The Tacit Dimension by Michael Polanyi contains a clear and concise premise, namely, “we can know more than we can tell.” The book primarily addresses knowledge management, more specifically, tacit knowledge. Polanyi, a Hungarian-British author, and a professor worked in physical chemistry, economics, and philosophy. The book is divided into three sections, containing his Terry lectures delivered in 1962. Polanyi illustrates how people, whether they know it or not, use tacit powers of knowledge to solve problems, intuition, comprehend the meaning of signs, use tools, and the awareness of objects around them and forces within them. Gestalt psychology greatly informs Polanyi’s concept of tacit knowledge. A fundamental tenet of Gestalt psychology includes holism, a belief that the whole is great than the sum of its parts. Gestalt theory also introduced the concept that perception includes more than merely seeing objects in the world but get influenced by one’s motivations and expectations.
Hilda Werschkul blogged, “Polanyi presents an insight about preconscious, unarticulated knowing, which shows that perception constructs an integrated unity of our sensory experiences in order to construct meaning.” Certain aspects of knowledge reside in one’s conscious and unconscious mind but are not transferred to others easily. He uses the example of recognizing a face in a crowd of even millions to illustrate constructed meaning of the whole based on parts. While on a deep philosophical level, Polanyi sounds a lot like Daniel Kahneman and System 1 thinking informed by heuristics which are mental short-cuts based on assumptions. Kahneman points out that most of the time, System 1 thinking is correct and helpful. Polanyi helps the understanding of how those heuristics get established in the conscious and unconscious. If I had more time, I would try to understand if Kahneman’s heuristics align with Polanyi’s tacit knowledge or if they differ in specific ways. Agrawal also dealt with bias in her book, Sway, primarily from the negative perspective of ways prejudice forms.  Reading both the positive aspects of what we know and how that helps and the negative ways our assumptions can go awry call for a careful tension between the benefits and the detriments of what we bring to the application of knowledge.
As I process Polanyi’s deep and powerful argument, I think of what it means in a faith community context. A few applications and implications stand out:
- A frequent question in the church asks, “how does one’s faith grow?” I fear that for too long, the church has put its discipleship “eggs” in the content “basket.” By that, I mean a belief that transferring certain information to people through print or lecture will mature the faith of many. Unfortunately, I believe the church in America is reaping the poor harvest of those sparse seeds. Applying Polanyi’s thought to faith would call for a dynamic approach to spiritual growth. Content would accompany communal expressions of faith, deep and ongoing relationships with others, personal faith engaged in real life, and shared traditions/markers of faith steps. Spiritual growth contains numerous dynamic elements that create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.
- I also find Polanyi arguing for a human purpose larger than oneself. “Men need a purpose which bears on eternity.” That line made me think of Jesus’ words in John 12:25, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (ESV) Humanity exists to live for something bigger than itself. This bigger purpose calls for a faith that leaves room for mystery, knowing that finite humans cannot comprehend all aspects of an infinite God.
- Also, faith grows in some theological truths that cannot be completely known. Rather than hard and fast explanations of profound truths, a growing belief will contain a willingness to journey with what is known about God and understand that there is more than we can know. For example, how can someone explain the Trinity to fit into human categories of understanding? Perhaps a church culture more recently born of a rational age can learn from the mystics to recapture a needed element of faith not easily fitting into human dimensions.
- Finally, I wonder if the future of theological study best pursues Biblical Theology rather than Systematic Theology. Beyond static categories, an unfolding work of God continues that invites people to journey with a God bigger, better, and beyond our comprehension.
Polanyi sounds like a member of the “Society of Explorers” he encourages and, perhaps, a spiritual leader when he writes, “It is the image of humanity immersed in potential thought that I find revealing for the problems of our day. It rids us of the absurdity of absolute self-determination, yet offers each of us a chance of creative originality, with the fragmentary area which circumscribes our calling.”
 Michael Polanyi and Amartya Sen, The Tacit Dimension (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009), 4.
 Kendra Cherry, “What Is Gestalt Psychology,” September 28, 2022, accessed October 19, 2022, https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-gestalt-psychology-2795808.
 Hilda Werschkul, “The Tacit Dimension: Perception, Language and the Construction of Meaning,” The Art Trainer October 28, 2018, accessed October 20, 2022, http://www.art-trainer.com/blog/2018/10/28/the-tacit-dimension-perception-language-and-the-construction-of-meaning.
 Pragya Agarwal, Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias (London: Bloomsbury Sigma, 2020), 13.
 Polanyi and Sen, The Tacit Dimension, 92.
 Ibid., 91.