Without an inner voice

Something came to my attention within the last few weeks with regards to a new meme that showed up on the Internet. They call it the “NPC” meme. It’s a variation of the Wojack meme, which you may have seen in conjunction with the Pepe the Frog meme (with Pepe being the perpetual antagonist of Wojack). In fact, the NPC is pretty much just a gray Wojack but with a different, expressionless face. The name NPC comes from the world of video games, where it literally means Non-Player Character, characters with no player operating them or can’t be operated by the player within the game. In video games, this is the term used for characters that exist in the background, who neither the hero nor the villain, nor anyone else important, who you encounter at some point the game. This is typically relevant in adventure games, like The Legend of Zelda series, or role-playing games, like Final Fantasy, where you have minor characters who appear within the game world, typically in towns and cities, who don’t affect the course of the game’s story or the world around them and exist mostly to just give you some background information about the place you’ve visited, or just tell you weird inconsequential things.

And then there’s Error

The modern NPC meme has its origins in a 2016 4chan thread within the /v/ (as in video games, for people who’ve never encountered 4chan) board concerning the existence of “NPCs”. The anon’s theory goes that there are a finite number of souls in this world, which recycle continuously through reincarnation, and because the human population has rapidly expanded in size in the modern age, there’s not enough souls for them, so what you get is a contingent of soulless masses of people, incapable of independent thought and following social trends in order to convince their fellow man of their humanity. The irony of such a sentiment being expressed on such a brainless den of groupthink as 4chan is not lost on me. This month, several 4chan users began talking about the concept of people who “lacked an inner voice”, and from there the meme quickly spread on Twitter.

Its usage seems to be an echo of the use of the term “normie”, in reference to people who blindly obey pre-approved patterns of thought in conformity to society. However, it’s easy for this sort of thing to become dehumanizing when you remember that the whole point of the meme is that they don’t have an inner voice, an inner monologue, a “soul” or the ability to affect anything. That’s why it’s quite disheartening to see some people consolidate part of their worldview around this premise, especially if you’re one of those guys who thinks that the majority of the population are just NPCs. Think about it: that is casting the majority of your fellow man, the majority of the world, as soulless husks, incapable of thought and imagination, all while basking in the rays of your own ego. It’s such a parasitic form of elitism that pollutes the mind and the soul, one that I think finds breeding in modern online culture.

The funny thing is, the idea of a person without an “inner voice” is not exactly new to 4chan. In fact there was a thread on the r/self sub-Reddit written two years ago by someone who claims to have experienced precisely this. To quote thegoldengiraffe, the author of the thread:

I think I’m very different from most people because of one main thing. I never thought with language. Ever. I moved to Canada when I was 2 from Asia, and have been basically been around English speakers my whole life. I’m in my twenties now and I can speak it relatively well, and can understand every single word. However, growing up, I never ever thought with language. Not once did I ever think something in my mind with words like “What are my friends doing right now?” to planning things like “I’m going to do my homework right after watching this show.” I went through elementary school like this, I went through Highschool like this, I went through University like this…and I couldnt help but feel something was off about me that I couldnt put my hand on. Just last year, I had a straight up revalation, ephiphany….and this is hard to explain…but the best way that I can put it is that…I figured out that I SHOULD be thinking in language. So all of a sudden, I made a conscious effort to think things through with language. I spent a years time refining this new “skill” and it has COMPLETELY, and utterly changed my perception, my mental capabilities, and to be frank, my life. I can suddenly describe my emotions which was so insanely confusing to me before. I understand the concept that my friends are still “existing” even if they’re not in site by thinking about their names. I now suddenly have opinions and feelings about things that I never had before. What the heck happened to me? I started thinking in language after not doing so my whole life. It’s weird because I can now look back at my life before and see just how weird it was. Since I now have this new “skill” I can only describe my past life as ….”Mindless”…”empty”…..”soul-less”…. As weird as this sounds, I’m not even sure what I was, If i was even human, because I was barely even conscious. I felt like I was just reacting to the immediate environment and wasn’t able to think anything outside of it. It’s such a strange time in my life. It feels like I just found out the ultimate secret or something. …..Can anyone relate, or understand what Im saying? Can anyone explain what is happening to me? I have no idea where to even post this but this has been on my mind ever since I’ve been able to think about it.

It seems that the author, for some time, lacked the ability to think in language, and did not possess an internal monologue. If the first few sentences and some of the comments are anything to go by, it’s possible that such a disability may have developed from moving to Canada to Asia at such a young age. He went through much of his life not having the ability to communicate in language, not realizing that something was wrong until finally he figured it out, and then spent a year developing the ability to think in language. But once he did, it transformed his understanding of himself, his skills, and the way he understood the world. It must have felt not so much as though he had attained enlightenment, so much as though he had become ensouled.

One commenter was keen to point out that the OP may have been suffering from a mysterious medical condition known as aphantasia, a disability wherein afflicted individuals are unable to produce mental images (except, apparently, during dreams). This condition is often referred to as being “blind in the mind”, and this is in reference to the fact that, for aphantasics (sufferers of aphantasia), the brain is not able to produce mental images, and so the “mind’s eye” doesn’t function properly, if it functions at all. Neurologists estimate that roughly 2% of the world’s population are affected by this condition. This might seem insignificant at first, but then you remember that 2% of the world’s population amounts to about 150 million, which is still a huge number of people by itself. That means millions of people who suffer from an impaired mind’s eye and are thus unable to think in language or produce mental images.

Now why is aphantasia related to this? Well it’s very simple. If you can’t think in language, and you don’t have an internal monologue, in a sense it’s as though you don’t have an inner voice, and that’s the whole point of the NPC meme. What’s more, the man who discussed his experience of life without the ability to think in language described his state of being prior to having unlocked that ability, after the fact of having done so, as a state of mindlessness, soullessness, or emptiness of being. The way some people use the NPC meme, it gives this sense of an attitude where most people in their lives are just soulless husks because they don’t agree with them. No wonder some people have come out and described the meme as fascistic in nature.

More than that, there is the fact that our Reddit friend tells us that he not only suffered from his lack of ability to think in language, but somehow he managed to change this and attain the ability to think in language. This to me is a profound source of hope in many ways because it shows me the possibility of the activity of overcoming taking place within in an individual, the act of self-cultivation taking place, and in a way genuine transformation has taken place. The NPC meme, seen through this lens, is pretty much an exercise in signalling the worldview that it is better to just cast people aside rather than exert compassion and help people develop their full potential simply because they’re inferior beings (inferior, mind you, in the view of people who would be laughed at by any serious intellectual on this planet).

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