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teaching:emergence-and-tacit-knowing [2019/01/21 12:02] (current)
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 +====== Emergence and Tacit Knowing ======
 +There is a tendency among some or among many, depending on who you
 +count, to reduce wholes to their parts when explaining the wholes. We
 +see this kind of thing when, for example, some scientists or
 +philosophers seek to reduce human consciousness to a specific physical
 +location in the brain (see
 +[scientism](, more generally).
 +This kind of thinking has extraordinary implications, for if all higher
 +order things (e.g., people) can be reduced to their lower level, basic
 +physical parts (i.e., the wholes are merely summative of the physical
 +aspects that comprise them), then all problems at the whole can be
 +addressed simply by attending to the parts, especially the tangible,
 +mechanistic parts. But is that necessarily true? For example, can all
 +mental issues be addressed simply by attending to the physical processes
 +or components in the brain, or to borrow an example from
 +[Polanyi](, can we fix someone's
 +grammar simply by fixing that person's vocabulary, since the grammar of
 +a language is simply made up of its parts, the words? And then, can we
 +attend to someone's style of writing simply by attending to that
 +person's grammar, and so on?
 +This way at explaining things (and viewing the world -- i.e., defining
 +reality or what is real \[the ontological\]) is common across all
 +domains of knowledge and areas of practice. Another example: several
 +years ago I was doing historical work at an institutional archives and
 +reading some annual library reports from around the mid-20th century.
 +One of the common problems that the head librarian described in those
 +reports concerned his administration's view of the library as nothing
 +more than a warehouse of books. As he described it, the administration
 +at his academic institution ignored (or even failed to see) the
 +complexities attached to managing and using a library, and as a result,
 +repeatedly failed to invest in the library and the librarians who
 +operated it (the practical implication of a reductionist viewpoint). For
 +the head librarian, the library was more than a warehouse of books; in
 +the process of acquiring, describing, managing, shelving, circulating,
 +using, and so forth, and by virtue of the material (books, serials,
 +etc.) that was being attended to in those processes, something *emerged*
 +or came into existence that was beyond a basic warehouse. And the thing
 +that emerged was as real as any of its constitutive parts (e.g., books
 +and shelves), even if it could not be reduced to those parts. Thus, even
 +though that administration would agree that the library was a real
 +place, it seemed that for them, the librarian might have said, it was
 +only real as "cobblestones" are real.
 +> And since I regard the significance of a thing as more important than
 +> its tangibility, I shall say that minds and problems are more real
 +> than cobblestones (p. 33).
 +Polanyi's point in his lecture on emergence is simply this: higher order
 +things (technically,
 +things), cannot be explained by or reduced to their constitutive parts
 +("the whole is greater than the sum of its parts") even if those parts
 +are necessary for the whole to exist. Similarly, grammar requires a
 +vocabulary, but cannot be reduced to a vocabulary. The reverse is true,
 +too. A vocabulary cannot dictate a specific grammar, just as a grammar
 +cannot dictate, or *determine*, a style of writing:
 +> Take two points. (1) Tacit knowing of a coherent entity relies on our
 +> awareness of the particulars of the entity for attending to it; and
 +> (2) if we switch our attention to the particulars, this function of
 +> the particulars is canceled and we lose sight of the entity to which
 +> we had attended. The *ontological counterpoint* \[my emphasis\] of
 +> this would be (1) that the principles controlling a comprehensive
 +> entity would be found to rely for their operations on laws governing
 +> the particulars of the entity themselves; and (2) that at the same
 +> time the laws governing the particulars in themselves would never
 +> account for the organizing principles of a higher entity which they
 +> form (p. 34).
 +Polanyi, in all of this, is making a case for tacit knowing (the distal)
 +as something that cannot simply be explained by or reduced to explicit
 +knowledge (the proximate). In the final lecture, he will address some
 +scientific consequences of this position -- issues that relate, in some
 +respects, to problem-finding.
teaching/emergence-and-tacit-knowing.txt ยท Last modified: 2019/01/21 12:02 by seanburns