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11 March 1891
|Died||22 February 1976 84) (aged|
|Education||Graduated in medicine, 1913; PhD in physical chemistry, 1919|
|Alma mater|| Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest|
Technische Hochschule, Karlsruhe
University of Budapest
|Occupation(s)||Professor of physical chemistry, professor of social studies|
|Employer(s)|| Kaiser Wilhelm Institute |
University of Manchester
Merton College, Oxford
|Known for|| Polanyi's paradox |
Potential theory of Polanyi
Flow plasticity theory
Transition state theory
|Spouse||Magda Elizabeth Kemeny|
|Children||John Charles Polanyi, George Polanyi|
|Parent(s)||Michael and Cecilia Pollacsek|
|Relatives|| Karl Polanyi (brother) |
Kari Polanyi Levitt (niece)
|Awards|| Gifford Lectures (1951-1952)|
Fellow of the Royal Society (1944)
Michael Polanyi FRS  ( /poʊˈlænji/ ; Hungarian : Polányi Mihály; 11 March 1891 – 22 February 1976) was a Hungarian-British  polymath, who made important theoretical contributions to physical chemistry, economics, and philosophy. He argued that positivism supplies an imperfect account of knowing as no observer is perfectly impartial.
His wide-ranging research in physical science included chemical kinetics, x-ray diffraction, and adsorption of gases. He pioneered the theory of fibre diffraction analysis in 1921, and the dislocation theory of plastic deformation of ductile metals and other materials in 1934. He 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. In 1944 Polanyi was elected to the Royal Society.
The contributions which 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. 
Polanyi, born Mihály Pollacsek in Budapest, was the fifth child of Mihály and Cecília Pollacsek (born as Cecília Wohl), secular Jews from Ungvár (then in Hungary but now in Ukraine) and Wilno, then Russian Empire, respectively. His father's family were entrepreneurs, while his mother's father – Osher Leyzerovich Vol (1833 – after 1906) – was the senior teacher of Jewish history at the Vilna rabbinic seminary, from which he had graduated as a rabbi.    The family moved to Budapest and Magyarized their surname to Polányi. His 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. He died in 1905. Cecília Polányi established a salon that was well known among Budapest's intellectuals, and which continued until her death in 1939. His older brother was Karl Polanyi, the political economist and anthropologist, and his niece was Eva Zeisel, a world-renowned ceramist. 
In 1909, after leaving his teacher-training secondary school (Minta gimnázium [official name: Budapest-Fasori Evangélikus Gimnázium]). Polanyi studied to be a physician, obtaining his medical diploma in 1914. He was an active member of the Galileo Circle. With the support of Ignác Pfeifer, professor of chemistry at the Royal Joseph University of Budapest, he obtained a scholarship to study chemistry at the Technische Hochschule in Karlsruhe, Germany. In the First World War, he served in the Austro-Hungarian army as a medical officer, and was sent to the Serbian front. While on sick-leave in 1916, he wrote a PhD thesis on adsorption. His research, which was encouraged by Albert Einstein, was supervised by Gusztáv Buchböck , and in 1919 the Royal University of Pest awarded him a doctorate.
In October 1918, Mihály Károlyi established the Hungarian Democratic Republic, and Polanyi became Secretary to the Minister of Health. When the Communists seized power in March 1919, he returned to medicine. When the Hungarian Soviet Republic was overthrown, Polanyi immigrated to Karlsruhe in Germany, and was invited by Fritz Haber to join the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut für Faserstoffchemie (fiber chemistry) in Berlin. In 1923 he converted to Christianity, and in a Roman Catholic ceremony married Magda Elizabeth Kemeny.  In 1926 he became the professorial head of department of the Institut für Physikalische Chemie und Elektrochemie (now the Fritz Haber Institute). In 1929, Magda gave birth to their son John, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1986. Their other son, George Polanyi, who predeceased him, became a well-known economist.
His experience of runaway inflation and high unemployment in Weimar Germany led Polanyi to become interested in economics. With the coming to power in 1933 of the Nazi party, he accepted a chair in physical chemistry at the University of Manchester. Two of his pupils, Eugene Wigner and Melvin Calvin went on to win a Nobel Prize. Because of his increasing interest in the social sciences, Manchester University created a new chair in Social Science (1948–58) for him.
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 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.  In 1962 he was elected a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 
Polanyi's scientific interests were extremely diverse, including work in chemical kinetics, x-ray diffraction, and the adsorption of gases at solid surfaces. He is also well known for his potential adsorption theory, which was disputed for quite some time. In 1921, he laid the mathematical foundation of fibre diffraction analysis. In 1934, Polanyi, at about the same time as G. I. Taylor and Egon Orowan, realised that the plastic deformation of ductile materials could be explained in terms of the theory of dislocations developed by Vito Volterra in 1905. The insight was critical in developing the field of solid mechanics.
In 1936, as a consequence of an invitation to give lectures for the Ministry of Heavy Industry in the USSR, 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. 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 Polanyi to defend the claim that science requires free debate. Together with John Baker, he founded the influential Society for Freedom in Science.
In a series of articles, re-published in The Contempt of Freedom (1940) and The Logic of Liberty (1951), Polanyi claimed that co-operation amongst scientists is analogous to the way agents co-ordinate themselves within a free market. Just as consumers in a free market determine the value of products, science is a spontaneous order that arises as a consequence of open debate amongst specialists. Science (contrary to the claims of Bukharin) flourishes when scientists have the liberty to pursue truth as an end in itself:
[S]cientists, freely making their own choice of problems and pursuing them in the light of their own personal judgment, are in fact co-operating as members of a closely knit organization.
Such self-co-ordination of independent initiatives leads to a joint result which is unpremeditated by any of those who bring it about.
Any attempt to organize the group ... under a single authority would eliminate their independent initiatives, and thus reduce their joint effectiveness to that of the single person directing them from the centre. It would, in effect, paralyse their co-operation.
He 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. Polanyi (unlike Hayek) 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. He extends this into a general claim about free societies. 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.
According to Polanyi, a free society that strives to be value-neutral undermines its own justification. But it is not enough for the members of a free society to believe that ideals such as truth, justice, and beauty, are objective, they also have to accept that they transcend our ability to wholly capture them. The objectivity of values must be combined with acceptance that all knowing is fallible.
In Full Employment and Free Trade (1948) Polanyi analyses the way money circulates around an economy, and in a monetarist analysis that, according to Paul Craig Roberts, was thirty years ahead of its time, he argues that a free market economy should not be left to be wholly self-adjusting. A central bank should attempt to moderate economic booms/busts via a strict/loose monetary policy.
In 1940, he produced a film, "Unemployment and money. The principles involved", perhaps the first film about economics.  The film presented a special kind of Keynesianism, neutral Keynesianism, that advised to use budget deficit and tax remissions to increase the amount of money in the circulation in times of economic hardship but did not advise to use infrastructural investments and public works. 
In his book Science, Faith and Society (1946), Polanyi set out his opposition to a positivist account of science, noting that it ignores the role personal commitments play in the practice of science. Polanyi gave the Gifford Lectures in 1951–52 at Aberdeen, and a revised version of his lectures were later published as Personal Knowledge (1958). In this book Polanyi claims that all knowledge claims (including those that derive from rules) rely on personal judgments.  He denies that a scientific method can yield truth mechanically. All knowing, no matter how formalised, relies upon commitments. Polanyi argued that the assumptions that underlie critical philosophy are not only false, they undermine the commitments that motivate our highest achievements. He advocates a fiduciary post-critical approach, in which we recognise that we believe more than we can prove, and know more than we can say.
A knower does not stand apart from the universe, but participates personally within it. Our intellectual skills are driven by passionate commitments that motivate discovery and validation. According to Polanyi, a great scientist not only identifies patterns, but also chooses significant questions likely to lead to a successful resolution. Innovators risk their reputation by committing to a hypothesis. Polanyi cites the example of Copernicus, who declared that the Earth revolves around the Sun. He claims that Copernicus arrived at the Earth's true relation to the Sun not as a consequence of following a method, but via "the greater intellectual satisfaction he derived from the celestial panorama as seen from the Sun instead of the Earth."  His writings on the practice of science influenced Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend.
Polanyi rejected the claim by British Empiricists that experience can be reduced into sense data, but he also rejects the notion that "indwelling" within (sometimes incompatible) interpretative frameworks traps us within them. Our tacit awareness connects us, albeit fallibly, with reality. It supplies us with the context within which our articulations have meaning. Contrary to the views of his colleague and friend Alan Turing, whose work at the Victoria University of Manchester prepared the way for the first modern computer, he denied that minds are reducible to collections of rules. His work influenced the critique by Hubert Dreyfus of "First Generation" artificial intelligence.
It was while writing Personal Knowledge that he identified the "structure of tacit knowing". He viewed it as his most important discovery. He claimed that we experience the world by integrating our subsidiary awareness into a focal awareness. In his later work, for example his Terry Lectures, later published as The Tacit Dimension (1966), he distinguishes between the phenomenological, instrumental, semantic, and ontological aspects of tacit knowing, as discussed (but not necessarily identified as such) in his previous writing.
In "Life's irreducible structure" (1968),  Polanyi argues that the information contained in the DNA molecule is not reducible to the laws of physics and chemistry. Although a DNA molecule cannot exist without physical properties, these properties are constrained by higher-level ordering principles. In "Transcendence and Self-transcendence" (1970),  Polanyi criticises the mechanistic world view that modern science inherited from Galileo.
Polanyi advocates emergence i.e. the claim that there are several levels of reality and of causality. He 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. An example of a higher-level reality functioning as a downward causal force is consciousness – intentionality – generating meanings – intensionality.
Mind is a higher-level expression of the capacity of living organisms for discrimination. Our pursuit of self-set ideals such as truth and justice transforms our understanding of the world. The reductionistic attempt to reduce higher-level realities into lower-level realities generates what Polanyi calls a moral inversion, in which the higher is rejected with moral passion. 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. Polanyi considered Marxism an example of moral inversion. The State, on the grounds of an appeal to the logic of history, uses its coercive powers in ways that disregard any appeals to morality. 
Tacit knowledge, as distinct from explicit knowledge, is an influential term developed by Polanyi in The Tacit Dimension  to describe the idea of know-how, the ability to do something without necessarily being able to articulate it or even be aware of all its dimensions: for example, being able to ride a bicycle or play a musical instrument without being able to fully explain the details of how it happens.
The literary critic Rita Felski has named Polanyi as an important precursor to the project of postcritique within literary studies. 
Shamanism is a religious practice that involves a practitioner (shaman) interacting with the spirit world through altered states of consciousness, such as trance. The goal of this is usually to direct spirits or spiritual energies into the physical world for the purpose of healing, divination, or to aid human beings in some other way.
Karl Mannheim was an influential Hungarian sociologist during the first half of the 20th century. He is a key figure in classical sociology, as well as one of the founders of the sociology of knowledge. Mannheim is best known for his book Ideology and Utopia (1929/1936), in which he distinguishes between partial and total ideologies, the latter representing comprehensive worldviews distinctive to particular social groups, and also between ideologies that provide outdated support for existing social arrangements, and utopias, which look to the future and threaten to transform a society.
Tacit knowledge or implicit knowledge—as opposed to formal, codified or explicit knowledge—is knowledge that is difficult to express or extract, and thus more difficult to transfer to others by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. This can include personal wisdom, experience, insight, and intuition.
John Charles Polanyi is a German-born Canadian chemist. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research in chemical kinetics.
Karl Paul Polanyi, was an Austro-Hungarian economic anthropologist and politician, best known for his book The Great Transformation, which questions the conceptual validity of self-regulating markets.
Gabor A. Somorjai is a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and is a leading researcher in the field of surface chemistry and catalysis, especially the catalytic effects of metal surfaces on gas-phase reactions. For his contributions to the field, Somorjai won the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 1998, the Linus Pauling Award in 2000, the National Medal of Science in 2002, the Priestley Medal in 2008, the 2010 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Basic Science and the NAS Award in Chemical Sciences in 2013. In April 2015, Somorjai was awarded the American Chemical Society's William H. Nichols Medal.
Egon Orowan FRS was a Hungarian-British physicist and metallurgist. According to György Marx, he was one of The Martians.
Count Mihály Ádám György Miklós Károlyi de Nagykároly was a Hungarian politician who served as a leader of the short-lived and unrecognized First Hungarian Republic from 1918 to 1919. He served as prime minister between 1 and 16 November 1918 and as president between 16 November 1918 and 21 March 1919.
Franz Tangl, was a Hungarian physiologist and pathologist, member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Along with pathologist Paul Clemens von Baumgarten, the eponymous Baumgarten-Tangl law is named after him.
Imre Bródy was a Hungarian physicist who invented in 1930 the krypton-filled fluorescent lamps , with fellow-Hungarian inventors Emil Theisz, Ferenc Kőrösy and Tivadar Millner. He developed the technology of the production of krypton bulbs together with Michael Polanyi. He was the nephew of writer Sándor Bródy.
Polányi, Polanyi is a surname. There have been a number of prominent individuals in the Polanyi family, illustrated in the following family tree:
Mary Jo Nye is an American historian of science and Horning Professor in the Humanities emerita of the History Department at Oregon State University. She is known for her work on the relationships between scientific discovery and social and political phenomena.
Shinichiro Kurimoto is a Japanese author and a politician. He is also an economic anthropologist and a philosopher who introduced the ideas of Karl Polanyi and his younger brother Michael Polanyi to Japan. He was a professor at universities such as Meiji University and Northwestern University.
Thomas Samuel Kuhn was an American historian and philosopher of science whose 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was influential in both academic and popular circles, introducing the term paradigm shift, which has since become an English-language idiom.
The Sonntagskreis was an intellectual discussion group in Budapest, Hungary, between 1915 and 1918. The main focus of the group was on the relationship between ideas and the social and historical context of those ideas, a line of thought that led towards the later concepts of "social history of art" and "sociology of knowledge".
Post-critical is a term coined by scientist-philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891–1976) in the 1950s to designate a position beyond the critical philosophical orientation. In this context, "the critical mode" designates a way of relating to reality that was initiated in the years preceding the Enlightenment period and since then has become the predominant intellectual mode of Modernity. Polanyi's ideas in this regard were extended in the 1960s and thereafter by William H. Poteat (1919–2000), drawing upon and combining in new ways certain ideas of seminal critics of culture since the Enlightenment such as Pascal, Kierkegaard, Arendt, Wittgenstein, and Merleau-Ponty. Those ideas were further extended by several of Poteat's students and by other members of the Polanyi Society.
William H. Poteat was an American philosopher, scholar, and charismatic professor of philosophy, religion, and culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1947 to 1957 and at Duke University from 1960 to 1987. During that time he did foundational work in the critique of Modern and Postmodern intellectual culture. He was instrumental in introducing scientist-philosopher Michael Polanyi and his Post-Critical philosophy to the United States. He was a master of the Socratic Method of teaching and identified himself a "practicing dialectician," skilled through the use of irony in "understanding and elucidating conflicting points of view" As a Post-Critical philosopher, he encouraged his students and the readers of his books to recover their authentic selves from the confusing, self-alienating abstractions of modern intellectual life. This task and purpose Poteat came to recognize as profoundly convergent with Michael Polanyi's critique of Modern Critical thought. His teaching and writing also drew upon and combined in new ways the ideas of seminal critics of modern culture such as Pascal, Kierkegaard, Arendt, Wittgenstein, and Merleau-Ponty—whose thinking Poteat came to identify as "Post-Critical", using a key concept from Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. His papers are archived at the Yale Divinity School Library.
The potential theory of Polanyi, also called Polanyi adsorption potential theory, is a model of adsorption proposed by Michael Polanyi where adsorption can be measured through the equilibrium between the chemical potential of a gas near the surface and the chemical potential of the gas from a large distance away. In this model, he assumed that the attraction largely due to Van Der Waals forces of the gas to the surface is determined by the position of the gas particle from the surface, and that the gas behaves as an ideal gas until condensation where the gas exceeds its equilibrium vapor pressure. While the adsorption theory of Henry is more applicable in low pressure and BET adsorption isotherm equation is more useful at from 0.05 to 0.35 P/Po, the Polanyi potential theory has much more application at higher P/Po (~0.1–0.8).
Stefan von Bogdándy was a Hungarian physician and physical chemist. He was a close collaborator of Michael Polanyi.
Polanyi's paradox, named in honour of the British-Hungarian philosopher Michael Polanyi, is the theory that human knowledge of how the world functions and of our own capability are, to a large extent, beyond our explicit understanding. The theory was articulated by Michael Polanyi in his book The Tacit Dimension in 1966, and economist David Autor gave it a name in his 2014 research paper "Polanyi's Paradox and the Shape of Employment Growth".