Strange Inferences

Nicholi Responds to Strahler

From: PSCF 42 (December 1990): 271-272

Mr. Arthur Strahler's reaction to my article ["How Does the World View of the Scientist and the Clinician Influence Their Work?," Dec. 1989 Perspectives provides a clear illustration of how one's world view influences not only what he perceives but how he interprets what he perceives.

Nowhere in my article do I even vaguely imply that clinicians with a secular world view lack "kindness and compassion" or are "cruel and inhumane and uncaring." All of that comes entirely from Mr. Strahler's mind-completely inferred by him.

If Mr. Strahler read more of my writings, he would know I have often stated that people who do not embrace the Christian world view may live the Christian ethic, and some even more effectively than one who does. And there exist good reasons for this-some of them being differences in the level of ethical training one has received early in life. For example, one who comes from a highly ethical and devout family may, as an adult, live the ethics but reject the religious philosophy from which those ethics originate; thus one's life may appear more ethical than one who has recently embraced the faith but comes from a secular family background.

As a psychiatrist I can't help but ask what really makes Mr. Strahler so emotionally "disturbed." If my lecture had been to a group of Boy Scouts and I wrote that adherence to the Scout oath to "help others at all times," etc., would and should influence Scouts to be kind and compassionate to old ladies attempting to cross the street, would Mr. Strahler also charge that I am implying that all non-Scouts are cruel and inhumane and uncaring toward old ladies, that I am implying that Scouts are "unique in generating compassion and sympathy," that I am guilty of Scouting "chauvinism," and that I am implying that "all admirable qualities of character" are "egregiously limited to" Scouting?

I don't think Mr. Strahler would make such strange inferences, unless, of course, he had experienced some unfortunate traumatic early experiences with Scouting; experiences that perhaps resulted in unresolved inner conflicts that tended to influence and distort whatever he read about Scouting.

Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., M.D. Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry Harvard Medical School 209 Musterfield Road Concord, MA 01742