Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension

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
, 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

"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"

"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).