Category Archives: Psychoanalysis

a counterintuitive diagnosis

Republicans have not overturned the government, but since they gained control of the House two years ago, they have paralyzed governing, killing time by revisiting futilely the Affordable Care Act, and who knows how much legislative foolishness wasted on abortion. They have opposed President Obama on almost every issue.

What we need is a diagnosis. Why this relentless attack on the body politic? How explain Republican indifference to the suffering of hungry children? What enables them to harden their hearts against the 47%, while protecting corporations bursting with profit and millionaires? The answer:

Their conscience!

Conscience is a two edged sword, an evolved structure that has cast a terrifying shadow over earthlings for the last 10,000 years. Nowadays it darkens the Beltway. The right-wing of the Republican Party threatens to bring the Republic to its knees. For example, they are conscience-bound not to ever raise taxes.

If a fish could think, only late in the day would it discover that it swims in water. Our battered race has not yet discovered we humans float on a moral sea, endlessly endangered by relentless storms. Darwin, of course, recognized that the Moral Sense or conscience is a fundamental force in evolution, but it wasn’t  strawberries and cream for big Charlie. Around his 29th birthday, at the height of his creative powers, he attended a meeting of the Geologic Society in London. The Rev. William Whewell held forth, pronouncing that what distinguishes man from animals is his “moral and religious constitution, stamped on the human mind by the Deity himself.”

St. Paul had seconded the Reverend’s motion in his Epistle to the Romans. “The truth about God is known to mankind instinctively. Since earliest times, men have known of God’s existence and great eternal power. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. They have no excuse for saying there is no God.”

Neuro-anatomically, “knowledge in their hearts” refers to a system hard-wired in the brain, built-in. It is not a product of learning, not ontogenetically evolved through personal instruction. By any other name – Moral Sense, Moral Intuition, Natural Law, conscience – the truth about God, St. Paul claims, is known to mankind instinctively. We’re the only animal that comes into this world with a Moral Sense. All children arrive with moral intuitions.

This conscience business confronted Darwin with a major problem. Any gap in the descent of man bridged by a power outside of nature, such as St. Paul’s God, would blow to smithereens the origin of species through natural selection.

He turned to David Hume for help.


This blog was originally addressed to Norm Murray,  Norm heads up the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics. He has written over 100 papers on astronomy. Norm and I have battled forever, round and ’round, on a fun issue: Can a quantitative and objective science like physics intersect with the qualitative and subjective science of the human inner world. I contend that psychiatry belongs with the “hard” sciences, psychoanalysis is another matter.

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