What Roles do Worldviews Play in Science? (Part 3)
The next scientist we’ll look at is Michael Polanyi. Much of Polanyi’s work is directed against a school of scientists that taught what’s called the fact/value split. He specifically argued against the fact/value split in postulating his theory of tacit knowledge. Science is not a value free field, but concerns the entirety of the scientist that is engaged his field. Once again, we Kuhn said in his own way, we’re not neutral observers taking in “brute facts.”
The tacit dimension, as he titled a later work of his, is a type of personal knowledge, a knowing from the inside. This bridges the subjective guesses, intuitions and imaginations of the scientists with the data presented him in the laboratory. His motto (if I correctly remember it) was, “You know more than you think.” Not all types of knowledge are subject to articulation, but known intuitively, subjectively; by experience, and not by formula. He example commonly used is that of riding a bicycle. We cannot deny that we “know” how to ride a bike simply because we cannot fully put into words the “body-sense” of our riding experience. Tacit knowledge is an experience of knowing acquired through a type of “life-apprentice-ship,” where knowing, feeling, and doing are joined. Empiricism is thus challenged (and to my mind, refuted), because it’s system demands that we verbally account for evidence and systemic coherence (reflecting a truncated internalist model of epistemic justification). But this, Polanyi argues, is simply not how true scientific discovery is made. Often we follow the lead of our tacit awareness before we really know what it is that we’re on to.
In discussing the progress of scientific knowing, Polanyi notes “knowing” is the process of integration, by which we focus on a pattern by and through the means of various clues, called subsidiaries, in the world, our body-sense, and in our norms for thinking. We pick up on the clues in our experiments and tests. We think we’re on to something, but can’t quite say what it is (we get a glimpse of the whole, or the “focus” as Polanyi called it… but just a glimpse). In time, the focus becomes clearer and we give more weight to the significance of the clues. We understand them better better because we begin to see the role they play in painting the entire picture. Thus scientific knowledge (and all knowledge, Polanyi would argue) is this toggling between the subsidiaries and the focus, with each clarifying and expanding out understanding of the other. The give and take of this spiral is what advances science, not the cool, rational, and linear thought of the dispassionate scientist.