Polanyi on Intellectual Passions

‘Intellectual passions do not merely affirm the existence of harmonies which foreshadow an indeterminate range of future discoveries, but can also evoke intimations of specific discoveries and sustain their persistent pursuit throughout years of labour. The appreciate of scientific value merges here into the capacity for discovering it; even as the artist’s sensibility merges into his creative powers. Such is the heuristic function of scientific passion.

Scientists – that is, creative scientists – spend their lives in trying to guess right. They are sustained and guided therein by their heuristic passion. We call their work creative because it changes the world as we see it, by deepening our understanding of it. The change is irrevocable. A problem that I have once solved can no longer puzzle me; I cannot guess what I already know. Having made a discovery, I shall never see the world again as before. My eyes have become different; I have made myself into a person seeing and thinking differently. I have crossed a gap, the heuristic gap which lies between problem and discovery.

Major discoveries change our interpretive framework. Hence it is logically impossible to arrive at these by the continued application of our previous framework. So we see once more that discovery is creative, in the sense that it is not to be achieved by the diligent performance of any previously known and specifiable procedure.’ (Michael Polanyi ,’Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy’, p. 143)


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