Hearing Voices


Mark 5:9  And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.


Freud had it all worked out: The human mind was made up of an id, an ego, and a superego. The id was the animal mind. The ego was the rational mind. And the superego mediated between the two. Or it was something like that. Freud’s system fits in pretty well with Christian thought. "The ego is willing but the id is weak." Consider St. Paul’s Romans 8 updated with Freudian terms: "For I know that in me [that is, in my flesh (sarx in Greek, id in Freudian )] dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with my ego; but how to perform that which is good my superego finds not. For the good that my ego would (do), that my id does not." Both Freud and St. Paul seem to have been influenced by Platonism. To Plato, physical reality was only a corrupted reflection of the perfect world of ideas, a world that could be grasped through language and the dialectic (whatever that is). The body, its demands and desires, were accorded an extremely low place in his thought.

I read a lot of Freud when I was younger and I used to believe much of what he said. But I only believed it as many Soviet citizens believed Pravda. They knew that there was something very wrong in what they were reading but no one was writing anything else. There was only one picture put in their minds. Freud contended that the superego disguised the true material in dreams so as not to upset the ego. For instance, all of us men want to kill our fathers and marry our mothers and we’re always dreaming about it. But if the superego allows this forbidden to come to close to the ego, it is very upsetting. Freud proved the existence of this Oedipus complex with Germanic thoroughness, citing neuroses, dreams, history, prehistory, and art. But if this idea is so distressing, why can I think and write about it without the slightest discomfort? I must admit that dreams sometimes do agitate me. Sometimes thinking about a dream upsets me. If my grandmother is in my dream, I might wake up and think, "Oh she’s dead; I was dreaming about dead people." Then, I might be a little scared, but only for 10 seconds or so, and then I think, "So what?"

There seems to be something that I call "I."This I has a head, legs, a body, etc.; it can move things in the physical world. If I lose a hand or am sick, this I is still whole and well. I can’t say what it is. I don’t know. One interesting thing about me (the objective case of the "I" that I’m talking about) is that a voice speaks to me in English. I don’t think this voice is any more I than my toes are I. Sometimes, I’ll look around and the voice will say "'91 Taurus” or "pretty girl" or "maple tree." Then, I have the idea that I know something that I didn’t know before but I don’t really. If I look at a weed that the voice can’t name, I feel ignorant and uncomfortable. When I learn the weed’s name, I feel much more in control even though I really don’t know any more. I could have made up a name for the weed instead of discovering the name that other people use.

Sometimes the voice will just say stupid stuff or repeat the lyrics of a song or make up rhymes: "Sysyphus sinned, Sysyphus sinned for all of us; Tantalus tried, Tantalus tried...." On occasion it will play games. For instance, it will make words out of the letters that I see on license plates. FT3199F. "Fateful, but is that the shortest common word containing FTF in that order. I bet Susan could find a shorter word." Susan’s voice, by the way, will sometimes count the letters in words or the words in sentences. My voice likes numbers better.  "To multiply a number by 15 add half the number to the number and stick an 0 on the end."

The voice can be very useful. I can use it to talk to other people. I can harness it to do my bidding. At times, it seems to help me despite myself. Walking at night I see some frightening shape and my heart beats faster. But the voice says, "It’s only a pile of rugs that someone threw out." Once I’ve calmed down, it chides, "How easily is a bush supposed a bear." But what if the voice had not spoken? I can remember times like that, sitting in perplexity, unable to name the frightening thing. But the fear went away without the voice. The voice can "give to airy nothing a local habitation and a name," but sometimes I think it’s sort of stupid.

The thing I call I is even more of a mess than what I’ve suggested so far. There seems to be more than one voice. In fact, there seems to be more than one I. Isn’t it illogical for a thing to have a conflict with itself? And yet this I of mine never seems at complete peace with itself. The other day, I noticed that I was overstuffing the trash bag in the kitchen. It gave me pleasure to think that I would be putting out only two large bags of trash and the recycling bag but then the voice or voices started in on me. VOICE: Why difference does it make how many bags you put out?

VOICE: I just don’t want to take this bag to the garage now: I am too lazy.

VOICE: That’s not true.

VOICE: I want to save money on bags.

VOICE: That’s not true either.

VOICE: OK, I feel uncomfortable about putting out a lot of trash. I feel good about putting out very little trash.

VOICE: That’s true but it’s stupid.

VOICE: Why do you feel that way?

VOICE: I don’t want the garbage men to hate me. I want them to like me or leave me alone.

VOICE: You don’t even know the garbage men and besides they don’t care how much trash you put out.

VOICE: You’re afraid of someone.

VOICE: You’re afraid your parents won’t like you if you are wasteful.

VOICE: Now you’re being stupid.

VOICE: No, it’s true; you’re afraid your parents won’t like you.

VOICE: They’re not thrifty or anything. They were always comfortable. They never did without, even during the Depression. Hell, they’re even wasteful.

VOICE: That’s true but it doesn’t matter. You feel the way you do about the trash because you’re afraid your parents won’t like you.

VOICE: They don’t particularly like me now.

VOICE: That’s not the point.

VOICE: My father’s dead.

VOICE: That’s all the more reason not to upset him.

VOICE: That’s not the point. The point is your feelings. The life status of your progenitors is irrevelant.

VOICE: There must be a funny way to put that.

VOICE: OK, I’m a fool, doing things for dead and irreverent people. Maybe I can change my stupid feeling by changing my actions and being more wasteful.


It’s just a little feeling. Why worry?

VOICE:Worry about being an idiot no matter how little an idiot you’re being.

VOICE: I wonder how people who actually did without for a long time feel about this sort of thing.

VOICE: No one does without anymore. No one’s hungry anymore in America except crazy people.

VOICE: A lot of people have this weird attitude toward waste; the environmentalists are probably all people whose parents lived through the Depression and taught them not to waste anything. They’re crazier than I am.

VOICE: Not the rich ones with time on their hands. They just want to tidy up the view.

VOICE: So do you. You’re as bad as they are.

VOICE: Sure, but I know it, so I wouldn’t act on it. They deceive themselves.

VOICE: The solution to pollution.

VOICE: What’s Jesse Jackson’s solution to pollution? The motion of the ocean?

VOICE: That rhymes, but does it make sense?

VOICE: Tidal energy. There’s probably a lot of it.

VOICE: No, the solution to pollution is a reduction in production.

VOICE: It’s stupid to feel so personal about how much you can cram into a trash bag.

VOICE: I can’t help my feelings.

VOICE: You can.

VOICE: OK, I can. But in a week, or a month, or a year, I’ll be overfilling the trash cans again and feel good about it.

VOICE: That’s true but we’ll deal with that when it comes up. At least we won’t have to go through all your lies and evasions again.

VOICE: What’s the point of changing anything?

VOICE: You’re a lazy jerk.

VOICE: It’ll happen again.

VOICE: It won’t have as much power over you.

VOICE: Are you sure?

VOICE: I don’t know.

VOICE: It’ll happen again

"My mental process isn’t a dialogue; it seems to be a free-for-all with many voices chirping in. Not only that, they seem to come from different I’s. Are the voices demons? Are they the voice of God? Are they only so much static? In one sense, I can program the voices, If a voice says something that I disagree with, it will always be shouted down. No voice would ever say anything like ”You are a victim of bad luck; it’s unfair,” or ”I wish I’d done something different in the past. Things would be so much better now.” Perhaps the voices have argued these points to death and no one wants to bring them up again. Other people can take over my voices just by talking or just by writing something. I can take over my voices by speaking aloud. I’ve read that repeating things out loud is a good way to learn because we have a greater ability to tune other people’s voices out. I can talk about my hands and fingers as if they were not an important part of me but when I talk about the voices in my head, I sound crazy. And yet, on a certain occasion when I’m falling asleep, I will hear a voice call my name. It’s very disconcerting. Who is calling? Am I just the thing that listens? That doesn’t seem right either. For that matter, who wrote this essay? Did I? Or is it just one of those voices?