Emergence from Within and Without: Juaerro on Polanyi’s Account of the External Origins of Emergence

Tradition and Discovery 40 (3):23-35 (2013)
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This paper assesses a recent criticism of Michael Polanyi’s account of the origin of complex entities by Alicia Juarrero. According to Juarrero, Polanyi took higher-level complex entities like machines and organisms to come into existence through the imposition of external, top-down forces. This paper argues that while Polanyi took the emergence of machines to come about in such a way, Polanyi’s reading of 19th and early 20th-Century experimental embryology indicates his position is more sophisticated. Polanyi appears to have thought a synthesis was possible between reductive-mechanical and holistic-vitalistic approaches in embryology and he appears to have relied on this synthesis in his account of the origin of complex organisms. While I argue that this synthesis is unclear, it suggests that Polanyi conceived of the emergence of organisms as the result of internal, complex, and non-deterministic processes.



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David W. Agler
Pennsylvania State University

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