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Happiness and the craving for knowledge

12 Nov

Last week I came across a new word that I love – epistemophilia.  It was employed by psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein, and although it means basically ‘love of knowledge’ it isn’t necessarily a positive term. 

Klein’s student Wilfred Bion in particular developed the use of the word.  He saw the drive to know as essential to our psychic health. If we find someone, generally in early life, who is willing and able to contain the unbearable feelings which we all experience as infants,  and hand them back to us in a manageable form, then we can generally learn to control those feelings ourselves. In the process we acquire knowledge about ourselves and our interactions with the outside world. We become able to think.

But if we fail to find anyone who fulfils this function, an inability to know can result, and we may suffer from an uncontained ‘nameless dread’.  In later life some of us feel the urge to displace this dread by filling ourselves up with intellectual content.  This version of epistemophilia may make us feel a bit more secure for a while, but we’ll find as time goes on that we need more and more of the stuff.  Hence the desperate and indiscriminate craving for knowledge which I mentioned in my earlier blog (October 15).

readingIncidentally, while searching for a picture to illustrate this piece, I googled ‘reading’.  Most of the images that came up were of women, children and animals (teddy bears and Snoopy do love to read, apparently). When I googled ‘looking at computer screens’, most of the images that came up were of men. This bloke on the left is an exception, perhaps because he isn’t just curling up with a book – he’s really getting on top of  this reading business. He may, indeed, be suffering from epistemophilia. 

Sexual stereotyping is alive and well, it seems. In fact, it could be getting worse.