Replying to LO25794 --
Fred Nickols <email@example.com> writes under the
Subject: Merry Christmas LO25794 -was: Polanyi
>I have just ordered four books bearing Michael Polanyi's
>name and I'm having them shipped to At via expedited
>international shipping. With luck, he'll have them by
>Merry Christmas, At. Read the damn books and tell us
>what you think.
[Host's Note: For those who might want to read themselves... In assoc
by Michael Polanyi, Harry Prosch, Kevin Prosch (Contributor) 1977
Personal Knowledge Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy
by Michael Polanyi 1974
(This book is a personal favorite of mine!)
Thank you, At, for sharing this condensate!
I have recieved yesterday the first two -- "Meaning" and "Personal
Knowledge" in a fine condition.
Thank you very much for the time and expenses involved. It is most kind of
We here in South Africa cannot rely too much on luck -- it took two weeks
longer than expected for the first two books to arrive. We have either to
become prepared for any possible calamity or just be content to degenerate
I had to yesterday afternoon some 60km north of Pretoria to buy floor
tiles. But before I left, I browsed quickly through both -- "Meaning"
completely new to me. After an hour I just had to leave them and get on
the road. But I had seen enough to keep my thoughts buzy while traveling.
These two books are much different. Thus, should I create a Learning
Condensate for each, they will be much different.
For example, the information in "Meaning" is mostly on Michael Polanyi
(MP) own thoughts. But in "Personal Knowledge" MP also discusses the
thoughts of many other thinkers from issue to issue. Should I make a LC
(Learning Condensate) of "Meaning", it would reflect mostly MP's thoughts.
But should I make a LC of "Personal Knowledge", what should I do?
As for myself in the way which my own mental needs work, I would focus
mainly on MP's own thoughts and make a LC on them. I would cut out most of
the information on thoughts of other thinkers, except where MP uses them
rather than the articulation of his own thoughts to model his own evolving
thoughts. Should I want to be informed about the other thinkers, I would
rather consult the original "Personal Knowledge" rather than the LC of it.
But this is how I will want it for me. How would you want it to be for you
on this issue -- mostly the thinker MP or other thinkers too? I would very
much like to know how you would want it.
Obviously, you may want many other things too. For example, while driving,
I tried to imagine what you would want. For example, you might want me to
"reduce" the condensate as "objective" as possible. Then it struck me that
should I make a LC of "Meaning", I could use MP's "Personal Knowledge" to
find out on "reduce" and "objective" what MP self has to say on it. Yes,
you wants on this side of the grave are very important, but what about MPs
wants on the other side of the grave?
This is for example something which he had to say in Personal Knowledge
(p 141) on "objective":
. Yet the spell of the Laplacean delusion remains unbroken
. to this day. The ideal of strictly objective knowledge,
. paradigmatically formulated by Laplace, continues to sustain
. a universal tendency to enhamce the observational accuracy
. and systematic precision of science, at the expense of its
. bearing on its subject matter.
MP would certainly not want me to make a LC of Meaning with me self under
the spell of the Laplacian delusion.
But enough of this. I would rather have you fellow learner develop this
part of the dialogue.
Fred, to give you some return on your investment, I have also worked on
On the issue "tacit knowledge can/cannot be articulated" I could not find
in both "Meaning" and "Personal Knowledge" any clear indication what MP's
own view point is. We will have to wait until the "Tacit Dimension of
I did find several instances where MP laments the growing "separation of
reason and experience". I also found several instances where MP considers
"inarticulate intelligence as the driving force of all human
articulations". MP writes on p93 of Personal Knowledge which reminds me
very much of how I self deal with the "mute knowledge" of students. He
writes that the meaning of speach
. "is formed by $not fully understood$ symbolic
. operations which can be
. (a) a fumbling, to be $corrected$ later by our tacit
. (b) a pioneering, to be $followed up$ later by our tacit
The cursive stress (here indicated by $---$) is MP's, not mine!
Should MP mean by "pioneering" what I refer to as "experiencing" of all
kinds (adventuring, pioneering, reassuring, ...), then (b) means that my
"experential (level of) knowledge" is requisite to his "tacit
understanding" and (a) means that his "tacit understanding" is requisite
to my "formal (level of) knowledge" with all the fumblings which it
involves as we all have experienced.
MP does not link "pioneering", "tacit understanding" and "fumbling" in
this order (which he stresses and not I, see $---$) by way of emergences.
In fact, only in the last chapter ("The rise of man" pp 381-405) of
Personal Knowledge does he use the word "emergence" a few times. He uses
it most extraordinarily to criticise the Darwinian view point (i.e,
natural selection) of evolution, writing that it is oblivious to the
phenomenon of emergence. He uses the word "adaptation" once which shows
that he is aware of the line of thought beginning with Lamarck
(environmental factors) and ending presently with Kauffman (complex
adaptive systems). But he never uses the words "bifurcation", "chaos",
"entropy", "dissipation" even once in this chapter or even the rest of the
book. Shall we then infer that he is oblivious with the Prigoginian line
of thinking? (Prigogine is one generation later while I am two generations
NO. He mentions Gibbs, T de Donder and Duhem who each played crucial roles
in preparing the groundwork from which Prigogine would eventually make use
of. Furthermore, he does mention the word "irreversibility" more than a
dozen times. (A physical chemist who is not amazed by irreversibility is
not the name physical chemist fitting.) This word occurs twice in this
most curious last chapter of Personal Knowledge.
On p391 he argues that "randomness" is an example of an emergence and that
it happens irreversibly! Well, the way in which he uses "randomness" more
than a dozen times in the book is always in a sense which we now often
will articulate with "chaos"! Through the subsequent work of Prigogine we
know presently that this "chaos" has a bifurcattion in it and that an
emergence of something novel might be the outcome of the bifurcation.
However, Progogine himself never stresses the other possible outcome with
a name as I do with "immergence".
But on p397 he writes something even more enticing. He discusses the
"ontogenesis of man". Thus he uses a term which most philosophers abhor
because they prescibe to the "ontology of man". I myself, like Prigogine,
prefer to use more intuitive descriptions like the "becoming" of humankind
for the former -- I even use "movie" -- and "being" of humankind for the
latter -- I even use "picture" --. He recognises that the "mature mind" of
humankind is sustained by ordered "levels of sentience". He calls them the
"roots of the tacit component which particpates decisively in all
articulate thought." He then mentions that the actions in passing from one
to another level are "commitments which have a bearing to reality to the
very extend to which they are hazardous." But this is not all.
He then writes in the next sentence:
. They are irreversible processes of comprehension,
. guided only by vague maxims.
By way of these maxims "... the personal pole of commitment retains its
autonomy everwhere, excercising its calling ....". Without them and thus
"unopposed, the circumstances of a commitment would overwhelm and
wipe out the impulse of the commitment;" If this not a hint that the entropic
force-flux pairs, when working at maximum rate, will causes a destructive
immergence when the seven essentialities is not at the requisite level
Dear Fred, thank you again for these two books. I am awaiting anxiously
the arrival of the Tacit Dim. Personal Knowledge has put my mind at ease.
When you insisted that tacit knowledge cannot be said -- an issue which we
still have to resolve until Tacit Dim arrives -- I felt as if a world was
collapsing. How could I have studied Polanyi with such a horrible
misconception. I do remember that in those days, some two decades ago, my
own mind was operating almost continuously at the edge of chaos. I was
self commited to an emergence by actions which, as MP puts it (still on
p391), "the outcome of these actions is always indeterminate." Yes, I now
realise once again how hazardous" my "actions" were during that time. My
students in that time can consider themselves very lucky ;-) We were all
prtected by the grace of God.
Allow me to explain his use of the phrase "irreversible processes". The
word "irreversible" means nothing else than "entropy producing"! It means
that LEP (the Law of Entropy Production) is at the very heart of
irreversibility. One of Prigogine's great contributions is that he
offfered us the thesis that "entropy production" is the necessary
condition for all PHYSICAL (inanimate and biological) evolution. I thought
I was first in extending it to the necessary condition for also all
SPIRITUAL evolution. But here Polanyi is clearly suggesting it for
"comprehension". However, first we will have to establish beyond any doubt
that LEP indeed governs the spiritual realm as it governs the physical
realm of reality.
What strikes me to day as of profound significance is his GUIDED BY ONLY
VAGUE MAXIMS. What does MP mean by it? Did I ever notice this phrase in
those days? I cannot remember! But a few years later I did discover
phenomenologically the seven essentialities of creativity which all
together and sufficiently mature guide bifurcations into constructive
emergences rather than destructive immergences. Perhaps MP's "vague
maxims" are the 7Es. Let us try to find out!
As for the word "maxims" (notice the plural) itself, he does use this word
in several places. On pp31-32 he define them as "rules of art" which "can
function only in the domain of personal judgement". On pp49-50 he makes
them prerequisite to the skills of practice. He uses specifically the
riding of a bicycle as an example of a skill (notice "skill" and not
"tacit knowledge"). On pp 54-55 he makes them as conditional to
connoiseurship. On p88 he makes the curious remark that subsidiary
(instrumental) knowledge is also a maxim. He then goes on to write that
subsidiary knowledge (notice, not "tacit knowledge") is ineffable
(unspeakable) because it is known by practice and not by objects, i.e. it
is the "art of doing". On p90 he says that when the maxims are indeed used
to explain the form of art, they always restrict disclosure of "the
subsidiary known particulars" of the content of art. On p115 he considers
"analytical reflection", i.e Socractic enquiry also as a maxim. On p162 he
unexpectedlyly claims that the maxims can be observed in the skilful
competency of an art. On p170 he says that they can function as guides to
science. On p192 he says that they impose mutual respect for the system of
formal mathematics. On p311 he says that the scientist uses these maxims
as rules of art in a unique way which makes it science. On p351 he
stresses that these maxims are also essential for high standing work in
descriptive, systematic botany.
As for the "maxims" being possibly the 7Es, I checked the index of Personal
Knowledge for any words which I even connect feigntly to any of the 7Es with
my nominal names for them, namely liveness, sureness, wholeness, fruitfulness,
spareness, otherness and openness. I also used my seminal names for them
to seek for possible connections. Here are some possibilities
liveness -- ontogenesis (several pp)
sureness -- prefix "self" (several pp), "standards" (several pp)
wholeness -- "wholes" (several pp), "gestalt" (several pp), "molar" (several pp)
fruitfulness -- "fruitfulness of Socratic enquiry" (p115), sharing of knowledge"
. or conviviality (p203)
spareness -- "achievements" (several pp),
otherness -- "different vocabularies" (p112), "taxonomy" (several pp), "value"
. as a quality (several pp), "law of limited variety
. of nature" (p162)
openness -- "open systems" (p384, p402)
What I find quite significant is that nowhere MP makes an attempt to
explain the inner detail of the maxims, except the one which involves
"doing" like in the riding of a bicycle. It is significant for me because
those things which I will recognise as inner details of the 7Es, are
linked nowhere by MP to his maxims!
So Fred, if you really want to refer to some tacit knowledge which Polanyi
has not articulated (whether he can not or want not, who would know ;-),
it is these "maxims" or "rules of art". Please bear in mind that at the
time (1958) when he wrote Personal Knowledge, the word "creativity" was
only beginning to get in use since its initiation (not emergence!) by
Guilford in his remarkable presidential address of 1952. Perhaps MP also
would have called them the "rules of creativity" should his attention been
brought to this word. The indexes of the two books which you sent me, do
not contain the word creativity. For some curious reason he also only
seldomly uses word like create, creative and creation.
It reminds me of myself because I avoid using words like sinner, sin and
sinful as well as words like define, definition, definiens and
definiendum. In a most synchronistic event only a few days ago I explained
it in some way to Winfried Dressler by my contribution "Definitions and
Learning". The worst possible misconception of sureness for me is
"identity without categoricity"
As I have wrote a couple of times on this list these past years,
explaining the 7Es is itself a task which I dread because of the immense
complexity it involves. If I did not experience them, after having
discovered them, as crucially important in my midwifery of a student's
authentic learning, then I would have by now gone silent (tacit ;-) on
them. Goethe two centuries ago and Smuts a century ago discovered that as
they grow consciously in wholeness, they began to hear some beautiful
music and poetry of Creation. But the majority of other people who, upon
being informed that it happens, failed to perceive this peculiar music and
poetry of wholeness became rather insulting and destructive in their
responses to Goethe and Smuts.
The following is definitely not intended as a judgement or even hinting at it.
I am intrigued by the fact that in these two books which Fred have send me,
the indexes do not list Goethe, Jan Smuts, wholeness and holism, except
for one tiny footnote to Goethe on p152 (Personal Knowledge) with respect
to Copernicanism. MP had read widely on evolution so that it was almost
unevitable that he should have encountered Smuts' "Holism and Evolution".
In this unique book Smuts makes some schocking claims for his time:
* increasing wholes, namely wholeness, empowers evolution
. evolution begins at the subatomic level of the phsyical world
* and ends with personality in the spiritual world.
Will other fellow learners please check out on books by Polanyi which they
may have how much he actually refered to these concepts and people?
The very reason to me why Polanyi wrote Personal Knowledge, is to stress
his conviction that Personal Knowledge ("from-in knowledge") is of a
higher level than "detached, impersonal, scientific knowledge". As such it
is a "commitment which is inherently hazardous". Together with this
Personal Knowledge comes what he calls "personhood". The way in which
Polanyi described the evolution of personhood (pp387-395) is not unlike
the way in which Smuts described the evolution of the human personality,
but Smuts also explained it with the empowering by "increasing wholes" or
When I stress that knowledge with all its levels is an evolves within the
person so that each person has a unique knowledge, it corresponds almost
exactly to what Polanyi says with respect to Personal Knowledge. But when
he speaks of "detached, impersonal, scientific knowledge", I hazardously
rename it as "scientific information" and stress that it exsists outside
the person. I also cautioned Artur that he ought not to confuse
"information" (outside the person) with "formal knowledge"), a level of
knowledge within the person and evolving while that person produces
Artur passionately pleaded with me to become aware that "tacit knowledge"
is of a higher level than "formal knowledge". Having now ascertained that
for Polanyi his "maxims or rules of art" seem to be like tacit knowledge
for him, I have to agree in a curious manner to Artur. These "maxims",
should they correspond up to an isomorphism to my seven essentialities of
creativity, they will indeed operate on levels of my spirituality higher
than creating or knowing like believing and loving.
Do you still remember the dialogue between me and Steve Eskow on these
essentialities, something which led Winfried to exclaim that he is
observing a drama like that of Goethe's "Faust". Because of the hazardous
nature of that dialogue, many fellow learners have decided to keep silent
in the 7Es in any public discourse. (In private correspondences to me and
among some of them they cautiously do speak out on these 7Es ;-). They are
doing with the 7Es what Polany seemed to have done with his "maxims -- the
rules of art".
Another night and day have seen their end. But it has been great fun to
pick up old threads of the past, quering them again with just a little bit
more of wisdom. Thank you once again Fred. What do you think of my reading
of the damn books?
By the way, in the old days they "burnt the books" which they did not
agree to. Would they not perhaps in modern days, by calling them
irrelevant or not functional to "information technology" for the same old
I am just asking ;-) And this contribution is not a Learning Condensate of
Personal Knowledge -- it is an ongoing drama of learning and knowing ;-)
I had a alarming dream last night telling me that I will have to read far
more books again. My mentor, now long dead, spoke to me in that dream with
eyes visibly blinded and a face contorted by some or other destruction. A
destructive immergence is nobody's friend.
With care and best wishes
At de Lange <firstname.lastname@example.org> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa
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