33 Facts About Michael Polanyi


Michael Polanyi was a Hungarian-British polymath, who made important theoretical contributions to physical chemistry, economics, and philosophy.


Michael Polanyi argued that positivism supplies an imperfect account of knowing as no observer is perfectly impartial.


Michael Polanyi pioneered the theory of fibre diffraction analysis in 1921, and the dislocation theory of plastic deformation of ductile metals and other materials in 1934.


Michael Polanyi immigrated to Germany, in 1926 becoming a chemistry professor at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, and then in 1933 to England, becoming first a chemistry professor, and then a social sciences professor at the University of Manchester.


Two of his pupils, and his son John Charles Polanyi won Nobel Prizes in Chemistry.


The contributions which Michael Polanyi made to the social sciences include an understanding of tacit knowledge, and the concept of a polycentric spontaneous order to intellectual inquiry were developed in the context of his opposition to central planning.


Michael Polanyi's father built much of the Hungarian railway system, but lost most of his fortune in 1899 when bad weather caused a railway building project to go over budget.


Cecilia Michael Polanyi established a salon that was well known among Budapest's intellectuals, and which continued until her death in 1939.


Michael Polanyi studied to be a physician, obtaining his medical diploma in 1914.


Michael Polanyi was an active member of the Galileo Circle.


In October 1918, Mihaly Karolyi established the Hungarian Democratic Republic, and Michael Polanyi became Secretary to the Minister of Health.


Michael Polanyi was among the 2,300 names of prominent persons listed on the Nazis' Special Search List, of those who were to be arrested on the invasion of Great Britain and turned over to the Gestapo.


In 1944 Michael Polanyi was elected a member of the Royal Society, and on his retirement from the University of Manchester in 1958 he was elected a senior research fellow at Merton College, Oxford.


Michael Polanyi is well known for his potential adsorption theory, which was disputed for quite some time.


In 1936, as a consequence of an invitation to give lectures for the Ministry of Heavy Industry in the USSR, Michael Polanyi met Bukharin, who told him that in socialist societies all scientific research is directed to accord with the needs of the latest Five Year Plan.


Michael Polanyi noted what had happened to the study of genetics in the Soviet Union once the doctrines of Trofim Lysenko had gained the backing of the State.


Demands in Britain, for example by the Marxist John Desmond Bernal, for centrally planned scientific research led Michael Polanyi to defend the claim that science requires free debate.


Michael Polanyi derived the phrase spontaneous order from Gestalt psychology, and it was adopted by the classical liberal economist Friederich Hayek, although the concept can be traced back to at least Adam Smith.


Michael Polanyi had a somewhat similar spontaneous order theory to that of Hayek, but it had some unique characteristics that could only be understood by examining the unpublished archival materials, especially Michael Polanyi's brilliant comprehensible example of shaking a sack of potatoes.


Michael Polanyi argued that there are higher and lower forms of spontaneous order, and he asserted that defending scientific inquiry on utilitarian or sceptical grounds undermined the practice of science.


Michael Polanyi extends this into a general claim about free societies.


Michael Polanyi defends a free society not on the negative grounds that we ought to respect "private liberties", but on the positive grounds that "public liberties" facilitate our pursuit of objective ideals.


Michael Polanyi denies that a scientific method can yield truth mechanically.


Michael Polanyi argued that the assumptions that underlie critical philosophy are not only false, they undermine the commitments that motivate our highest achievements.


Michael Polanyi cites the example of Copernicus, who declared that the Earth revolves around the Sun.


Michael Polanyi rejected the claim by British Empiricists that experience can be reduced into sense data, but he rejects the notion that "indwelling" within interpretative frameworks traps us within them.


Michael Polanyi's work influenced the critique by Hubert Dreyfus of "First Generation" artificial intelligence.


Michael Polanyi claimed that we experience the world by integrating our subsidiary awareness into a focal awareness.


In "Life's irreducible structure", Michael Polanyi argues that the information contained in the DNA molecule is not reducible to the laws of physics and chemistry.


In "Transcendence and Self-transcendence", Michael Polanyi criticises the mechanistic world view that modern science inherited from Galileo.


Michael Polanyi relies on the assumption that boundary conditions supply degrees of freedom that, instead of being random, are determined by higher-level realities, whose properties are dependent on but distinct from the lower level from which they emerge.


The reductionistic attempt to reduce higher-level realities into lower-level realities generates what Michael Polanyi calls a moral inversion, in which the higher is rejected with moral passion.


Michael Polanyi identifies it as a pathology of the modern mind and traces its origins to a false conception of knowledge; although it is relatively harmless in the formal sciences, that pathology generates nihilism in the humanities.