the need to know



“All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves…”–Aristotle (Metaphysics, Book 1)[i]   (note that these are distinct kinds of things:  Aristotle distinguishes “things that are good in themselves” from “useful things,”  the sensual, the aesthetic… (Nicomachean Ethics 1:6) (art used to be called autotelic—self-reinforcing.)



Knowledge is Power.”  “All of us have felt the pleasure of acquiring information—a view of a dramatic landscape, a conversation with a friend, or even a good magazine article, can all be profoundly gratifying. But why is this so? What makes these experiences so pleasurable? // We believe that the enjoyment of such experiences is deeply connected to an innate hunger for information: Human beings are designed to be “infovores.” It’s a craving that begins with a simple preference for certain types of stimuli, then proceeds to more sophisticated levels of perception and cognition that draw on associations the brain makes with previous experiences. When the hunger becomes even moderately starved, boredom sets in.”  (Biederman, Irving & Vessel, Edward A. 2006).   The neuroscience of this hunger for knowledge is becoming known: see more on infovory


MEETING NEEDS can be satisfying, even intensely pleasurable How NEEDS and STRESS are related [A real-or-perceived challenge to meeting a real-or-perceived NEED evokes more-or-less of stress response (which “energizes” organism’s resources (motivational systems) to cope with challenge and restore homeostasis]  


HOW does the NEED to KNOW fit in with our biological interpretation of Maslow’s NEED HIERARCHY?


To KNOW and to be KNOWN: these are arguably amongst our greatest needs


“I now perceive one immense omission in my Psychology, the deepest principle of Human Nature is the craving to be appreciated, and I left it out altogether from the book, because I had never had it gratified till now.”  (William James 1842-1910, Letter to his class at Radcliffe College, 6 Apr. 1896, in Letters (1920) vol. 2, p. 33)


In matters of confidence about knowing who you are, Herman Melville was insecure about Moby Dick, until he heard from his friend:

“A sense of unspeakable security is in me this moment, on account of your having understood the book.” (Letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, July 1851)

The “voices” of some friends or family–those that you cannot consult in person, those that may no longer be alive–are so deeply internalized  they become Listening Angels. The conversation in your head can be hugely important when some of the variables are ambiguous: more about LISTENING ANGELS from a diary entry.

[i] Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book I, 980a.21. 350 BC  http://www.classicallibrary.org/aristotle/metaphysics/index.htm

[ii] Infovory.  Biederman, Irving & Vessel, Edward A. (2006) Perceptual Pleasure and the Brain. American Scientist. 94(3), 247-253. [PDF] http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/num2/2006/3/perceptual-pleasure-and-the-brain/1 A neurobehavioral elaboration of Aristotle: “All men by nature desire to know.” (Metaphysics, Book 1)