Thursday, August 24, 2006

Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension

Polanyi, Michael. The Tacit Dimension. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966.

Working from the nexus of philosophy and science, Polanyi presents three lectures in The Tacit Dimension: Tacit Knowing, Emergence, and A Society of Explorers. He leads with concerns about the nature of human knowledge and opens with the precept that "we can know more than we can tell" (4). A "missing principle" (88), tacit knowledge, accounts for indwelling (empathy) and interiorizations (assimilation?) that informs our personal felt sense--the hunches, intuitions, and guesses that underscore our pursuit of open-ended forms of knowledge. With an overt emphasis on passion, Polanyi develops tacit knowledge as an alternative to the predominance of dogmatic, objectivist science.

Emergence: "Thus the logical structure of the hierarchy implies that a higher level can come into existence only through a process not manifest in the lower level, a process which thus qualifies as emergence" (45). Here, Polanyi is working toward a distinction between the mechanistic and the organismic. The hierarchy and stratification of entities from larger structures is best described as an emergence. "The relation of a comprehensive entity to its particulars was then seen to be the relation between two levels of reality, the higher one controlling the marginal conditions left indeterminate by the principles governing the lower one" (55).

In the third lecture, "A World of Explorers," concerns the moral imperative of the scientific "explorer" who proceeds without foreclosing on conclusions. That is, neither positivistic (moral skepticism) nor Marxist (moral perfectionism) (58), the explorer accepts the reliability (has "confidence in authority" (62)) of antecedent knowledge: "We have here the paradigm of all progress in science: discoveries are made by pursuing possibilities suggested by existing knowledge" (67).

Key terms: Gestalt psychology (6), subception (7), performance of a skill (10), functional structure (10), phenomenal structure (11), indwelling (16), interiorization (17), marginal control (40), ideogenesis (48), hybrids (58)

"The declared aim of modern science is to establish a strictly detached, objective knowledge. Any falling short of this ideal is accepted only as a temporary imperfection, which we must aim at eliminating. But suppose that tacit though forms an indispensable part of all knowledge, then the ideal of eliminating all personal elements of knowledge would, in effect, aim at the destruction of all knowledge. The idea of exact science would turn out to be fundamentally misleading and possibly a source of devastating fallacies" (20).

"Tacit knowing is shown to account (1) for a valid knowledge of a problem, (2) for the scientist's capacity to pursue it, guided by his sense of approaching its solution, and (3) for a valid anticipation of the yet indeterminate implications of the discovery arrived at the end" (24).

"The meticulous dismembering of a text, which can kill its appreciation, can also supply material for a much deeper understanding of it" (19).

"In the last few thousand years human beings have enormously increased the range of comprehension by equipping our tacit powers with a cultural machinery of language and writing. Immersed in this cultural milieu, we now respond to a much increased range of potential thought" (91).

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