# C. Sean Burns: Notebook

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teaching:personal-knowledge-and-science

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 — teaching:personal-knowledge-and-science [2019/01/21 11:59] (current)seanburns created 2019/01/21 11:59 seanburns created 2019/01/21 11:59 seanburns created Line 1: Line 1: + ====== Personal Knowledge and Science ====== + <​markdown>​ + In this post, I want to address the personal aspects of tacit knowing. + Here, [Polanyi](http://​www.worldcat.org/​oclc/​864737090) 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](https://​plato.stanford.edu/​entries/​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 + personal. + + There'​s some key empirical evidence to back this up. A little after + Polanyi'​s *The Tacit Dimension* was published, [Robert + Merton](https://​en.wikipedia.org/​wiki/​Robert_K._Merton),​ the sociologist + of science, published a paper called "The Matthew Effect in Science"​. He + wrote: + + > 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?​ +