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Tacit Dimension Reprint Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0844659992
ISBN-10: 0844659991
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Editorial Reviews


"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) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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.  Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998, is the Lamont University Professor at Harvard University.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 119 pages
  • Publisher: Peter Smith Publisher Inc; Reprint edition (January 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0844659991
  • ISBN-13: 978-0844659992
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,445,378 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By G. Bestick on January 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Polanyi, a scientist turned philosopher, developed this set of three lectures partly in response to a 1935 conversation with Bukharin, a prominent Soviet scientist. Bukharin asserted that pure science was a morbid symptom of a class society; under socialism, science pursued for its own sake would disappear, and scientists would use their knowledge only for a higher social good, such as solving the problems of the current Five Year Plan. Polanyi's defense of free scientific inquiry took the form of describing how we actually acquire knowledge of the world as we move through it. In the process, he made lasting contributions to epistemology, the branch of philosophy that explores how we know what we know.

He starts by examining how scientists actually practice their craft. Scientific problem solving starts with finding a good problem to work on, and Polanyi's interest is in how that problem gets posed. He introduces the idea of tacit knowledge, which consists of things we know without being able to say how we know them. For instance, I know my wife's face, without being able to tell you how I can pick her face out of the billions of faces in the world. Scientists use tacit knowledge all the time to formulate problems. They make indeterminate commitments based on internal feelings that this commitment will be eventually be fruitful.

Having reclaimed individual agency and subjective knowing as part of the scientific process, Polanyi then asserts the value of empirical knowledge against top down ideologies such as Marxism and philosophies such as Existentialism that argue that humans choose their own reality by willing it into existence at the moment of choice.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Just finished Mr. Polanyi's little book---very well done and compelling. It has seemed that the last several books I've read were based mostly on their acceptance of Polanyi's notions of tacit and explicit knowledge. On further investigation I discovered that Polanyi's signature work, Personal Knowledge clocked in at about 500 pages---and with about two feet of books on the must read list, I was happy for the opportunity to get the gist of his thinking. Dimension does the trick. Polanyi's intellectual honesty and devotion to complete development of an idea are as refreshing as they are enlightening.

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.
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Format: Paperback
this is a JEWEL of a book:
my deep gratitude go to AMARTYA SEN for seeing to its reprinting.

having struggled through POLANYI's PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE,
it is fortuitous to find those brilliant ideas lucidly condensed in a much more accessible prose!

what is remarkable and significant about TACIT knowledge is that it validates what thinkers, artists, designers, writers, poets, musicians, and scientists (albeit too few of these) consistently admit: we cannot account as to the origin of the initial idea or notion that launches our investigations.

Paul Feyerabend in his book AGAINST METHOD touches on this enigmatic mental itch or, as he calls it, "a vague urge":

"Creation of a thing, and creation plus full understanding of a correct idea of the thing, are parts of one and the same indivisible process... The process itself is not guided by a well-defined programme, and cannot be guided by such programme... It is guided rather by a vague urge, by a `passion'. "

this book opens up new venues to think about thinking.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Polanyi's premise is that we know more than we can tell. Think about the face of someone you know well. Try to describe it. You probably can't. But if the police were to subject you to their technique of using photo albums to identify the different features of the face, you'd likely end up with a workable approximation. This is tacit knowledge and we rely on it more often than we admit. Scientists, he says, are not only not explicitly aware of the experiments that came before them, but they take them for granted during their own. We think of scientists as explorers of the unknown, but in reality they often have an idea of where they going even on totally new ground. They have vague notion of what they wish to discover - a tacit understanding - and able to recognize it as it is confirmed. Polayni's work was influential to Thomas Kuhn, who wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I had trouble reading Kuhn about a year ago and had to stop. After I read Polayni, I was able try again and slowly make my way through the whole thing. I feel better for having read both books and can now see their implications on a regular basis. In my recommendation to read them, I would suggest following a similar order.
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