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Kopff, R.G., Jr. (1984). Meeting of the New York Psychoanalytic Society. Psychoanal Q., 53:648-650.

(1984). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 53:648-650

Meeting of the New York Psychoanalytic Society

Richard G. Kopff, Jr.

November 30, 1982. THE FEAR OF KNOWLEDGE (The 34th A. A. Brill Memorial Lecture). Milton H. Horowitz, M.D.

In a fascinating and illuminating lecture, Dr. Horowitz wove together references to some of the great poets, ancient mythology, religious writings, and clinical psychoanalytic case material to discuss the pervasive human phenomenon, the fear of knowledge. He began by reminding us of Sophocles' and Thomas Gray's writing of ignorance as bliss and of Milton's writing of "the sweetness of Eden and the everlasting sadness of a Paradise Lost through man's disobedience." Such wishes to return to the infantile past are not the concerns of poets alone. They are well known to psychoanalysts in the phenomenon of transference and in patients' fantasies of "cure." The wish for a terrestrial paradise in the consulting room, the fear of knowledge expressed in the phenomena of defense and resistance, and the mournful fear of separation and death as part of the process of termination of treatment are regular manifestations of the psychoanalytic situation. Dr. Horowitz reminded us of the wide-ranging myths, legends, and sacred texts warning of the danger of knowledge, such as the Biblical version of the Fall of Man after tasting the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and the mythical story of curiosity leading to the opening of Pandora's box. And yet mankind reveres knowledge and honors the learned. Thus, we see how the desire to know and the fear of knowing exist in conflict in cultures as well as in individuals.

For a certain group of patients, elements of the story of the expulsion from Paradise are a part of their personal psychology. They fear knowledge and avoid acquiring it as if to do so were sacrilegious. They fear the loss of the "Paradise" of attachment to parents who loved and nurtured them. They avoid knowledge of their own and their parents' sexuality, as well as other knowledge about their parents and other people, as if knowledge of such matters carried great dangers with it.

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