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Bouchard, M. (1996). Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis. I, Number 2, 1993. The Need To Know and the Inability To Tolerate Not Knowing. Blema S. Steinberg. Pp. 85-103.. Psychoanal Q., 65:672-673.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 65:672-673

Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis. I, Number 2, 1993. The Need To Know and the Inability To Tolerate Not Knowing. Blema S. Steinberg. Pp. 85-103.

Review by:
Marc-André Bouchard

Psychoanalytic theory has contributed much to understanding the origins of the epistemophilic instinct—variously defined as the instinct of curiosity, the drive for knowledge, and the struggle for mastery—and of one of its significant aberrations, the inability to tolerate not knowing. Freud focused on the links between infant sexuality (libido) and curiosity, while Klein stressed the relationship between infant

sadism (aggression) and curiosity. Within an ego psychology framework, Hartmann argued that intellectualization, for instance, must be analyzed as a potentially constructive, reality-oriented approach to problems, and not just as a mechanism of defense. Psychoanalytic theorists, cognitive psychologists, and neonatal researchers also seem to be in general agreement that the human being is preeminently a curious animal and will, as part of normal development, manifest a need to know.

However, deeply embedded in our mythology is the belief that punishment will befall the individual whose drive to know is unbounded. Like the story of Adam and Eve, the myth of Oedipus can be understood as embodying a warning against man's omnipotent fantasies of knowing all. For some analysts, intellectualism run amok operates primarily as a way of coping with the anxiety of early unresolved sexual conflicts; others stress narcissism and the wish for omniscience and omnipotence; and still others emphasize issues of separation-individuation and lack of object constancy.

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