- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; Revised ed. edition (1 May 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226672980
- ISBN-13: 978-0226672984
- Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 0.8 x 20.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 333,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Tacit Dimension Paperback – 1 May 2009
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"Polanyi's work deserves serious attention, and this compact presentation of some of the essentials of his thought will serve to send more readers on to, or back to, Personal Knowledge."--Review of Metaphysics
About the Author
Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) was a Hungarian-British chemist and philosopher, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford. He is the author of many books, including Science, Faith and Society and Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, both published by the University of Chicago Press.
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The first part, Science & Reality, seeks to define the nature of science. He demonstrates that the propositions embodied in natural science are not derived by definite rules from experiential data. It is rather a process of (1) guessing or intuitive speculation driven by the creative impulse, guided by (2) critical caution or verification by observation. Both the aforementioned are channeled through the scientific conscience and the mind of the scientist transcends both.
In Part Two: Authority & Conscience, Polanyi differentiates General Authority from Specific Authority. The first leaves the decision for interpreting traditional rules in the minds of numerous independent individuals; this type of authority requires freedom. Specific Authority centralizes such decisions at one point; it requires obedience.
Part Three: Dedication & Servitude, considers how freedom is maintained within science. Sovereignty in the scientific realm is divided into fragments represented by individual scientists of whom fairness and tolerance are required. Fairness means that the scientist makes an effort to put her/his case objectively, recognizing the limitations of their own abilities and the existence of personal bias; tolerance requires the capacity to endure the unfair/hostile statements of opponents.
Upholding fairness and tolerance involves the public since controversies between proponents of ideas are conducted in order to canvass support instead of persuading one another. In the public arena, fairness and tolerance can be maintained only when the audience resists false oratory and appreciates moderation. A discerning public able to perceive insincerity of argument is an essential partner in the process of open debate. Such an audience will prefer moderate claims admitting an element of personal conviction in order to maintain mental balance and as proof of conscientious thinking by those appealing for its support.
Institutions that provide shelter to free discussion in a free society may include houses of parliament, courts of law, churches, the media, local government and a multitude of cultural, humanitarian and political organizations. A community which practices free discussion agrees with the fourfold proposition that (i) truth exists (ii) all its members value it (iii) feel compelled to pursue it (iv) are capable of doing so.
Thus the sovereignty of a free public opinion is the foundation stone of science since a society committed to truth must grant freedom to science as one form of truth. Even though true propositions cannot be established by any explicit criteria we do assert the universal validity of propositions to which we personally assent. In this way we express our conviction that truth is real; according validity to any great domain of the mind is to affirm a faith that can only be upheld within a community.
Our current civilizational crisis derives from the idea that freedom does not mean the acceptance of any particular obligations and is incompatible with a prescription of its own limits. In this view, freedom of thought means the rejection of any type of traditional beliefs including those on which freedom itself is based. Polanyi provides a brief outline of the historical process by which the (post)modern crisis has arisen.
In discussing movements like Bolshevism and Fascism he observes that they owed their success entirely to hidden spiritual forces, gaining power on a wave of patriotic or humanitarian passions. As shown by Hoffer in The True Believer, those who discard the pursuit of truth for the interests of particular groups inevitably attach their aspirations to the struggle for power. All their love & devotion are poured into a residue of reality, the power of the chosen party. This is the root of the fanaticism and explains the profound moral response even while moral realities are scorned; love of truth & justice is distorted into a love of power.
The society that spurns transcendent ideals chooses to be subjected to servitude, as so thoroughly explained by Hayek in The Road to Serfdom. Intolerance returns with a vengeance; the skeptical empiricism which had once broken the shackles of medieval church authority proceeds to destroy the authority of conscience. See also Stephen Hicks' remarkable book Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism And Socialism From Rousseau To Foucault.
There is no common ground for argument between the believer in transcendent reality and the sinisterist but conversion is possible, where the collectivist's beliefs are transferred from the theory of political violence to the spiritual realm. The case of the Romantic nihilist is more difficult according to Polanyi, since the cult of brutality tends to utterly corrupt the very core of humanity.
Polanyi's distinction is crucial: although he denies that truth is demonstrable, he asserts that it is indeed knowable by tradition and by conscience which is mankind's guide to truth. It is impossible - as logical positivism demonstrates - of verifying any universal statements (a fact that exacerbates the crisis caused by skeptical empiricism), but tradition remains the foundation for universal ideals. We ought thus to cultivate to the best of our ability the particular strain of tradition into which we were born.
Polanyi concludes that well-being seems not to be the real purpose of society but secondary to its task of fulfilling aims in the spiritual field. The knowledge of abiding concerns is reinforced by the free conscience of every generation, adding to our spiritual heritage. We may therefore assume that the source of this inspiration is the same as that which first gave mankind its society-forming knowledge. Knowledge of reality & acceptance of those obligations that guide our consciences will ultimately reveal to us The Eternal Divine in man and society. This thought-provoking book concludes with three indices: Premises of Science, Significance of New Observations and Correspondence with Observation.
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TACIT KNOWLEDGE, which is an integral part of all knowledge, is that which one is unable to access readily or to express precisely. It results from the structure of tacit knowing wherein knowledge items of which one is only subsidiarily aware are tacitly integrated, and then provided to focal awareness as explicit knowledge. Integration via spontaneous equilibration keys on fostering mutual coherence among the subsidiary items. Although it admits some degree of reconstitution within focal awareness, tacit knowledge refers generally to knowing that one is unable to articulate (i.e., the case of knowing more than one can tell). Ultimately though, all knowledge is either tacit or rooted in tacit knowledge.
STRUCTURE OF TACIT KNOWING is a triad composed of the knower (subject), the subsidiaries (clues), and the focal content (entity). Through tacit integration, the knower causes the subsidiaries to bear on the focal entity, thereby imparting meaning to it. This is an act of sense-giving.
ALTERNATIVE VIEW OF STRUCTURE involves an emphasis on the integration of particulars as a means of interiorizing them. This interiorization enables indwelling in them, and in turn, the discernment of the joint meaning of the comprehensive entity.
TACIT KNOWING in the context of scientific investigations accounts for indeterminate or contingent commitments encompassing the following:
1. discernment of valid and important problems and their attendant clues,
2. guidance, imagination, and motivation in pursuing a promising course of solution,
3. closure on a pending discovery and anticipation of its implications.
COMPREHENSIVE ENTITIES exhibit a (two-level) structure for instances of tacit knowing. A comprehensive entity appears on a level above that of its subsidiaries, where the two levels correspond to distinct levels of reality. The higher level controls the marginal conditions left undetermined by the principles governing the lower level. Furthermore, the controlling principle for the higher level relies on the operations available on the lower level, but the lower level control principles do not affect the principles of the higher level. Accordingly, each level is subject to asymmetric dual controls.
EMERGENCE in a generalized evolutionary hierarchy pertains to the creation of entirely new comprehensive entities, not merely novel behavior inexplicable in terms of subsidiary elements. Such creation occurs bottom-up as novel boundary conditions capture and instantiate/integrate an ensemble of subsidiaries in a nascent comprehensive entity. Such an evolutionary step can happen in knowledge development in general, not just in the advances of scientific knowledge. Progress in terms of enhanced sophistication or capabilities results from the bottom-up sequencing of layers. Moreover, the consolidation of each comprehensive entity spawns additional yet largely unforeseen potentialities, and in turn the prospects and motivation for new knowledge discovery quests.
SENTIENCE as an attribute in humans, which seen as evolved comprehensive entities, cannot therefore result from lower-level controlling principles, namely from the laws of chemistry or physics. Rather, sentience must obtain from the higher-level controlling principles around which the comprehensive entity is formed. In general, principles additional to ones manifested by inanimate matter must be involved.
MACHINES similarly are comprehensive entities whose respective purposes and operating principles cannot be derived from physics or chemistry. Rather, a machine’s operational principles are imposed through boundary conditions on its constituent subsidiary elements, including various physical or chemical ones. In the case of an engineered machine, its organizing principles are designed by humans to fulfill particular purposes, and in turn are actualized through the selection, adaptation, and integration of appropriate subsidiary constituents. Hence the deliberate actualization of a new and more complex higher-level entity.
HUMAN VERSUS MACHINE FAILURE causes basically differ in nature. Humans are subject to failure in the conduct of their activities due to breakdown susceptibilities inherent in their operational principles. This susceptibility is attributable to accrued cognitive complexity. Machine failures in general, however, can never be ascribed to their operational principles. A machine’s failure to function as designed can result only from elemental physical/chemical faults in its structure or constituents, as attributable to its composition solely of inanimate matter.
ANIMATE VERSUS INANIMATE PROCESSES in general are distinguished according to three major contrasts. These distinctions are essential considerations in dealing with the intersection of the two domains, like the existent gaps between life sciences and physics/chemistry. Basically, an animate process pursues discovery that is latent in potentialities, and an inanimate process tends toward more stable potentialities.
1. Guidance/motivation per problem attributes versus drive toward more stable states,
2. Effort toward actualization of potentialities versus catalysts or accidental events,
3. Imaginative thrusts toward discovery versus probabilistic uncaused events.
SUMMARY: Although this book is comparatively short, it is heavily laden with very substantive and consequential concepts. In my view, they seem compatible with if not complementary to certain ones of several other seminal thinkers in epistemology, cognitive psychology, or the philosophy of science. Here, moreover, it seems to me that Polanyi’s ideas are the most profound and incisive, albeit perhaps not the most encompassing ones. In all, “The Tacit Dimension” is a most invaluable resource, especially for multidisciplinary thinkers and researchers.
There are several "money" quotes, but this one jumped off the page:
"Yet it is taken for granted today among biologists that all manifestations of life can ultimately be explained by the laws governing inanimate matter. K.S. Lashley declared this at the Hixon Symposium of 1948, as the common belief of all participants, without ever consulting his distinguished colleagues. Yet this assumption is patent nonsense. The most striking feature of our own existence is our sentience. The laws of physics and chemistry include no conception of sentience, and any system wholly determined by these laws must be insentient. It may be in the interest of science to turn a blind eye on this central fact of the universe, but it is certainly not in the interest of truth. I shall prefer to follow up, on the contrary, the fact that the study of life must ultimately reveal some principles additional to those manifested by inanimate matter, and to prefigure the general outline of one such, yet unknown, principle."
The "unknown" and "hidden realities" play a large part of each of three chapters and he concludes with: "Men need a purpose which bears on eternity. Truth does that; our ideals do it; and this might be enough, if we could ever be satisfied with our manifest moral shortcomings and with a society which has such shortcomings fatally involved in its workings. Perhaps this problem cannot be resolved on secular grounds alone. But its religious solution should become more feasible once religious faith is released from pressure by an absurd vision of the universe, and so there will open up instead a meaningful world which could resound to religion."
Highly recommended. (I'm ordering Personal Knowledge...) Read on!