IBRI Research Report #18 (1983)


W. Jim Neidhardt
Physics Department
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, New Jersey 07102

Copyright © 1983 by W. Jim Neidhardt. All rights reserved.


A popularized summary of Michael Polanyi’s epistemology of science is presented in conjunction with a number of communication-oriented models of individual and group scientific exploration. This material has been used in undergraduate science and society seminars and is used to provide a perspective in which scientific knowledge is seen to have a personal component whose structure it shares in common with other human activities such as art, philosophy and religion. In particular, this personal component of scientific and religious knowledge allows the two fields to enter into constructive dialogue.


Although the author is in agreement with the doctrinal statement of IBRI, it does not follow that all of the viewpoints espoused in this paper represent official positions of IBRI. Since one of the purposes of the IBRI report series is to serve as a preprint forum, it is possible that the author has revised some aspects of this work since it was first written. 

ISBN 0-944788-18-1

Personal Knowledge:
A Communication-Oriented Model Of Exploration and Discovery


Today many people envision scientific knowledge as completely impersonal,1 thereby being free of all human values and all risk. Scientific knowledge, from this point of view, bears little similarity to other forms of human endeavor such as religion or art. Acceptance of this perspective by secondary school students and college undergraduates may partially account for declining enrollments in science courses. For this reason I have, the last two years, taught an undergraduate seminar at New Jersey Institute of Technology entitled Aspects of Scientific Creativity (one hour per week, one credit) that presents an alternative to this dehumanized portrait of science. In this endeavor the epistemology of the physical chemist and later sociologist of science, Michael Polanyi, was particularly helpful (as well as the interpretation of Polanyi’s work given by his literary executor, the theologian, Thomas F. Torrance).2 The following popularized summary of Polanyi’s epistemology, illustrated by a number of communication-oriented models of scientific exploration, is intended to provide a perspective in which science is seen as a uniquely personal activity that can engage in constructive dialogue with other human activities.

It is mainly due to Michael Polanyi that we owe the rediscovery in modem times of the personal character of all knowledge regardless of the specific human activity. In his significant book Personal Knowledge (as well as many other books and articles), he clearly established that science as well as other forms of knowledge comes about through a matrix of personal trust and commitment i.e., a faith structure. Polanyi came to this conclusion by good scientific methodology if science is thought of in its broadest context. What he did was to examine carefully and comprehensively, by means of the available historical record, both the individual and community aspects of scientific activity leading to the formulation of new scientific theories and discoveries. He was careful not to discount evidence of the contribution that personal judgments and commitments have made in all scientific creativity. The theoretical interpretations given to experimental evidence and the basic question of why certain sets of observations are made and considered significant rather than others (originality in science is partly seeing in existing data relationships that others have not seen) were of particular concern to him. Polanyi found that science is not, as Bacon thought, the collection of data on a random or exhaustive basis and scientific theories are not formulated by the subsequent stringing out of all possible relationships in telephone book fashion. Finally he evaluated all his findings abductively seeking to find a pattern that would successfully explain how discoveries are really made, not merely how they are reported in the impersonal form of a completed scientific manuscript. Recognition by Polanyi that scientists tacitly depend upon a framework of ultimate and working commitments to motivate and guide all their scientific activities was the key that enabled him to explain the pattern of scientific discovery. Scientific knowledge is thus seen to be personal knowledge and although Polanyi did not acknowledge it fully, he created a model of scientific discovery that can be extended to reveal the unity of the knowing process in all human activity — science , art, philosophy and religion. All knowing is similar in some ways,though there are distinctions in the objects known in science, art and religion.


According to Michael Polanyi, scientific exploration is a uniquely personal activity, as are all other human activities. All forms of knowledge are personal, for knowledge of any form cannot exist without persons who actively pursue and hold it. In order to understand these assertions, the basic precepts of Polanyi’s theory of knowing are now summarized and then discussed with reference to science. These precepts3 may be summarized as follows:

1. We are as knowers conditioned by our environment and genetic inheritance; nevertheless, we can actively commit ourselves to altering our environment; we can take actions not determined by our environment and genetic inheritance.

2. As personal beings we can actively commit ourselves to the affirmation of our own existential reality (the self) and the affirmation that there is a consistent, intelligible structure to that reality which is outside us. These personal acts of commitment are to be distinguished clearly from our subjective states in which we merely endure our feelings.

“This distinction establishes the conception of the personal, which is neither subjective nor objective. Insofar as the personal submits to requirements acknowledged by itself as independent of itself, it is not subjective, but insofar as it is an action guided by individual passions, it is not objective either. It transcends the disjunction between subjective and objective.”4
The concept of the personal is based upon commitment, defined as the responsible submission of the mind to the requirements of a reality independent of it. Commitment expresses a belief that enables a person to entrust himself to the claims of reality upon him. Commitment always refers the self away to what is independent of it; hence commitment is objectively, not subjectively, oriented.

3. Reality outside us has a structure to which we commit ourselves in advance (for we never can clearly perceive the entire structure) in the hope that through such acts of responsible commitment to the existence of a rational, open-ended structure, independent of us, we may come to know something more about it. We indwell a set of commitments about reality in order to gain further knowledge. In defining the nature of physical reality Polanyi acknowledges its open-endness while also pointing out how deeply scientists depend upon hope and commitment as they go about their scientific tasks.

“…We make sense of experience by relying on clues of which we are often aware only as pointers to their hidden meaning; this meaning is an aspect of a reality which as such can yet reveal itself in an indeterminate range of future discoveries. This is, in fact, my definition of external reality: reality is something that attracts our attention by clues which harass and beguile our minds into getting ever closer to it, and which, since it owes this attractive power to its independent existence, can always manifest itself in still unexpected ways. If we have grasped a true and deep-seated aspect of reality, then its future manifestations will be unexpected confirmations of our present knowledge of it. It is because of our anticipation of such hidden truths that scientific knowledge is accepted and it is their presence in the body of accepted science that keeps it alive and at work in our minds. This is how accepted science serves as the promise of all further pursuit of scientific inquiry. The efforts of perception are induced by a craving to make out what it is that we are seeing before us. They respond to the conviction that we can make sense of experience, because it hangs together in itself. Scientific inquiry is motivated likewise by the craving to understand things. Such an endeavor can go on only if sustained by hope, the hope of making contact with the hidden pattern of things. By speaking of science as a reasonable and successful enterprise, I confirm and share this hope. This is about as much as I can say here in justification of a pursuit of knowledge based largely on hidden clues and arrived at and ultimately accredited on grounds of personal judgment. I believe that this commitment makes sense in view of man’s position in the universe.”5
4. The claims of both extreme existentialism and positivism are rejected. In particular existentialism’s claim that knowledge can be gained independent of any input from external reality is denied, as well as positivism’s claim that knowledge can be gained by completely impersonal means. Polanyi’s philosophical position is best characterized as that of moderate, critical realism.
Many science students see scientific truth to be impersonal, possessing an inescapable quality, in that discovering it is merely a systematic process of testing hypotheses in an exhaustive fashion until the right one arises. Science is merely the reading of what is given, raw sense data. But, as Polanyi and others have shown, there are no such things as raw sense data, only interpreted sense data. Science as interpretive, however, involves intellectual commitment, the seeking of “truth” and the making of judgments concerning the selection, organization and processing of information.6 The typical statements of “scientific method” found in science textbooks are, according to Polanyi, not descriptions of how discoveries are made but rather how to verify a hypothesis already believed by the scientist to be correct. Discoveries are made in science, rather, by a scientist being actively committed to a theoretical framework evolved from the experience of the present and former scientific communities. Science is made of such extra-empirical factors as acts of personal judgment, corresponding commitment to guidelines of intellectual beauty (acquired by an apprenticeship of working in the scientific community) and an active hope that a theoretical framework will reveal more and more. Thus science is clearly personal and hence not detached, disinterested, and formalistic. To say this, does not relegate it to a form of subjectivity, for it involves intersubjective criteria which are established by the paradigm-affirming community of scientists (it is not strictly objective either).

If one does not accept the assertion that science requires commitment, consider that originality in science is the mainspring of scientific discovery, and originality in science is the gift of a lonely belief in a line of experiments or speculations which at the time no one else considered to be profitable. Furthermore, if one wishes to discount intellectual beauty as a scientific guideline and state that a theory’s beauty is merely that of simple structure, take heed to the words of Polanyi as he quotes Herman Weyl:

“The required simplicity is not necessarily the obvious one but we must let nature train us to recognize the true inner ‘simplicity.’ In other words, simplicity in science can be made equivalent to rationality (or rational beauty, parentheses mine) if simplicity is used in a special sense known only to scientists.”7
All aspects of science, the data chosen, the problems considered, the priorities established, the investigative methods used, and final interpretations given are fundamentally related to a particular theoretical structure. And when we, as scientists, indwell such a theoretical framework in order to gain knowledge we are only tacitly and subsidiarily aware of all the details of the framework for they point beyond themselves to a new whole, an integrated perspective that provides their meaning.
Indwelling “is the activity of knowing whereby the mind dwells in a coherence or integration latent in some object (or teaching or person) in order to interiorise it until there is a structural kinship between the knowing subject and the object known.”8
By using such a structure of tacit and subsidiary awareness we can actually know far more than we can tell. Lastly, such indwelling knowledge is intimately related to the community aspect of science, for we acquire such tacit skills when we live and work in a community of knowers who affirm a common vision of reality.

What is the nature of commitment in science? For it is the scientist’s reliance on his commitments that establishes the personal character of scientific knowledge. Scientific commitments may be characterized as either ultimate or working. Science is totally dependent upon certain ultimate or fundamental commitments for its very existence: these basic beliefs come to be believed as the scientist, acting as a whole person, encounters experience in its totality. As such they cannot be “proved” but are yet truly rational for they are genuine personal responses to the totality and richness of the flow of human experience. Such commitments are truly ultimate in that there is no higher or wider system from which they can be derived. A classic example of such an ultimate commitment

“is the conviction that there is order in the universe which we would have to assume in order to prove; but without such a conviction we could not believe that the universe is accessible to scientific inquiry.”9

It is under the motivation and guidance of these ultimate commitments that the scientific community develops its working commitments, the particular paradigm-structure of theory and natural law that are used to describe a restricted region of reality. Such working commitments, or explicit scientific theories, are provisional in nature; they are continually tested against experience which brings about both enhancement and modification. The provisional nature of all scientific theories

“is itself grounded in the ultimate belief in the contingency of the universe, i.e.. that the universe might have been otherwise, that it could well have been different. It is belief in the contingency of the universe that is also the determining ground for the conviction that in our search for order and regularity in the universe we cannot do without experimental questioning of nature itself, and that our understanding of the order and regularity of the universe which we formulate in natural laws and theories may well have to be changed.”10

Thus we see that it is under the controlling power of ultimate commitments that working commitments, or theories, develop. But another factor also plays a role.

Theory formulation is greatly aided by the human mind’s ability to construct specific models of particular phenomena being observed.11 Such models are imagined mechanisms or processes which are postulated by analogy with familiar mechanisms or processes. They help one to make sense of specific perceptions but they are not literal pictures of reality. Models are learned from the scientific community as well as being derived from specific observations. From such models of reality an overall theory is built which describes, ties together and in some sense explains the nature of the relationships between phenomena. Existing theories guide all model building; as models develop they can enhance and alter such theories. Note that the personal character of scientific knowledge manifested as an integration of ultimate commitments, working beliefs or theories , and models in dialogue (communication) with external reality can itself be pictorially modelled as Figure 1 indicates.

Lastly, the personal character of scientific knowledge is again seen in the respective roles that human communities, the scientific community and the whole society, play in developing and maintaining a framework of commitments, ultimate and working, as well as specific models of portions of reality. As Thomas F. Torrance points out:

“… the framework of belief is embodied in the existence and continuity of a scientific community, that is, in groups of like-minded scientific inquiries or in the world-wide community of scientists who share a common belief in the existence of reality and its intelligibility, and who exercise among themselves control through mutual criticism and conjoint verification of their work, in the course of which their common beliefs are tested and clarified and deepened. It is only within the continuity of such a supporting community and the tradition it carries that the basic beliefs are transmitted from generation to generation in such a way as to give power and thrust to its search for deeper and deeper understanding. But all the time the community’s normative beliefs (working beliefs or theories, parentheses mine) are, or ought to be, steadily re-examined in the course of this expansion in understanding, so that they are continuously put to the test and reappropriated.”12

Furthermore the scientific community does not devise and maintain its commitments independent of the larger society it is embedded in. Indeed the whole structure of scientific authority as we have envisioned it would collapse if separated from the larger society’s ultimate commitment to such basic trusts as:

a. “…the belief in obtaining the truth by free discussion and free inquiry. Every scientist is a part of the government of science and participates in formulation of ongoing scientific understanding. There is no absolute central authority to arbitrate controversy. Issues are settled by debating them in the forum of public opinion. This manner of settling disputes and establishing consensus is a heritage common to our general democratic institutions.”13

b. Second and corollary “is a belief in the reality of the truth and our obligation and capacity to discover it. A community that resolves its disputes by free discussion and inquiry is dependent upon the belief that humans can recognize and share a rational and universal standard.”14

This dependence of science upon the values and experience of the larger culture has been stated in striking fashion by Victor F. Weisskopf. He has

“pointed out that science itself has its roots and origins outside its own rational realm of thinking. In essence, there seems to exist a Gödel’s ‘Theorem of Science’, which holds that science is only possible within a larger framework of nonscientific issues and concerns. The mathematician Gödel proved that a system of axioms can never be based on itself, in order to prove (decide upon, parentheses mine) its validity; statements from outside the system must be used. In a similar manner, the activity of science is necessarily embedded in a much wider realm of human experience.”15

In other words the methodologies, tactics and presuppositions of science do not arise entirely from within science; in order to decide upon their validity, resources from outside science must be used. As an example scientists often use the criterion of simplicity in evaluating theories; by simplicity is meant the possibility of finding a conceptual point of reference that unifies a wide variety of experience by the use of a minimum number of primary concepts and inter-relationships. Does not the justification for this belief in the simplicity of scientific descriptions of the world come from the ultimate belief that the universe is harmonious and beautiful, a view long held to be true by the larger culture’s philosophers, religious prophets and artists? This dependence of science upon the values of the larger culture is represented in Figure 1 by the metasystem of culture which resolves questions that are undecidable from within the scientific communities’ ultimate and working commitments.

The essence of the preceding discussion is pictorially summarized by Figure 1 where the mind of the human explorer is represented in ongoing dialogue with physical reality; only the most significant aspects of human exploration and discovery being thereby modelled. What has been argued is that the observations, experiments and personal encounter present in all acts of discovery are not performed in a random or haphazard manner; they always are guided by models of external reality formulated by the mind; these models in turn being guided by one’s theories and conjectures about external reality. Furthermore one’s theories concerning reality are not created through the evaluation of objective data alone but also are formed and molded by the core of the mind, the framework of a person’s ultimate commitments as to the nature of reality. It is this framework of ultimate commitments that motivates one in the integration of cognitive and volitional insights and urges; this core of ultimate convictions is the center from which springs the deepest motivations that guide us as human beings in continual dialogue with reality. These commitments concern the ultimate rationality of all reality, one’s standards of intellectual and moral integrity, and, finally, one’s criteria for intellectual beauty; all these playing a key role in guiding theory formulation. Such theories, in turn, guide the creation of specific models of external reality. Note that communication flow between the three subsystems of the mind is two-way. The success of specific models can both enhance and alter the theories or working commitments that guide the formulation of models and, in turn, the resulting success or failure of theories can both enhance and alter those ultimate commitments that guide theory formulation.

Up to this point, the discussion of Figure 1 has portrayed the human mind as a structure of commitment systems integrated by interacting hierarchically with one another. But Figure 1 has one other important aspect to it, for the human mind does not exist in a vacuum but is in continual communication with external reality. And this communication between the human mind and external reality, by means of the attention grid, is filtered through a matrix of the mind’s basic presuppositions, theories and models of immediate experience. This filtering causes both the questions and affirmations one addresses to external reality and one’s observations of external reality to be deeply influenced by the activities of the commitment-embedded structure of the human mind. Accordingly neither one’s observations nor one’s questioning of external reality are independent of the ongoing activity of a human mind. It is in this sense that all knowledge is personal knowledge for knowledge cannot exist independent of the person seeking it. But to affirm that all knowledge including scientific knowledge is personal is not to downgrade it, for such knowledge can be truthful in that it faithfully, though not exhaustively, represents that portion of reality that is being focused upon.


All personal activities are embedded in communication processes. In particular, scientific exploration may be looked upon as continual communication of scientists between themselves and reality. In this exploration each scientist thinks and communicates through his or her own matrix of ultimate and working commitments concerning the nature of reality; all communication between individuals and reality is filtered through these matrices as illustrated in Figure 2. These individual faith matrices are in turn embedded in the matrix of presuppositions of the general culture (the metasystem of culture). Communication between scientists of a common discipline is essential so that each may know what progress others have made and accordingly may build upon and extend the work of others. If a scientist were to isolate himself from the rest of the scientific community he would become isolated from many creative sources of rational understanding and his productivity would suffer. Even if the particular scientist were a genius, this isolation would eventually deprive him of the insight and techniques necessary to probe a physical reality that is ultimately rational in structure but whose rationality is at an inner level not immediately perceived from the phenomena observed in direct experience. Each scientist chooses what particular research path to follow but by constant communication they are all aware of each other’s work; thus communication between them has enabled each to utilize the insights of others and avoid unnecessary duplication as they seek greater understanding of reality by continually communicating with it through experimental and theoretical techniques of questioning. Such constant communication with physical reality is the only means by which insight can be gained to its true law-structure contrasted to a priori speculations concerning it. To describe such behavior Polanyi16 uses the analogy of a group of people attempting to solve a jigsaw puzzle in a free, collective effort. Each participant is aware of what the others have done in fitting pieces together and he or she moves accordingly. Note that there is a key presupposition that all the participants tacitly hold: the jigsaw pieces really fit together to form a coherent picture. From this model Polanyi draws an important implication: attempts to extensively plan scientific activity could hinder rather than help scientific progress. As Polanyi has shown, this communication model of the scientific enterprise can be extended to answer a key question often asked of the scientific community:

“How can we confidently speak of science as a systematic body of knowledge and assume that the degree of reliability and intrinsic interest of each of its branches can be judged by the same standards of scientific merit? Can we possibly be assured that the new contributions will be accepted in all areas by the same standards of plausibility and be rewarded by the same standards of accuracy and originality and interest?”17

The fact that contributions in science can be evaluated by the scientific community as a whole, even comparing the values of topics of marginal interest in such diverse fields as astronomy or biology, is due to a principle of mutual control in which fields of scientific specialties form chains of overlapping neighborhoods. By the principle of mutual control one means that scientists keep watch on each other’s work .

“Each scientist is both subject to criticism by all other scientists and encouraged by their appreciation of him. This is how the scientific opinion is formed which enforces scientific standards and regulates the distribution of professional opportunities. It is clear that only fellow scientists working in closely related fields are competent to exercise direct authority over one another, but their personal fields will form chains of overlapping neighborhoods extending over the entire range of science. It is enough, of course, that the standards of plausibility and worthwhileness be equal at every single point at which the sciences overlap to keep them equal over all. Even those in the most widely separated branches of science will then rely on one another’s results and support one another against any laymen seriously challenging their authority. Such mutual control produces a mediated consensus among scientists even when they cannot understand more than a vague outline of one another’s subjects.”18
Figure 3 depicts the spectrum of scientific disciplines envisioned by Polanyi. The chains of overlapping neighborhoods are formed by communication linkages between scientists in the different disciplines as the diagram indicates. All such communication linkages work through the faith-matrices of the respective individual scientists in the differing disciplines. These faith-matrices in turn, are embedded in a wider matrix of general presuppositions of the metasystem of general culture. The diagram is a schematic representation of how the scientific community makes progress and upholds universal standards by maintaining constant communication with physical reality and between scientists of the spectrum of neighboring disciplines. As physical reality is many-faceted it requires the insights and techniques of many differing points of view (the different scientific disciplines) to gain understanding of reality as a whole. In this there is a fundamental unity to all science, though it is composed of many different subdivisions, for all science is unified by two complementary factors:
1. All scientists work within a common core of ultimate commitments (as an example, the belief that physical reality is capable of rational description).

2. Certain fundamental principles of science play a vital role in many different scientific specialties (as examples, the conservation of energy and the inevitable increase of disorder in isolated systems).

So we see that the scientific subdivisions maintain progress toward greater understanding by preserving open communications between themselves; often a new development or technique in one field is found to be very useful to workers in other fields (sometimes quite different) Only by maintaining communication linkages between fields is this type of useful information flow established.


A brief comment on the implications of Polanyi’s perspective for the relationship between science and religion is in order. Today it is commonly believed by many students that religion (particularly theistic forms) can only be but a deterrent to science’s well-being and continuing growth. But is this really so? It can be argued that there is a very close relationship between the Judeo-Christian belief in a God who is both rational and free and the empiricism of modern science. A universe which was created and is continually held in being by the Judeo-Christian God will be both orderly and contingent, It will embody regularities and patterns, since its maker and sustainer is rational, but the particular regularities and patterns which characterize it cannot be predicted a priori, since He is free; they can only be discovered by examination. The universe, as Judeo-Christian theism conceives it, is thus ideally suited for the application of a scientific method which is rooted in the twin techniques of observation and experiment.19 To continue this extension of Polanyi’s thought we again note that all scientists, often tacitly, affirm the rationality of the physical world, recognizing that the structure of the material universe has something in common with the laws that govern the behavior of the human mind. Judeo-Christian theism views this correlation as a direct consequence of the constancy and trustworthiness of God who made man in His own image just as He made the universe a cosmos and not a chaos. This teaching — that God made man in His own image — has other implications as well, for the all caring, loving nature of the creator-God is even deeply reflected in scientific activity: scientific discoveries were and are often made by men and women highly committed to their task, often sacrificing much in the way of time and rejecting material benefits in order that their research efforts may bear fruit. To be truly creative in science you must love your work. The knowledge of physical or mathematical structure cannot be separated from a loving appreciation of their beauty; such intellectual acts are not only acts of understanding but also acts of love. Love seeks always to act toward external reality in a spirit of cooperation, empathy and respect; to properly control external reality without destruction resulting, you always must first seek understanding of nature’s inner harmonies and then work with these harmonies rather than against them. This conviction of the importance of love to all exploration is inherent in the striking analogy that exists between Bacon’s formulation of the principle of inductive observation and Jesus’ disclosure of the basic paradox of the Christian life. Bacon pointed out that “we cannot command nature except by obeying her” and Jesus said “he that loseth his life for My sake will find it.”


My primary goal in this paper has been to present a brief overview of some key aspects of Michael Polanyi’s scientific perspective, for I have found this material to be helpful in giving undergraduate engineering majors a more balanced understanding of science as a human activity. In particular, the communication-oriented models for scientific exploration and discovery (Figures 1-3) developed in this paper clarified the personal embedding of scientific activity. A secondary goal, both here and in the undergraduate seminar, is to suggest the wider applicability of Polanyi’s work. Scientific knowledge has a personal component whose structure, I would argue, it shares in common with other human activities. All knowing, whether the subject area be science, philosophy, art, religion, or everyday experience, shares a common structure; acts of discovery are embedded in matrices of personal commitments which the person indwells in order to explore reality, thereby bringing about new knowledge. Augustine’s insight is still sound: “Unless you believe you shall not understand.” Once more,

…“We must recognize belief as the source of all knowledge. Tacit assent and intellectual passions, the sharing of an idiom and of a cultural heritage, affiliation to a like-minded community: such are the impulses which shape our vision of the nature of things on which we rely for our mastery of things. No intelligence, however critical or original, can operate outside such a fiduciary framework. . . The process of examining any topic is both an exploration of the topic, and an exegesis of our fundamental belief in the light of which we approach it; a dialectical combination of exploration and exegesis. Our fundamental beliefs are continually reconsidered in the course of such a process but only within the scope of their own basic premises.”20
At this juncture I have found that students become disturbed, for they recognize that making belief the source of scientific knowledge implies that science is not free of risk. Polanyi acknowledges this, for he states:
“To accept commitment as the framework within which we may believe something to be true, is to circumscribe the hazards of belief. It is to establish the conception of competence which authorizes a fiduciary choice to be made and timed, to the best of the acting person’s ability, as a deliberate and yet necessary choice. The paradox of self-set standards is eliminated, for in a competent mental act the agent does not do as he pleases, but compels himself forcibly to act as he believes he must. He can do no more, and he would evade his calling by doing less. The possibility of error is a necessary element of any belief bearing on reality, and to withhold belief on the grounds of such a hazard is to break off all contact with reality. The outcome of a competent fiduciary act may, admittedly, vary from one person to another, but since the differences are not due to any arbitrariness on the part of the individuals, each retains justifiably his universal intent. As each hopes to capture an aspect of reality, they may all hope that their findings will eventually coincide or supplement each other.”21
What we must recognize is that if we are acting as responsible knowers, our beliefs are continually to be evaluated and assessed as to how well our matrix of commitments leads to theories and models that faithfully represent external reality. Let me stress that the only way I can speak of my description of external reality is by making up my own mind with respect to it; in doing so I either rely on an existing consensus as a clue to the truth, or else I dissent from it for my own reasons. In either case my answer will be made with universal intent; I will state what I believe to be the truth and what the consensus ought therefore to be.


Figure 1
A Communication Model of Human Explorer.

NOMENCLATURE for Figure 1:

ER - External Reality

M - The mind of the human explorer, the level of mental organization, can be thought of as three subsystems interacting hierarchically with one another. These mental subsystems are:

a) CM - The core of the mind, those ultimate commitments (basic presuppositions) that tacitly undergird all mental activity. Without belief (rarely made explicit) in some basic presuppositions, human thought about oneself and external reality is impossible. Such ultimate commitments are responses to the totality and richness of all human experience; they provide essential motivation and guidance to all acts of human communication with external reality. By their tacit direction particular paradigms of theories are formulated; these theoretical structures enable the communication process to become specific and concrete.

b) T & C - Theories and conjectures about external reality. These working commitments come about as the thinker attempts to understand and to find order with respect to one’s communications with external reality. In their formulation, guidance is provided by one’s core presuppositions about the external world; they can, in turn, alter and enhance specific core presuppositions.

c) M' - Specific mental structures, models that the mind uses to represent a portion of the external world that is being communicated with. These models come into being as a result of observations interacting with theory; they are guided by theories and can enhance and alter specific theories.

g - Guides.

e - Enhances and Alters.

AG - The attention grid (a mental filter). This grid consists of three layers built up by Feedback, F, from the three subsystems of the mind. The function of the attention grid is twofold:

(a) The specific mental structure generates many affirmations and questions (1); the attention grid selects out for transmission to external reality those that are in harmony with one’s basic presuppositions, theories and models of immediate experience.

(b) Much information reaches the observer from external reality (2). The attention grid excludes all information not relevant to one’s models of immediate experience, theories, and basic presuppositions.

The communication process between the human explorer and external reality can be of several specific forms:

a. Observation. A simple, one-way message from a physical object or another human being.

b. An Experiment:

1. Messages which assume the form of measuring processes directed by human theories and conjectures at external reality. These messages are designed as “questions” expressed through measuring processes.

2. Responses are specific “answers” (usually quantitative) to the given measurement probes. These responses, guided by one’s theories and conjectures about physical reality lead to further measurement probes. The signals 1 and 2 are not symmetric in the sense that in principle 1 is structured freely by the mind and 2 is structurally determined by the inherent order of the object under investigation. 2 represents the completion of a feedback loop with respect to the human communicator; such loops are essential to all true communicative acts.

c. A Personal Encounter.
1. Message from one person to another consisting of affirmations and questions.

2. Responses from the other person consisting of both affirmations and further questions. These affirmations guided by one’s theories and conjectures about the other person lead to further messages. The messages 1 and 2 are symmetric in the sense of both intrinsically being structured freely by human minds. 2 represents the completion of a feedback loop with respect to the human communicator; such loops are essential to all true communicative acts.

MSC - The metasystem of culture, the matrix of human values and basic presuppositions unique to a given culture.

U - Undecidability. Basic questions that are undecidable from within the context of the observer’s core presuppositions and theories.


Figure 2
Scientific Exploration as Continual Communication of Scientists between Themselves and Reality.


MS - Metasystem of culture, general human values.

U - Undecidability, basic questions of science that are not decidable from within science.

S1, S2, S3 - Three scientists of a common discipline.

FM1 - The faith-matrix of the first scientist.

R - Reality.

CL - Communication linkages between the scientists of the common discipline. These linkages are filtered through the respective faith-matrices.


Figure 3
The Spectrum of the Scientific Disciplines is considered to represent a systematic and reliable body of knowledge due to a system of mutual control.


MS - Metasystem of culture, general human values.

U - Undecidability, basic questions of science that are not decidable from within science.

P - Physics.

P’s FM - The physicist’s faith-matrix.

C - Chemistry.

B - Biology.

Ps - Psychology.

S - Sociology.

R - Reality.

CL - Communication linkages between workers in the various disciplines. These linkages are filtered through the respective faith-matrices. It is these communication linkages that establish the overlapping neighborhoods essential for the system of mutual control.


1 The general public has overextended the emphasis of such philosophers as Bertrand Russell.

2 Major books by Michael Polanyi are:

a. Personal Knowledge (The University of Chicago Press, Illinois, l958) .
b. The Study of Man (The University of Chicago Press, Illinois , 1959) .
c. Science, Faith, and Society (The University of Chicago Press, Illinois, 1964) .
d. Knowing and Being, edited by Marjorie Grene (The University of Chicago Press, Illinois, 1969).
e. Meaning, with Harry Prosch (The University of Chicago Press, Illinois, 1975).
     Major books by Thomas F. Torrance are:
a. Theological Science (Oxford University Press, New York, 1969).
b. God and Rationality (Oxford University Press, New York, 1971).
c. Belief in Science and in Christian Life, edited by Torrance (The Handsel Press, Great Britain, 1980). This book is concerned with the relevance of Polanyi’s thought for religion.
3 The precepts are taken from my evaluation of Polanyi’s major work, Personal Knowledge .

4 Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, p. 300.

5 Polanyi, Knowing and Being, p. 119.

6 Roy D. Morrison II, “Albert Einstein: The Methodological Unity Underlying Science and Religion,” Zygon,14, 267 (1979).

7 Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, p. 16.

8 Torrance, Belief In Science and Christian Life, “Notes on Terms and Concepts,” p. 139.

9 Torrance, Belief in Science and Christian Life, “The Framework of Belief,” p. 19.

10 Torrance, Belief in Science and Christian Life, “The Framework of Belief,” p. 20.

11I. G. Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms (Harper & Row, New York, 1974) .

12 Torrance, Belief in Science and Christian Life, “The Framework of Belief,” p. 21.

13 R. Gelwick, The Way of Discovery (Oxford University Press, New York, 1977) p. 46.

14 Gelwick, Op. Cit., p. 46.

15 V. T. Weisskopf, “The Frontier and Limits of Science,” AmericanScientist, 65, 411 (1977).

16 M. Polanyi, The Logic of Liberty, (The University of Chicago Press, Illinois, 1951), p. 35.

17 Polanyi, Meaning, p. 191.

18 Polanyi, Meaning, p. 191.

19 See E. L. Mascall, Christian Theology and Modern Science (The Ronald Press, New York, 1956); S. L. Jaki; The Road of Science and the Ways to God (The University of Chicago Press, Illinois, 1978); and Torrance, Belief in Science and in Christian Life.

20 Polanyi, Personal Knowledge p. 266.

21 Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, p. 315

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