The world against me rages, its fury I disdain;
Though bitter war it wages, its work is all in vain.
My heart from care is free, no trouble troubles me.
Misfortune now is play, and night is bright as day.

--Awake, My Heart, with Gladness (Auf, Auf, Mein Herz, mit Freuden), Paul Gerhardt

Thursday, December 19, 2013

We know more than we can tell

Thus said the 20th century scientist-philosopher Michael Polanyi.  Tom Christenson, in his book “The Gift and Task of Lutheran Higher Education” tips his hat to Michael Polanyi on several occasions.  In one instance, as Christenson explains what our approach to knowing should be, he says the following:

“Our own approach, I would argue, should be the opposite of Descartes’ exclusivism.  Let us begin by looking at knowing inclusively, by noting the variety of ways of knowing there are and then examine the variety of modes such exemplars embody:

-Being able to recognize one’s own camel in a herd of 200 camels
-Knowing how to successfully turn the corner on a bicycle
-Driving a car – safely getting where we wanted to go
-A doctor diagnosing a disease
-A teacher detecting that a student does not yet understand
-A young man discovering that he is gay [note: I would say has homosexual inclinations]
-A child learning to recognize that she is experiencing a headache (not as simple as it seems)
-A person realizing she was born (or do we only know this on someone else’s authority?)
-A person realizing that he will die (Tolstoi’s Ivan Illich)
-A student concluding on the basis of lab experiments that the unknown substance is aluminum oxide
-A psychologist diagnosing a patient’s problem
-A physicist concluding that the earth is in motion
-Knowing what time it is in spite of not being able to say anything non-metaphorical about it (St. Augustine’s puzzlement)
-Einstein postulating that time is the fourth dimension
-Shakespeare seeing deeply into the human psyche
-A reader seeing deeply into Shakespeare
-Annie Dillard experiencing “the tree with the lights in it”
-A parent realizing deep love for his children
-A child learning the language of his parents well enough to say, “I don’t want to eat because I amn’t hungry”
-A student of Buddhism understanding the truth of the teacher’s claim: “The self is a cultural construct, not a reality”
-A young woman knowing her self well enough to set priorities for her life, turning down a proposal of marriage
-A man discovering that some of his most basic beliefs about human fulfillment were false
-A grandmother once again making flawless piecrust
-A student finally “getting” a poem by Wallace Stevens
-A witness to a crime testifying under oath
-A couple dancing a samba

(pp. 105 and 106)