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Grotjahn, M. (1943). Nescience, Science, and Psycho-Analysis: Montague Francis Ashley Montagu. Psychiatry, IV, 1941, pp. 45–60.. Psychoanal Q., 12:441-442.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Nescience, Science, and Psycho-Analysis: Montague Francis Ashley Montagu. Psychiatry, IV, 1941, pp. 45–60.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:441-442

Nescience, Science, and Psycho-Analysis: Montague Francis Ashley Montagu. Psychiatry, IV, 1941, pp. 45–60.

Martin Grotjahn

In a recently published article Róheim tried to show that the so-called nescience or ignorance of the relationship between coitus and childbirth exhibited by such native Australian tribes as the Arunta (Aranda) and their neighbors is not due to any failure in their sciential processes, but to a process of repression whereby the conscious knowledge of this relationship is rendered unconscious, and is replaced in consciousness by a symbolic superstructure. Why do these natives repress the knowledge of the father as the agent of procreation? Because, explains Róheim, 'The identity in their minds of the child with a being who was killed by the father before the child was born is an expression

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of the unconscious hostility between father and son, that is, of one aspect of the Oedipus complex. The unborn child protects large game from the father's spear, because in the father's unconscious mind the large game he kills is identical with the unborn child.' Róheim's theory can at best, according to Montagu, only be applied to a particular belief. It cannot be extended to embrace those cases in which the father actually dreams or finds the child, or to those many other cases in which the child enters the woman independently of any activities on the part of the father. Hence, Róheim's theory cannot be accepted as a general explanation of the aboriginal nescience of physiological paternity without doing violence to the facts. While it is possible that aboriginal children know that coitus is a necessary factor in the production of childbirth, such children realize after they have undergone initiation into the esoteric beliefs of adulthood that it is by no means an important factor and that it is certainly not the cause of conception. What they believe to be the truth as adult thinkers is that immigration of spirit children from a source independent of the bodies of a particular man and woman is the cause of conception and childbirth. Such adult knowledge is really an extension and clarification of the childhood notions relating to procreation, not a suppression or obfuscation of them. There hardly seems to be any necessity to invoke the mechanism of repression here. In any event, if children actually know that coitus and seminal fluid make babies how are we to explain the alleged fact that these children have already succeeded in repressing (for this is what Róheim suggests) the knowledge of their physiological relationship to a particular man? Or are we to understand that repression occurs only later, during or after initiation? If the mature aboriginal is convinced that coitus is not the cause of childbirth, whatever he may have believed as a child, and whatever the elements involved in the development of that conviction, we can not do otherwise than accept his own testimony to that effect.

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Article Citation

Grotjahn, M. (1943). Nescience, Science, and Psycho-Analysis. Psychoanal. Q., 12:441-442

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