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Tradition & Discovery: The Polanyi Society Periodical, 37:3
Gerd Gigerenzer. Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the
Unconscious. New York: Penguin Books, 2007. Pp.
viii + 280. ISBN 978-0-14-311376-8 ($15.00, paper).
Michael Polanyi’s well-known observation, “We
know more than we can tell,” serves as an epigram
for Part I of Gut Feelings. It is an appropriate use of
the quotation, for this book, by the director of the
Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition at the
Max Planck Institute for Human Development in
Berlin, who attempts to articulate what that “more” is.
Gigerenzer calls it intuition, gut feeling, or hunch, by
which he means “a judgment that . . . appears quickly
in consciousness . . . whose underlying reasons we are
not fully aware of, and . . . is strong enough to act on”
(16). His goal is to uncover intuition’s hidden rationale
in order to “understand when intuitions are likely to
succeed—or fail” (19). He does so in two steps, the
rst of which is by offering an extended description
of what he calls “unconscious intelligence.” In the
second step, he applies those insights to ve different
domains (recognition memory, decision making, health
care, moral behavior, and social instincts) in order to
uncover when intuition works and when it does not.
While the book may be formally divided into
two sections, there is considerable overlap. Overall,
Gigerenzer’s argument consists of three main points.
The rst point is that intuition operates by means of
“rules of thumb,” i.e., heuristics that enable fast action
(18). Gigerenzer identies several different heuristics
over the course of the book. One of them is the rec-
ognition heuristic, which suggests that when offered
a choice between two items, one should choose that
which one recognizes. For example, when German
students were asked to identify which city was larger,
Detroit or Milwaukee, more of them did so correctly
than did American students. Gigerenzer explains the
better performance of the German students by noting
that they were more likely to have heard of Detroit
than Milwaukee, thereby inferring it was the larger of
the two cities (7-8). Put differently, their judgment rep-
resented an intuitive leap based on name recognition.
A second heuristic or rule of thumb is what
he calls “take the best,” a heuristic that builds off of
the propensity of people to base intuitive judgments on
a single reason (or at most a few), thereby excluding
information rather than gathering more (this heuristic
also bears afnities with a heuristic Gigerenzer calls
“less is more”). For example, Gigerenzer and his as-
sociates studied dropout rates in 57 Chicago schools.
After gathering information on eighteen variables such
as SAT scores, demographic information, and support
systems, they identied the actual dropout rates. They
then set about testing two different strategies for pre-
dicting the dropout rates of two schools. They set up
one computer to perform a complex multiple regression
analysis of all of the clues. They programmed a second
computer to sort through clues and make a prediction
when the rst clear difference between schools ap-
peared. They found that a strategy of “take the best,”
i.e., stopping when a clear difference rst appeared,
did a better job of predicting actual dropout rates than
the complex analysis—and did so after considering on
average three clues, rather than all eighteen (83-84).
Gigerenzer identies several other heuristics as
well. One is what he calls the “gaze heuristic” that
applies when playing baseball and says to “Fix your
gaze on the ball, start running, and adjust your running
speed so that the image of the ball rises at a constant
rate” (11). Another is “tit-for tat,” the rule of thumb
that says that in a relationship, it is better to be kind
rst, remember the last behavior of the other person
in the relationship, and imitate it (51). Still another is
the “imitation heuristic,” i.e., to do what one’s peers
do (191).
Gigerenzer’s second main point is that these
rules of thumb make use of the evolved capacities
of the brain such as language, recognition memory,
object tracking, imitation, and emotions. Here it is
important to note that Gigerenzer acknowledges that
these capacities have evolved in response to both
natural selection and the environment (58-59). Thus
cognition is, for him, always embodied in both bod-
ies and society and thus “one will not understand
human behavior by studying either cognition or the
environment alone” (79). Another key point is that
an evolved capacity can be used in multiple ways.
Take for example the gaze heuristic used by baseball
players. While it builds on capacities for maintaining
balance while running, for tracking objects, and for
making nely-tuned adjustments between visual and
motor input, it did not evolve for playing baseball.
Its more likely evolutionary origins lie in hunting, as
humans learn to track and kill prey for food (61-63).
Gigerenzer argues that rules of thumb not only
make use of evolved adaptive capacities, they are
themselves adaptive for at least two reasons. The rst
is that one feature of our environment is uncertainty, a
corollary of which is that optimal solutions are often
out of reach, even when problems are well-dened. In
such environments, simplifying strategies like “take the
best” actually work the best (79-92). Another reason
that rules of thumb or intuitions are valuable is that logic
has its limits; it cannot go beyond explicit information
and is therefore blind to the particularities of content
and culture, as well as environmental structures that
reinforce some behaviors over others (103). One ex-
ample of this failure of logic that Gigerenzer discusses
is the sentence “We invited friends and colleagues.”
According to Gigerenzer, strict rules of logic would
lead one to conclude that the invitation was extended
to people who are both friends and colleagues, whereas
people intuitively (and correctly) infer that the invita-
tion went out to two different groups of people, those
who are friends and those who are colleagues (98).
Gigerenzer’s nal point is that we can identify
both those times when we should rely on our hunches
and when we should not. Take, for example, the rec-
ognition heuristic by which German students were
more likely than American students to identify De-
troit as a larger city than Milwaukee, a case in which
less knowledge is more. Gigerenzer and others have
found that this effect disappears the more one knows
(119-124). The heuristic, “take the best,” is better than
complex analysis in those circumstances in which one
has to predict what would seem to be a murky future
with little information. In situations where one must
explain the past, or the future is fairly clear, or when
large amounts of information are available, “take the
best” does not do as well (151). Likewise, the imita-
tion heuristic works in relatively stable environments
where little feedback is available and mistakes can be
dangerous (218).
Along the way, Gigerenzer connects his analysis
to many features of everyday life, such as explaining
the mechanics of advertising’s emphasis on brand
recognition in light of the recognition heuristic (126-
129). Nor is he afraid to do more than explain. At
times he suggests ways to alter the social environment
in order to make best use of the possibilities and limits
of intuitive judgments. For example, he tells of how
emergency room decision-making was improved
signicantly by developing a simple decision tree
based on “take the best,” which recognizes that less
information is sometimes more (169-178).
This analysis of intuition certainly resonates
with Polanyi as it admirably and consistently argues
that cognition (mind) is embodied and embedded in
bodies, as well as natural and social environments.
What Gigerenzer adds to Polanyi is grounding these
perspectives in the latest psychological research.
While Gigerenzer’s goal is not to defend Polanyi, his
analysis certainly reinforces the conviction that Polanyi
was, in many ways, ahead of his time. Unfortunately,
Gigerenzer refers to Polanyi only in this epigram and
therefore, like many who know this “sound bite,” he
misses the fact that Polanyi is concerned with much
more than intuition. It could be an interesting and
potentially fruitful exercise to explore how Polanyi’s
epistemology might enrich this work.
Overall, Gigerenzer accomplishes what he
promises to do. He provides a largely persuasive ac-
count of intuition along with an analysis of when it is
appropriate to trust intuition. Gigerenzer does this, as
well, with a degree of clarity not often seen in works
of this sort. The book should therefore be accessible
to a wide audience. The biggest weakness of the book
is that sometimes the evident enthusiasm may trump
more careful analysis. One wonders, for example, if
all of the heuristics discussed are as discreet as Giger-
enzer’s language indicates, as “less is more” and “take
the best” often seem to overlap. One is therefore left
wishing for a bit more conceptual clarity, as well as
more insight into how intuition can be trained. It would
also be interesting to explore how work on intuition
relates to work on wisdom, much of which is also be-
ing done at the Max Planck Institute. Nevertheless, the
book makes this intriguing line of work available to
non-experts and contributes to a richer understanding
of epistemology, anthropology, and morality.
Paul Lewis
Robert E. Innis. Susanne Langer in Focus: The Sym-
bolic Mind. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University
Press, 2009. Pp. xvi+ 278. ISBN 978-0-253-35278-1
($65.00, cloth), 978-0-253-22053-0 ($24.95, paper).
If the quality of an academic book can be
judged by the density of underlinings and marginal
notes it inspires, then my copy of Robert Innis’s study
of Susanne Langer would merit giving the book a grade
of A+. To be sure, I am a fan of Langer’s thought, but
hardly an uncritical one. Much more than most authors,
Langer has provided me with stunning, memorable
insights, but at other times her writing seems murky
and convoluted. Innis’s perceptive commentary has
augmented and sharpened both my appreciation and
my much more limited criticism of Langer’s accom-
plishments in philosophy.
Innis examines Langer’s leading philosophi-
cal writings in chronological order. He especially em-
phasizes the ideas developed in Philosophy in a New
Key, Feeling and Form and the three volumes of
Mind. By pointing out persistent themes and shifting
emphases in Langer’s intellectual development, and
by casting light on some of her murkier passages, In-
nis provides persons investigating her works with the
sort of assistance one might expect from a map and
a ashlight. However, just as a map cannot wholly
ease the passage over difcult terrain, and just as
illumination of an overgrown swamp will not create
pastoral beauty, so even Innis’s expert guidance cannot
transform the journey through the jungle-like areas
of Langer’s writings into an easy stroll in the park.
Lest I leave the reader of this review with
false impressions, let me emphasize three things.
1. The study of Langer’s thought is worth the effort
involved. 2. Her ideas both overlap and helpfully
extend Polanyi’s work. 3. Innis does much more than
merely paraphrase Langer’s philosophy; he interprets
its signicance within the context of twentieth century
philosophy. Let me deal with this last point rst.
Langer was the translator of Ernst Cassirer’s
Language and Myth, and Innis on a number of oc-
casions points to the seminal inuence of Cassirer’s
study of symbolic forms on Langer’s thought. “Langer,
like Cassirer, wanted to show how the world at every
level is accessed, projected, and interpreted through
the construal as well as the construction of signs and
symbols”(4). Langer’s work of interpretation, it is
crucial to understand, is not simply carried out at the
levels of language and culture. She is particularly
interested in the interpretive aspects of what Polanyi
termed the tacit dimension. Cassirer and Whitehead, to
whom she dedicates two of her most important books,
each bore witness to themes of fundamental importance
for Langer: process (act), pre-linguistic experience,
and the linked reach of abstraction and symbolism.
Langer wrote a text on symbolic logic,
but her philosophical accomplishments have little
to do with the sort of logical or linguistic analysis
and the empiricism that have characterized so much
Anglo-American philosophy in the twentieth century.
“Symbol and meaning makes man’s world, far more
than sensation,” she claimed (Langer quoted by Innis,
32). Innis points out, however, that in many respects
Langer’s thought is best interpreted as a continuation
and extension of the thought of classical American
philosophy. He particularly compares her thought to
the ideas of Peirce and Dewey. He also foregrounds
(one of Innis’s favorite terms) the semiotic aspect of
Langer’s philosophy and comments on how it relates
to many contemporary theorists, including Deacon,
Lakoff and Johnson, and such interpreters of Langer’s
thought as Rolf Lachmann, William Schultz, Donald
Dryden, and himself in earlier writings.
Susanne Langer in Focus is primarily an
exposition of Langer’s work rather than a critical recon-
struction of it. Sometimes Innis signposts his possible
disagreement with Langer through such phraseology
as “Langer contentiously claims that . . .” Occasionally,
he is more explicit in his criticism, but he typically
does not go on to construct superior alternatives. His
focus is on what Langer claims, not on going beyond
Langer. He disputes Langer’s reliance on Donovan’s
theory of the festal origins of language (see 54-55 and
218-219), and he suggests that her reliance on Charles
Morris’s classication of signals and symbols as spe-
cies of signs tends to replace her functional analysis
with a reied account of meaning (see 39 and 97).
While I would acknowledge the danger In-
nis points to in the latter case, I would also note the
importance of reied signals and symbols in Langer’s
thought: stop signs, sirens, and lightning as examples
of signals, and words, propositions (discursive sym-
bols), and works of art (image-based presentational
symbols) as examples of Langer’s two varieties of
symbols. The sort of conception that Langer claims
is the mark of human consciousness is dependent on
our indwelling and utilizing the reied conventional
objects that comprise a culture. As Innis notes, Langer
“speaks of the function of words as carving out and
xating objects, thus giving them a dened status and
allowing them to maintain their identity across situa-
tions and perceptual occasions” (220; see also 112 and
133). Object and process each have a crucial place in
Langer’s theory of meaning; I am unconvinced that
“signal” and “symbol” need to be replaced as terms.
Innis is a reliable and perceptive interpreter
of Langer’s philosophy; his book is an outstanding,
sophisticated accomplishment. In the balance of this
review, I will turn, all too briey, to several ways his
book helps us see how the philosophical visions of
Langer and Polanyi reinforce, call into question, or
augment each other (point number 2 above). I will try
to avoid replicating the comparisons and criticisms
I have made in my article on Polanyi and Langer in
Tradition and Discovery 36:1.
First, Langer’s understanding of logic as “a
relational structure” (see volume I of Mind, 84, quoted
by Innis on 157) correlates nicely with Polanyi’s
informal understanding of logic. Innis claims Langer
develops “in a very different way the philosophical
dimensions of logic without contradicting the main
thrust of modern developments in logical theory”
(11). In seeking to expand the scope of philosophi-
cal rigor (developing philosophy in a new key), she
deals with such processes as the logic of sentience, of
consciousness, of cultural forms, even as she avoids
all forms of logocentrism (62, 256). The correlation
with Polanyi’s notions of a logic of discovery or a
logic of achievement is evident.
Second, Innis convincingly interprets
Langer’s overarching vision as fusing together a phi-
losophy of experience with a philosophy of meaning
(254). This also seems like a good summary of where
Polanyi’s philosophical journey ends up. There are
suggestive parallels between Polanyi’s (and Prosch’s)
project in Meaning of outlining the different ways
meaning is created and Langer’s ongoing project of
articulating the many ways humans create and nd
meaning. Langer thinks dreaming exemplies mean-
ing creation in its simplest form where there is “no
thematic difference between object and meaning” (67;
Langer asserts that there is a similar identity in the
art work). Polanyi stresses the role of integration in
creating meaning. This suggests there is a difference in
emphasis when the two are compared: Langer tends to
highlight the felt objective presence of meaning when
discursive and presentational symbols are experienced,
while Polanyi tends to focus on the creative process
of meaning creation within the from-to structure of
consciousness. But I think these different tendencies
are complementary rather than disjunctive.
Third, Polanyi makes a powerful case for
viewing “understanding” as a better term than “know-
ing” for articulating cognitive depth and for acknowl-
edging the presence of the tacit in all cognitive acts
(see SM 20 in particular). Langer sometimes correlates
knowing with discursive (language-based) thought,
and understanding with presentational symbolism
(61). This leads to an intriguing way of looking at
cognition. If understanding is grounded in images,
in the realm of presentational symbolism, this would
explain the reason spatial part-whole distinctions and
Gestalts, in contrast to the narrative and logical attri-
butes of discursive symbolism, are of such importance
to Polanyi. Some form of presentational symbolism
would form the realm of intelligibility, of meaning,
to which we attempt to adjust our language so we can
say what we mean. Since presentational symbolism
is also for Langer the realm of artistic signicance,
we can see why she regards understanding the arts as
crucial for her epistemology. For Polanyi, the basic
model of understanding is perception, another variety
of presentational symbolism in Langer’s view. Both
the imagery of perception and feelings of artistic
signicance convey the elusive, embodied sense of
meaning that forms the basis for existential under-
standing, which may be contrasted with the thinness
of strictly verbal information.
I have barely suggested the richness of In-
nis’s book. It is worth careful study. It evokes fruitful
Walter Gulick
Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants. New York:
Viking, 2010. Pp. 406. ISBN-978-0-670-02215-1
($27.95, cloth).
What Technology Wants (henceforth WTW) is
an ambitious book whose purpose is to help us nd our
way “to optimize technology’s blessings and minimize
its costs” (17). It is a bold attempt to gure out where
technology is headed in order to bring humans and their
freedoms into a convivial relationship with it and its
“wants.” Kevin Kelly, its author, freelanced in the 80s
for Stewart Brand’s The Whole Earth Catalog, helped
found Wired magazine in 1992, and in 1994 wrote the
bestseller Out of Control (one of the three books the
producers of the movie The Matrix required their ac-
tors to read). Kelly, as he reveals in his introductory
comments to WTW, has devoted most of his life to
thinking about technology and how it might be used to
liberate and elevate rather than enslave and eviscerate
the human spirit.
WTW begins tracing the origins of technol-
ogy on earth to reveal that it pre-dates our humanness,
appearing in primates and even earlier, and that its
present dominance of the planet derives from the same
emergent cosmic forces responsible for the existence
of galaxies, life, and mind. Then we are introduced
to the “imperatives” of technology, i.e., its insistence
on existing and playing out its hand. Kelly claims that
technology’s large-scale outlines are “pre-determined,”
as evidenced by the astounding number of cases of
equivalent technologies independently invented (152).
He puts his ear to the machinery and listens to its wants,
noting that it wants to get smaller, faster, and lighter—
all things, he says, it will accomplish “regardless of
the social climate” surrounding it, so all we can really
do is choose the inevitable, i.e., “choose to modify
our legal and political and economic assumptions to
meet the ordained trajectories ahead . . . [W]e cannot
escape from them” (173). Kelly takes his readers on
a journey into the paranoid musings about technology
found in Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s anti-technology
manifesto, explores the Amish’s systematically delayed
and highly selective uptake of technology, and implores
his readers to opt for neither approach, although he
is surprisingly sympathetic with elements of both ap-
proaches. His advice is that we get on board emerging
technologies early on so we can ride them from the
start, training them to yield convivial effects, i.e., ef-
fects “compatible with life” (263).
In the concluding section of WTW, Kelly
discloses the underlying anthropological premise of
his outlook on technology: “Our role as humans, at
least for the time being, is to coax technology along
the paths it naturally wants to go” (269). There are two
related and never quite resolved tensions sustained
through this book that are discernible in this quota-
tion, tensions that Kelly acknowledges but dismisses
as merely temporary: (1) a tension of agency where
the presumed efcacy of human intentionality often
pulls in the opposite direction of technology’s ever
increasing autonomy, and (2) a tension of ultimacy
where human invention and deployment of technol-
ogy to serve human interests often seems to go against
technology’s use of humans to serve what it wants.
In the few comments to follow, I will try to highlight
these conceptual stresses and then bring them to bear
on WTW’s relevance for readers of this journal.
Kelly’s book orbits around what he calls the
“technium,” a word he coined to denote “the global,
massively interconnected system of technology vibrat-
ing around us” that includes “culture, art, social institu-
tions, and intellectual creations of all types” (11-12),
as well as bird nests and beaver dams—an organism
of techniques and technologies moving inexorably
towards self-awareness. He sees the technium’s evolu-
tion as a natural outgrowth of the same forces behind
the evolution of life and mind (118-119). It is thus the
“seventh kingdom of life,” a self-organizing system
of information that has formed its own evolutionary
trajectory and has “grown its own agenda” (186),
wanting to evolve from simplicity to complexity,
from uniformity to diversity, from proigacy to ef-
ciency, from matter to mind, and from mind to an
immaterial ow of information (334ff). According
to Kelly, human volition operates at the micro-level
of the technium, but at the macro-level the technium
calls the shots—our “freewill” is like the jostling of
molecules in the wheel whose macro momentum rolls
us where it will. The forces of the technium stretch all
the way back to the Big Bang, before which actuality
was compressed into an absolute uniformity because
the innite density of the original singularity gave no
space for difference. The Big Bang was the beginning
of a cosmic force seeking the expansion of space for
possibility and difference—something both the evo-
lution of life and the evolution of technology are all
about (i.e., what they want). In fact, technology is the
means by which this ancient cosmic force channels into
human minds the drive to evolve more possibilities of
evolvability (342). Kelly takes what might be called
a “technology-eyed view” of the world (17), i.e., a
view of the world from the perspective of the seventh
kingdom of life and argues that the technium is oriented
toward “mindfulness” (328) and de-materialization/
disembodiment, noting that our present economic
trend away from a material-based industrial economy
to a information economy of intangible goods (e.g.,
software, design, and media products, etc.) is just the
latest indicator of the technium’s cosmic path from
“it to bit.” The universe is self-organizing for an “ir-
reversible liberation from the ancient imperative of
matter and energy” (69).
WTW is suffused with Kelly’s endorsement
of a “proactionary” approach to, rather than a pre-
cautionary hesitance toward, new technologies. He
believes the best way to harness a new technology’s
gifts to humanity is for us to ride technology with both
hands around its neck (262), doing our best to deect
its selshness in our direction. Kelly’s understanding
of technology’s ingress into our lives is, at times,
disturbingly fatalistic. For example, he claims “tech-
nologies can be postponed but not stopped” (243), that
“[t]here are no technologies without vices and none
that are neutral” (246), so precautionary prohibitions
will only serve to slow down the inevitable, making
the endeavor of maximizing a technology’s benets
and minimizing its costs a slower and more difcult
process. He admits that of all the spheres of inuence
on the technium, the human mind “may even be the
weakest” (15). “[O]ur response to the technium should
be similar to our response to nature” he counsels. He
is alarmingly comfortable conceding that “[w]e can’t
demand that technology obey us any more than we
can demand that life obey us” (17).
As the title of the book so clearly reveals,
Kelly isn’t afraid of the “pathetic fallacy” or the an-
thropomorphisms it underwrites. This is because the
technium has shown him that the line separating life and
technology is, like the ozone layer, thinning out. As he
says, there “must be a certain equivalency between the
made and the born.” In fact, he believes that “[t]echnol-
ogy and life must share some fundamental essence,”
surmising that computers and DNA share an essence
not to be found in the materials they harness—whether
silicon or protein. Rather, their common essence is
found in “immaterial ows of information” (10). And
although Kelly notes that the technium doesn’t yet have
an idea of self or conscious desires, it has developed
tendencies or “wants” through its complex of billions of
amplifying relationships and circuits of inuence such
that it has gained widespread and signicant degrees
of autonomy, making its trajectory through time and
space increasingly independent of the intentions and
designs of its human sub-systems. This “ever-ripening
superorganism” of which we are a part, is following “a
direction beyond our own making,” and we, accord-
ing to Kelly, should not be concerned about whether
to embrace it because “[w]e are beyond embrace; we
are already symbiotic with it … our choice is to align
ourselves with this direction” (187). He suggests that
we rely on technology itself to “help us make better
choices about how we adopt it” (216). In fact, to reject
technology, says Kelly, is tantamount to “self-hatred”,
because “[b]y following what technology wants, we
can be more ready to capture its full gifts” (188). He
has a genius for drawing together a welter of captivat-
ing facts and less than mainline theories and spinning
them all to support his belief in the good news that
ultimately “technology wants what we want” (269).
Devoted readers of Polanyi will likely nd
this book both enlightening and infuriating. On the one
hand, Kelly’s discussion of how our genes coevolved
with our inventions and his observations about the role
of language in the development of our minds (26-37)
helpfully ll in some fairly large gaps in Polanyi’s own
discussion of the role that the invention of language
played in creating a lasting articulate framework of
thought (PK 388-389). On the other hand, however, I
suspect that despite Kelly’s account of the emergence
of life and mind sounding familiarly reminiscent of
Polanyi’s account of emergent strata of being in the
epic process of anthropogenesis (PK 389ff), follow-
ers of Polanyi’s post-critical philosophy will struggle
with Kelly’s placing of human personhood and its
responsible agency in the wake of the technium’s
ascension to cosmic sovereignty, reducing human
beings to mere “reproductive organs of technology”
(296). Although Kelly’s entrancing discussions of
the history of convergent discoveries and inventions
are recognizably cognate to Polanyi’s speculations
about the heuristic function of gradients of meaning
and nalistic elds, readers who side with Polanyi’s
vision of the indeterminacy of discovery will likely
chafe at the necessitarianism in Kelly’s claim that
“the conceptual essence of an invention or discovery
is inevitable” (143), and that the “technological fate”
this portends is something we “should lurch forward in
preparation [for]” rather than “reeling back in horror of
its inevitability” (173). In spite of recognizing in Kelly’s
technium something vaguely similar to de Chardin’s
“noosphere,” a notion Polanyi himself called upon to
describe the layer of meaning generated by the rise of
the human mind and its overcoming of mere subjective
interests with universal intent, Polanyians will surely
want to challenge Kelly’s ascribing to humans the status
of a transitional species and the primacy he gives to the
technium, making humans “but an intermediary, smack
in the middle between the born and the made” (356)
whose mission as humans is to discover their “fullest
selves in the technium” (237). Neither will those who
align themselves with Polanyi’s vision of a society
of explorers immersed in potential thought (TD 91)
be happy with Kelly’s subordinating human thought
to the technium’s “selsh nature” which he predicts
will “increasingly maximize its own agenda” (352),
effectively reducing human agency to just a little above
an epiphenomenon of the technium. He argues that we
are at a tipping point “where the technium’s ability to
alter us exceeds our ability to alter the technium” (197).
Whereas Polanyi’s commitment to liberal humanism
and his vision of a stratied ontology situate humans at
“the top of creation” for their capacity to transcend their
“self-centeredness” in pursuit of truth for its own sake
(SM 62), Kelly’s transhumanist techno-libertarianism
leads him to place humans not at the top of creation
nor in the service of truth for its own sake, but in the
service of the technium’s wants. If we play our cards
right and deect our inevitable technologies into more
convivial forms, we might just nd that the technium’s
wants will include the multiplying of our options of
things to want (307-311).
WTW is a must read for anyone interested
in technology and in what one of the most inuential
technophilic voices in contemporary technoculture
is saying about our role in technology’s colonization
of our lives.
Robert Doede
David W. Long, Body Knowledge: A Path to Wholeness:
The Philosophy of Michael Polanyi. Bloomington,
IN: Xlibris, 2011. Pp. 237. ISBN 978-1-4568-7035-5
($19.99 pb); 978-1-4568-7036-2 ($29.99, hb).
Body Knowledge, by David Wesley Long,
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University
of California at Sacramento, is unusual. Let me note
some of the ways. It is a self-published dissertation in
philosophy (not religion or one of the social sciences)
and not rewritten since its approval in the 1960s by
the faculty at Florida State University, a department
which, although it contained Eugene Kaelin and W.
H. Werkmeister, was heavily oriented toward Positiv-
ism and Logical Empiricism. In fact, one member of
that faculty was a student of Rudolf Carnap, and he
nearly refused to sign the dissertation. Also, the book
is sometimes critical of Polanyi.
It begins with a lengthy autobiographical
Prologue (40 pages, including the annotated foot-
notes) that provides, among other things, an account
of Long’s 20-minute trance/epiphany on the acropolis
in Athens, where he felt a call to study philosophy; an
explanation of his pedagogy (based on the paradigm of
the Heyokha, a Lakota word for a sacred clown, and
Socrates as storyteller); ten stories he used in his classes;
a description of several international conferences he
helped plan and in which he participated; and an account
of his heart problems. It focuses on Polanyi’s thought
rather than how Polanyi’s epistemology may be useful
in elucidating and advancing other disciplines, and in
that sense and also because it is amazingly lucid, be-
ing devoid of stilted dissertationese, it could serve as
introduction for those unfamiliar with Polanyi.
Literary proling to this point, however, is mislead-
ing. What truly makes the book special lies elsewhere,
namely, in elucidating Polanyi in the philosophical
world of his time, and that renders the book valuable
even for those already well acquainted with Polanyi.
Early chapters deal with Polanyi’s biography (Ch. 1);
his theory of tacit knowing and personal knowledge
(Ch. 3); and with appraisal, commitment, and universal
intent (Ch. 4). Chapter 2 begins to lay the groundwork
for the most signicant part of the book by sketching
the philosophical background of Polanyi’s era. Long
identies Polanyi’s “antecedents” (Karl Popper, Henry
Margenau, Wilhelm Dilthey), his “supporters” (Mau-
rice Merleau-Ponty, A. D. Ritchie, Stephen Toulmin,
Jacob Bronowski, Norwood Hanson, Konrad Lorenz,
Thomas Kuhn, Gerald Holton, Chaim Perelman, and
A. I. Wittenberg), and his “opponents” or “competi-
tors” (Ernst Mach, Hans Reichenbach, H. Mehlberg,
Bertrand Russell, R. B. Braithwaite, Clark Hull, E. C.
Tolman, and Gilbert Ryle).
The remaining chapters (5-10) are the most sig-
nicant ones, in my estimation. They seek to explain
to Positivist philosophers (doubtless, including Long’s
own professors) what Polanyi’s strange (to them) en-
terprise is all about and to lay out a justication for it
in terms Positivists would understand, even if they did
not agree with it. To them, Polanyi was sidetracked
into history and psychology, rather than the proper
domains of logic and epistemology.
To accomplish these purposes, Long makes heavy
use of Polanyi’s Duke Lectures (still unpublished, but
just now available on the Polanyi Society web site)
to construct a “dialogue” (not in the strict literary
sense but by using alternating chapters) in which the
Objectivists (especially Mach, whom Long regards
as Polanyi’s main target) and Polanyi engage the
ne points of each other’s positions on such topics
as meaning, truth, the ideal of strict detachment, the
bifurcation of experience, discovery and justication,
the criteria of theory evaluation, and the presupposi-
tions of science. To deepen the engagement between
Mach’s conventionalist position and Polanyi’s com-
monsense realism, Long takes advantage of his
thorough grounding in both Polanyi’s thought and in
the mainstream philosophy of the time to expand on
and sharpen their sometimes cryptically-stated views
and even to construct responses each side could make
to the other in the back-and-forth of the “dialogue.”
This part of the book was unique in my experience
and invaluable.
Finally, Long appraises the strengths and weak-
nesses of both positions, siding often, but not always,
with Polanyi. Long argues, for example, that Polanyi
can be criticized, especially where he treats Coperni-
cus’s thought (in the Duke Lectures and the rst part
of Personal Knowledge) and where he makes the
case for theory acceptance, for his “ambiguous use
of predictive content, for his misuse of the fertility
criterion, for his misreading of the development of
De Broglie’s wave theory, and for his misreading of
Mach.” Long calls the last item a “caricature.” Yet he
judges that none of these deciencies is fatal.
Although I was introduced to Polanyi’s work by
William H. Poteat at Duke, taught Polanyi multiple
times as part of a course in the Philosophy of Science,
relied heavily on Polanyi in my own thinking, and wrote
about Polanyi in both of my books, I believe Long
has helped me, especially in the “dialogue” chapters,
to understand Polanyi signicantly better than ever
before. I wish I had had his book many years ago (but
with an index).
Milton Scarborough
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