the Egyptian Book of Coming Forth by Day – published as the Egyptian Book of the Dead; the slightly later development of the Babylonian Shaitan – the internal Accuser/Reminder figure externalized by the Hebrews during their 500 year Babylonian Captivity and morphed in Satan (my Iranian Shiite friends remind me Shaitan is still the current Farsi usage and is considered by mystics to be the True Self, the one who wages the 1st Jihad against the earthly desires of the self we think of as ourselves), and the Tibetan Bardo Thodol, Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State. 

Let’s see how these apply.  When selling your car you tout its virtues but withhold the transmission oil leak. Shaitan, sitting invisibly on your shoulder, pokes you and says, “Tell ’em.”  Or, when traveling into the Egyptian Underworld to be judged you review your life and, remembering the times you hurt or took advantage of someone your heart grows “heavy”.  This “heavy heart” tips the scales before the Judges and you are condemned.  Or, when traveling along from one post-death Bardo, or phase, to another you are drawn to temptations you yielded to and could not overcome in life and, succumbing again, you are cast into reincarnation to face and finally overcome those temptations.

The Egyptian manuscript was put in the grave with the corpse to instruct the essential person (Ba) in the secrets of stilling the heart (Ib) so as not to weigh it down on the scales. The Tibetan manuscript was read to the corpse over a period of days to remind and advise it of the potential traps before it.

While it is clear that all concepts of right and wrong, good and evil did not originate in each individual sui generis, I think it extreme to paint all pre-science Mankind as unthinking, unfeeling automata who held these viewpoints only because they were the revealed dicta of the day.

In fact, numerous recent studies with pre-linguistic infants and toddlers are remarkably consistent in showing that some easily share toys with others while some do not and some display empathy for others in distress and some do not. The vital importance of the studies is the strong implication that these traits occur differentially before there can be any socialization, and certainly before they become aware of social norms or of mandates created by Man in the name of some invisible god or other authority.

So just who is this True Self? Is the inner voice the voice of True Self? I did not have playmates until almost the age of 6.  I do not know if I would have “played well with others”. I entered school in the 2nd grade, a few months short of my 6th birthday.  From there until high school graduation my friends were primarily the physically challenged, the recent immigrants struggling with English, and others marginalized for various reasons. Although I had none of those problems, I felt a natural bond with them.

As time went on I seemed to naturally drift into the equation appropriate to The Scientific Revolution: Knowledge = Experience x Sensitivity. This isn’t to say every experience was pleasant; far from it. Nor would I say I consciously listened to my inner voice each time.  We are constantly reminded to “trust your instincts” and to “heed your intuition”.  (Of course, the term instinct is horribly misused by people who have no understanding of the principle, but it’s socially acceptable.)  And, when a negative situation causes us to look back we often say, “I knew better” or “It was against my better judgment”.  Are we saying we heard Shaitan but rejected him?

The process we call socialization includes taking in an immense layer of shoulds and shouldn’ts, almost completely constructed by other people. “Nice people don’t say that”. “Use this fork for the salad.” “Don’t fart at the dinner table.” And on and on.  As the layer builds and hardens it is not surprising that the true self falls further from sight.

One evening in Washington, D.C. I had dinner with a fellow Anthropologist working at SAMSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  After listening intently to her for a while I said, “You’ve outlined and explained your work so well I almost feel I could do it myself. But I have no idea who you truly are.” She sat stunned for a few moments before answering, “No one really asked before.”

I’ve had students come to me in varying states of dread over graduate scholarship or employment applications that included requests such as, Tell us about yourself.  The students trotted out various versions of, “What do they mean? What are they looking for? What do I dare write? I don’t know what to say.”

Apparently, for some, this is hard to do.  I can understand the difficulties of drilling down through the thick and hardened layers of socialization and fracking them so as to free the self.  But it seems bringing the self to the surface is what worries people most. In everything from employment applications to the choreography of dating we seem to dance mostly to someone else’s tune, we play someone else’s notes. How many relationships have developed into “If only I had known”?

Ultimately, this calls the question: Who is that inner voice, and is it free?  Free Will, a foundation pillar of Western religions, is dated back to the mythical Eve, in her “choice” to accept the apple.  It is absolutely essential to the concept of sin.  And, it’s absolutely essential to the subjugation of women and the ability to pronounce guilt upon someone for an alleged crime or other infraction. Thus, it is critical to the building of the large, complex socialization layer. Yet, Newtonian physics dealt a major blow to free will, proposing instead a “clockwork universe”.  And, Darwinian Natural Selection laid the foundation for “It’s all in your genes.”

But quantum mechanics stilled Newton’s pendulum with its revelations of non-local action, bi-locality, quantum entanglement, and random events.  Randomness recently came to greater prominence with the realization that upwards of two thirds of common cancers are the result of “bad luck”, errors in the transcription process of cellular reproduction having nothing to do with “healthy or unhealthy lifestyle”.

I can easily see how gross events in life can be interpreted as Determined.  And I understand the implications of quantum randomness. In fact, the conundrum in physics of the past ninety years has been the reconciliation of the Macro – Newtonian world with the Micro – quantum world. With enough determination I can chart the determinants which brought me into one of several neuroscience laboratories, thinking all the while of those infant experiments, while they place sensors on my cranium, present me with a left switch and a right switch and tell me to flip one or the other when I have consciously decided on a choice.

So I sit quietly for a while until my inner voice tells me, The left one.  That mental event sets off a cascade in my brain I am confident will register on the sensors as the instant I made my decision. Yet, the technicians gather around and present me the sensor output which clearly shows I intended to flip the left switch several full seconds BEFORE I was aware I had made a decision.  Was my inner voice initiating the decision, or was it responding to a decision made for it? And if so, by whom or by what?  The explanation so far is a proposed cascade, unknown to me, of bio-chemical-electrical processes in my brain which then appeared in my mind as a “choice”.  But why did this cascade start? And is it confined somewhere in the interior of my cranium or am I, as Quantum Field Theory suggests, wholly plugged into and only a manifestation of the Universal Field, about which the human going about daily life is almost totally unaware?

My Louisiana contacts have a ready response for that: When the Inner Voice speaks, answer it with Who Dat?    

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  1. As someone who has historically made significant life choices rather impulsively based on that ‘inner voice’ I relate wholeheartedly to this article.

    Having recently been rejected from a university program that was another one of those whim-decisions, I heard a lot of, “don’t worry, it will work out” or “these things happen for a reason.” I appreciate the kind intent of these phrases but always thought them to be a bit trivial; everything ‘works out’. Anyway, with help from the internet, I have found a few other equivocal options to start pursuing.

    I have met a lot of people who, like the anthropologist you had dinner with, house their identity in their careers. It’s easy to do, and on many occasions I have had to ask myself, “Do you work to live or live to work?” Besides, communicating yourself to others is hard.

    A good friend of mine use to have significant difficulty communicating with others (he finally opened up after about 6 months of open-ended questioning). After he started talking I learned he was actually intelligent and witty. Prior to that I was under the impression he had some sort of cognitive disability – who knew?

    Again, thank you for your article.


    • Thank you, E. I’ve followed your decisions, to the extent you allowed, and always saw them as well thought out. I’m glad you pressed your friend to open up. He may well have much to offer, but you have already had a valuable insight into yourself and others.

      There seems to be an endless list of answers, most of which you have probably heard: “When one door closes, another door opens.” Right. My reaction has sometimes been, When one door closes, it’s time to kick it down.

      Thanks again.


  2. Michael E. Stamm permalink

    I’ve made a number of major life choices, positive and negative, based on what I thought was empirical data, and regretted some of them ever since. I don’t think “I” (who- or whatever that is) ever has enough data for a truly rational decision, and that isn’t a bad thing except in connection with our self-styled (and wrongly so) “rational” culture. Your essay reminds me of Julian Jaynes’s THE ORIGINS OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND from the early/mid ’70s, which addressed some of the same questions. I think Jaynes’s conclusions were too large for his data to support, but he did raise some very interesting and probably extremely important issues. Thanks for writing this.


    • Thank you, Mike. I actually thought of including Jaynes’ position in this, but felt it would need too much space. I used to scorn people who answered the question of why they did something with, “I don’t know”. I’m not so quick to do that now.

      I agree. We do delude ourselves with the mythos of rationality. I recoil from the idea of “acting on faith”, but it must be admitted as a determinant.

      Thanks again.


  3. Ray Z Rivers permalink

    Very interesting perspectives Marco – I wonder whether the switches are right and left or something less binary and more complex and complicated.


    • Thanks, Ray. I guess the implications are that we live in a matrix of switches among which we “choose” without those choices reaching consciousness. Almost makes one want to call for help.


  4. I’m glad I realized early on what I thought was instinct or intuition, was just actually my tendency to believe something is always going to go wrong. I realized I was always thinking, “I have a bad feeling about this”. But it does seem myself and one of my children have more than our share of bizarre events. We joke we are going to write a book, “What Are the Chances”. Now do these thing happen because we have this underlying belief or we just truly are jinxed?


    • Thanks, Mary. That seems so familiar. When things go badly I ask myself, What were you expecting? On the other hand, my daughter reminds me how I often got myself into impossible situations through my overconfidence. Your book is a really great idea, especially in these times.


  5. I find it almost impossible to make a snap decision when given the opportunity to think things over. I do talk things over with myself, reasoning out what I believe is the right thing to do. Even with that, I don’t always make the right decision.

    There is only one rule, really: never intentionally do anything which you know is going to hurt someone. I’m as human as the next guy, and I have broken my own rule, to my regret. Very little feels worse than knowing you have caused harm to someone you care about.

    Good or bad, I do believe that there is a moment when we are not yet aware of decisions which we have made. Sometimes it’s too late to change that decision, and I wonder if it is not these moments which come to define us.


    • Thanks, Rose. A good rule to live by. Your last statement is a very interesting proposition. When we fully understand and own our regrets, we grow – hopefully. Recently I’ve heard someone deflect the reality of their very damaging choices, laying blame on externals without a moment of owning the internals. I’m inclined to think people like that never learn, never grow. If it were just their loss that would be one thing, but the people they hurt continue to pay the price.


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