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How real are our conceptions? And if they’re real – if the mental world has substance of some kind – then what about imaginary companions and the voices we hear when we reason with ourselves? Are they disturbances or auditory perceptions? What role can they play in fostering self-reliance, and in child development and learning as a whole?

Welcome to the ninth instalment of The Neuromantics, your monthly guide through the disputed territory between science and literature. In this episode, we’re looking at inner voices and self-reflection, the emotions they carry, their cause and purpose. Are they, in some cases, a simple response to absence? Two Old English poems from the tenth century – The Seafarer and The Wife’s Lament – feature narrators who wrestle with separation and solitude in different ways. And our journal paper, Imaginary Companions, Inner Speech, and Auditory Hallucinations, by Charles Fernyhough et al, takes things further: how might the “experiential crossing” of internal dialogue with such companions serve other imaginative acts – fiction, poetry, and drama, for instance?

Finally, when the inner life appears more real than its outward expression, should we worry?

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