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Lewin, B.D. (1939). Some Observations on Knowledge, Belief and the Impulse to Know. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 20:426-431.

(1939). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 20:426-431

Some Observations on Knowledge, Belief and the Impulse to Know

Bertram D. Lewin

The problem of knowledge and belief, which has exercised so many philosophical minds, comes to our psycho-analytical attention in a very homely way. For we find that some of our patients know without believing or believe without knowing, and the task devolves upon us of eliminating the tension between these two processes. Fortunately, we are not limited in our attack on the problem to abstract considerations, but have several points of support well known to us from daily clinical practice. For one, we know that a sense of omniscience is to be considered in general as part of the native endowment of every baby, a part of his narcissistic birthright. For another starting point, we have the investigatory impulse, which, particularly in its sexual manifestations, has been much studied and which can be traced back to an early age. The extraordinary proliferation which manifestations of this impulse attain in certain obsessional cases is well known. Less attention has been paid to its manifestations in other types of neurosis, though they have been noted.

A certain aspect of the impulse to learn and its relationship to repression was particularly lucid in a hysterical case. The patient, a woman in her middle thirties, the only child of a Western ranch owner, spent her early childhood playing with the children of her father's labourers, learning a great many things about sexuality, adult and infantile. She was early aware of her father's anatomical make-up and was able to draw inferences as to coitus from certain impressions acquired on the sleeping porch she shared with her parents. For the first six years of her life her investigations into sex were unhampered and her conclusions on the whole correct. In this investigation she was naïve, natural, and unconcerned. One fact came to be shut off from her, and that through a traumatic event, the structure of her genitalia. Her natural bent for research suggested to her that she should find out for herself what her vulva was like and to that end she inserted a finger between her labia. At this point her father walked in on her and told her sternly that she must never 'do that' again. It is literally true that she obeyed him for over thirty years.

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