Sunday, March 13, 2011

Common Sense (of Michael Polanyi)

The book club I attend recently reviewed "Everyman Revived: The Common Sense of Michael Polanyi" by Drusilla Scott. Polanyi was a brilliant Hungarian scientist and philosopher who lived from 1891 to 1976. Early in his career, he moved to Germany to do research, but resigned in protest when Hitler's policies forced the dismissal of Jewish colleagues. He then moved to Manchester, England where he accepted the Chair of Physical Chemistry. This dark period of human history deeply impacted Polanyi, and he found his interests shifting from scientific research to philosophy. He determined to understand "the causes of this destruction and descent into violence" experienced in Europe during the first part of the 20th century. "He embarked on a long search for understanding of 'how we know', and in his book Personal Knowledge he worked to free our minds from distorting assumptions about the impersonality and certainty of scientific knowledge, and the belief that anything outside this framework is unreal. These assumptions devalue man's moral values, spiritual powers, affections, responsibilities and judgments. Yet, as we see in modern terrorism and fanaticism, the power of moral ideals remains, but it is power let loose from moral control, denatured and deadly."

The title page of the book has this quote from Polanyi: "In our search for a reasonable world view, we should turn in the first place to common sense." This quote reflects the predicament of a reflective and grounded man who lived during a period where there was a remarkable lack of common sense. A time when people behaved in despicable ways toward fellow human beings with disturbing ease. Polanyi experienced a world unhinged from its moral groundings and he did what any intellectual would do, he sought to understand it.

Before discussing the specifics of Polanyi's beliefs, I wanted to briefly introduce him to give a context for understanding his philosophy. I also highlighted him because I admire the intelligence, insight, and boldness of this man who stood against the zeitgeist of his time and offered alternatives.

I'll spend my next posts highlighting some of his major contributions to the study of epistemology and discuss some implications for religion. I'll also discuss the impact of his philosophy on my worldview.

Monday, March 7, 2011


It's been awhile since I've posted. Life has kept me away from blogging. I've spent a great deal of time preparing to open my private practice, which I will officially do this Wednesday. There is still much to be done, but I wanted to take a few minutes to give a little update on my spiritual journey.

My husband and I are talking more about our spiritual concerns in an open way. This has been a lovely thing. We can finally be a support for each other in this area. When I first began my blog, it was very hard for him to read it and we certainly weren't discussing it!

I am increasingly at peace. I have books unread that I will still read, but I don't feel the need to keep up the frenetic pace that I was maintaining. I am talking to more people about where I am, and have felt comfortable speaking up in Bible class and being candid with my book club about where I am.

I continue to have serious doubts about Christianity as THE TRUTH and yet, I still find myself drawn to the spiritual. I have found it necessary to make the decision to stop attending church on Sunday night and I generally find reasons not to attend on Wednesdays. However, I am more comfortable again engaging my children in spiritual activities at home, such as prayer and discussion. My husband and I have also talked about reinstituting our "family fun night" where we teach some higher principle using an object lesson and fun activities. I am not motivated by a sense of duty, rather, I feel energized again about directing these activities and doing more explicit teaching to my children. I had avoided it, feeling dread about teaching something I wasn't sure I believed. Of course, I am still not clear about everything I believe, but I do think my values are becoming clearer and I can teach them mostly from a Christian framework, but I also feel free to use other frameworks as well. I feel a sort of freedom to move and to question, but also a freedom to be rooted in what I value.

Our book club just reviewed a book I found quite helpful and I look forward to bringing up several points from it in the coming days. Hopefully, I'll get a bit of a break in the work load again soon.