Beginning with the End in Mind
One author described The Tacit Dimension as a book that is “a must-read one in the field of knowledge management.” He describes tacit knowledge as the process of identifying a person by their features in a large group of people and references a second example of a pianist playing the piano. With uncanny ability, a professional pianist can play the correct keys with incredible speed, accuracy, and pressure at precisely the right time. The author writes,
This is a type of activity that involves a tacit form of knowledge and comes through long-term practice and performance… The process becomes involuntary after internalization, and in order to make it perfect, repeated practice is necessary.
What struck me most about this blog was the author’s deafness to hear the heart and passion of Michael Polanyi. Polanyi was an exceptional scientist known throughout the world for his superb innovation in the field of science, particularly physical chemistry. Interestingly, Polanyi did not limit himself to the field of science. As gifted and passionate as he was about the subject, a deep yearning for more led him to turn to a new path of philosophy. Beginning with the end in mind, Polanyi concluded his book by boldly claiming that
Men need a purpose which bears on eternity. Truth does that; our ideals do it; and this might be enough, if we could ever be satisfied with our manifest moral shortcomings and with a society which has such shortcomings fatally involving in its workings” (bold print mine).
Science did not possess all the answers, nor did philosophy. One almost hears a sense of despair, much like Paul in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Yet, a good friend of Polanyi, Thomas F.Torrance, wrote that
Michael regarded the relation between faith and reason as fundamental, and was committed to restore the priority of belief even in science: he loved to recall the Augustinian statement, “Unless you believe, you will not understand.”
Continuing Polanyi’s statement at the end of the book, such a connection to the Christian faith makes sense. He concludes this great work with a teaser, wooing the reader to consider a God who alone provides purpose, which bears on eternity. He writes,
Perhaps this problem cannot be resolved on secular grounds alone. But its religious solutions should become more feasible once religious faith is released from pressure by an absurd vision of the universe, and so there will open up instead a meaningful world which could resound to religion.
After my first read of The Tacit Dimension, I will confess that I, too, was like the author at the beginning of the blog, who merely saw and heard Polanyi’s dry, though incredible, insight. Yes, “we know more than we can tell”, and yes, tacit knowledge is the key to both “(1) know what to look for, and (2) have some idea about what else we may want to know.” But there is more, a missing element that one might overlook if too quickly reading through the pages of Polanyi. As brilliant as a scientist and philosopher as he was, he left room for the mystery of the divine. This point alone is the key cornerstone by which such understanding and meaning can be gained. Polanyi writes,
We have seen that tacit knowledge dwells in our awareness of particulars while bearing on an entity which the particulars jointly constitute. In order to share this indwelling, the pupil must presume that a teaching which appears meaningless to start with has in fact a meaning which can be discovered by hitting on the same kind of indwelling as the teaching is practicing.
As I ponder these words, I find great comfort in knowing and believing even more that nothing is meaningless and that our divine Creator is the author of eternal purpose. Polanyi has masterfully provided a map to engage the mind and the heart as we lean into the broken, unknown, painful, and curious challenges we will face on this side of heaven. Leaders, especially those filled by the Spirit of God, are called not to lose hope, nor our sense of curiosity and wonder, but press in all the more, knowing that the Master will show the way as we boldly and faithfully walk in His ways. To the world, it may seem unwise and risky, but we know it is, in fact, the surest and most meaningful path to engage.
 Nithin Raj K, “The Tacit Dimension — Review,” Medium, November 30, 2020, accessed October 10, 2022, https://nithinrajkairali.medium.com/the-tacit-dimension-review-53aa14508880.
 Michael Polanyi and Amartya Sen, The Tacit Dimension (Chicago ; London: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 3.
 Ibid., 92.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.
 Thomas F Torrance, “Michael Polanyi and the Christian Faith —a Personal Report” (n.d.): 27.
 Polanyi and Sen, The Tacit Dimension, 92.
 Ibid., xi.
 Ibid., 61.
9 responses to “Beginning with the End in Mind”
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I love your concluding paragraph Eric, that was a great way to bring Polanyi into our world of Christian faith and leadership. Nothing is meaningless for those of us beings saved and we have great purposes to accomplish every day. Onward and upward we go. But I didn’t think this was the easiest read Jason assigned to us so far…did you? Polanyi isn’t casual reading.
Totally agree. A hard read and above my pay-grade! Yet, I would say you summarized the book VERY well!
This is a beautifully poetic post. You’ve given me more to think about from a theological perspective when it comes to Polanyi that I had not considered while I was reading him.
Eric, I liked how you caught Polanyi’s spiritual side. In your experience with those doing well and those struggling, who do you think more naturally longs for that eternal purpose that is bigger and better than ourselves? Why?
That is a good question. My quick assessment. The rich are comfortable, and often the really poor (or in my case, the addicted and mentally ill) are enough removed that they too don’t want much from God. Yet, it seems those who are in the place of struggle, stripped to a place that they have to depend on one greater than themselves, are the ones to long for more for eternity.
Eric: I appreciate your theological connections to Polanyi this week. You state “I find great comfort in knowing and believing even more that nothing is meaningless and that our divine Creator is the author of eternal purpose” and I couldn’t help but think of regardless of the theological/spiritual bent of Polanyi, how wonderful it is that his work was used to encourage you towards the Lord in the reading this week.
As you’re several days removed from writing this post, what has lingered with you from Polanyi’s work this week?
Honestly? I haven’t thought much about it:) However, reading everyone’s blogs really highlighted some key concepts to me that give me a sense of appreciation for your book. Your blog was part of this process for me.
Nice! You found very different sources that provided a very different take on the book. I like that you started with an opposing view. Your conclusion tied in Polanyi’s spiritual side. How do you think his spiritual thoughts would hold up in the current scientific community?
Eric, I too read Raj Nithin’s summary. How might his focus on “knowledge management” speak to a certain bias that comes through in his summary? In what ways might Polanyi shape knowledge management if given the chance?