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Crawford, E. (1997). Scientists: psychotics or seekers of truth?. Free Associations, 7(2):180-215.

(1997). Free Associations, 7(2):180-215

Scientists: psychotics or seekers of truth?

Elspeth Crawford

Can Wilfred Bion's1 ideas on thought (1962a, 1962b, 1963, 1965, 1970) and Michael Faraday's story of scientific discovery2 help distinguish fruitful thinking and revelation in science from sterility and fallacy?


In this article, I use insights from psychoanalysis, in particular Bion's ideas on ‘truth’ and thought, to examine the possible process by means of which Michael Faraday made some of his discoveries of electromagnetic phenomena. Faraday's ‘prejudice’ and Bion's ‘lie’ are considered in relation to the difficulties encountered in establishing ‘facts’. The conceptual difficulty involved in thinking about thinking is explored as a problem in scientific thought, given that thinkers are emotional beings, and their thought, however objective its aim, will have an emotional component.

There is an immediately following difficulty, that of how to write with precise meaning, particularly using the word ‘truth’. I am using a concept, truth, to refer to both facts and ideas and I acknowledge that a common sense of reality is presupposed. Thus a truthful fact is something which exists or an event which has happened. (The paper or screen from which these words are being read exists; the writer and other people performed actions which put the marks on the paper.) Details, linked events, causal connections and so on may or may not be known as facts. A truthful idea represents part of reality, free from subjective distortion, in the mind. (For example, a ‘motive’ — the writer wants the words to be read.)

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