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Witenberg, E.G. (1978). The Inevitability of Uncertainty. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 6(3):275-279.

(1978). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 6(3):275-279

The Inevitability of Uncertainty

Earl G. Witenberg

The relationship between believing and knowing has always been of interest to psychoanalysts. The work of analysis from one perspective is to help beliefs become clear and conscious and to compare, contrast, reflect upon, and integrate them with the facts of an individual's life. Man's need to know is exemplified by his search for facts, for knowledge; man's need to believe is demonstrated by his search for security, e.g., certainty and power.

The ever increasing quest for knowledge — both scientific and technological — has led to an increase in the amount of existential anxiety. The search for and the accumulation of facts always make apparent new unknowns, new questions which have to be approached; the unanswered questions make men anxious. In our own work we know that in the very solution of a problem there is the simultaneous creation of new problems. There is then uncertainty; uncertainty is a frail reed on which to hang one's hopes. At points of time like these we tend to institutionalize our beliefs — religions and other ways of salvation revive. They are new forms of traditional institutions that man has used in the past. Religion, Ethnicity, and Nationalism are institutions that have undergone a revival. Witness the significance of Roots to so many people. Parenthetically one could say it's no accident that we have a “born-again” president. We all recall Freud's epigram (1927) describing neurosis as an individual religiosity and religion as a universal obsessional neurosis.

In our field, the field of mental health, the messianic aspects of this revival are apparent — they recast man's yearning for transcedence in an updated idiom.

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