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teaching:personal-knowledge-and-science [2019/01/21 11:59] (current)
seanburns created
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 +====== Personal Knowledge and Science ======
 +In this post, I want to address the personal aspects of tacit knowing.
 +Here, [Polanyi]( writes that:
 +> The declared aim of modern science is to establish a strictly
 +> detached, objective knowledge. Any falling short of this ideal is
 +> accepted only as a temporary imperfection, which we must aim at
 +> eliminating. But suppose that tacit thought forms an indispensable
 +> part of all knowledge, then the ideal of eliminating all personal
 +> elements of knowledge would, in effect, aim at the destruction of all
 +> knowledge. The ideal of exact science would turn out to be
 +> fundamentally misleading and possibly a source of devastating
 +> fallacies (p. 20).
 +On the next page, he writes:
 +> It is commonplace that all research must start from a problem.
 +> Research can be successful only if the problem is good; it can be
 +> original only if the problem is original. But how can one see a
 +> problem, any problem, let alone a good and original problem? For to
 +> see a problem is to see something that is hidden. It is to have an
 +> intimation of the coherence of hitherto not comprehended particulars
 +> (p. 21).
 +These passages highlight an important issue in knowledge production,
 +aka, science. This is the issue of *problem-finding* (discovering the
 +question to ask ...), as opposed to *problem-solving* (... that produces
 +the knowledge).
 +Most of the world sometimes appears focused on the explicit aspects of
 +knowledge production. This might be because these acts are more tangible
 +(hands-on) and because they are often the direct objects of scientific
 +study itself (think of the focus on methodology and on the development
 +of data collection instruments among social scientists and scientists).
 +As such, we see in current political debates, in K-12 educational
 +practices, and so forth, a major emphasis on the analytical methods
 +needed to produce knowledge (e.g., the so-called [scientific
 +method]( But
 +this focus is one-sided. It is true that methodological concerns are
 +important, and this is likely why, as an example, scientific articles
 +contain entire sections dedicated to *Methodology* or *Methods*. It is
 +because these sections serve a very important purpose; they provide a
 +way to communicate the explicit aspects of scientific research---aspects
 +that afford or enable others to either *reproduce* or *replicate*
 +scientific studies from afar, by way of the document that communicates
 +the explicit knowledge to do so (although we may argue that the
 +background knowledge required to read these documents raises a whole
 +host of tacit-related issues).
 +But what about the *problem-finding* issue? How does someone know what
 +research question to ask? Polanyi is saying that this is a tacit issue.
 +We sense the "coherence" of a thing or a system without knowing the
 +particulars of the thing or system, and doing that allows us to start
 +asking about the particulars. And thus *problem-finding*, a key but
 +often ignored aspect of the scientific process, is completely dependent
 +on tacit knowing. Since tacit knowing is personal (when we make a thing
 +explicit, we make an object of it, and therefore, impersonal), then
 +science depends on the personal. In fact, its foundations rest on the
 +There's some key empirical evidence to back this up. A little after
 +Polanyi's *The Tacit Dimension* was published, [Robert
 +Merton](, the sociologist
 +of science, published a paper called "The Matthew Effect in Science". He
 +> The role of outstanding scientists in influencing younger associates
 +> is repeatedly emphasized in the interviews with \[Nobel\] laureates.
 +> Almost invariably they lay great emphasis on the importance of
 +> problem-*finding*, not only problem-solving. They uniformly express
 +> the strong conviction that what matters most in their work is a
 +> developing sense of taste, of judgment, in seizing upon problems that
 +> are of fundamental importance (p. 453).
 +All science is, ergo, personal, and the better scientists are doing the
 +personal (taste, judgment, etc.) better. What are the implications?
teaching/personal-knowledge-and-science.txt ยท Last modified: 2019/01/21 11:59 by seanburns