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The Table Video

Curt Thompson

To Know and to Be Known

Psychiatrist / Author / Founder of Being Known
March 7, 2013

Curt Thompson M.D., author of Anatomy of the Soul, talks about interpersonal neurobiology and the human thirst for knowledge—our quest to know things—and the significance of “being known.”


There are perhaps many reasons, whereby, which we have come to where we are in history. One things seems to be rather evident and that is that we love knowing things. We almost have an insatiable thirst for knowing things.

It also appears that most of our interest in knowing things is in order to control and reduce our distress and anxiety that largely comes, not because we don’t know things, but because we are not known. It’s interesting that we live in a world that for the last, perhaps, 300 years has largely been shaped by an ethos that encourages and invites independence, invites people to make their own choices without necessarily needing to be connected to other people.

That tends to be a very different plausibility structure than a biblical one, which from the get-go addresses the world and says, “Let us make mankind in Our image. “Let them then rule and have dominion over the earth.” “Let them live like Us,” essentially.

And that’s a pretty crucial statement because we hear in that, that the intention for women and men, by God’s design, was for us to not simply live together, but that we would be increasingly more deeply known by one another. It’s interesting that one of the ways in which the Hebrew texts understand what God meant by bringing to Adam a helper was one who mirrors Adam to himself.

That I’m not just helping him with the laundry. I’m not just helping him with dinner. I’m helping him to see himself. Interpersonal neurobiology, interestingly enough, is tending to give us different information than what our typical scientific direction tends to go. It tends to say, “We don’t really know ourselves “until we see ourselves in somebody else’s eyes.”

This is replete throughout the biblical narrative. Even though it’s being newly discovered by neuroscientists in the 21st century, this is information that as the writer to the Ecclesiastes would say, “is not really new under the sun.”

We’re just simply putting a different spin on it. So, to the degree that we aren’t just simply striving to know information, but to the degree that we are willing to be known by others in all of our dreadfulness, in all of our darkness and strangeness is the degree to which I then become known to myself. And I can’t really do that, nor will I experience that, I think, with God until and or unless I’m doing that with other people that are just sitting three feet away from me.