# C. Sean Burns: Notebook

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teaching:emergence-and-tacit-knowing

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 — teaching:emergence-and-tacit-knowing [2019/01/21 12:02] (current)seanburns created 2019/01/21 12:02 seanburns created 2019/01/21 12:02 seanburns created Line 1: Line 1: + ====== Emergence and Tacit Knowing ====== + + <​markdown>​ + 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](https://​en.wikipedia.org/​wiki/​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](http://​www.worldcat.org/​oclc/​864737090),​ 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,​ + [coherent](https://​www.merriam-webster.com/​dictionary/​coherence) + 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. +