I was sorry recently to learn of the passing of one of the great scholars of our generation. I have written about Marvin Minsky several times before in this series and today I again look at a letter I wrote to him in the last couple of years. It is my practice in my letters to quote from the works of Adrian Rogers or Francis Schaeffer or both in my letters to these scholars.
8th letter and final letter to Marvin Minsky was on Polanyi on 9-21-15:
September 21, 2015
Dr. Marvin Minsky c/o MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA
Dear Dr. Minsky,
I enjoyed listening to your Ted Talk the other day and shortly after that I got a chance to listen to John Polanyi’s Ted Talk. Today I am writing you about John’s father.
Recently I had the opportunity to come across a very interesting article by Michael Polanyi, LIFE TRANSCENDING PHYSICS AND CHEMISTRY, in the magazine CHEMICAL AND ENGINEERING NEWS, August 21, 1967, and I also got hold of a 1968 talk by Francis Schaeffer based on this article. This article by Michael Polanyi concerns Francis Crick and James Watson and their discovery of DNA in 1953. Polanyi noted:
Mechanisms, whether man-made or morphological, are boundary conditions harnessing the laws of in
animate nature, being themselves irreducible to those laws. The pattern of organic bases in DNA which functions as a genetic code is a boundary condition irreducible to physics and chemistry. Further controlling principles of life may be represented as a hierarchy of boundary conditions extending, in the case of man, to consciousness and responsibility.
(Francis Schaeffer pictured below)
I would like to send you a CD copy of this talk because I thought you may find it very interesting. It includes references to not only James D. Watson, and Francis Crick but also Maurice Wilkins, Erwin Schrodinger, J.S. Haldane (his son was the famous J.B.S. Haldane), Peter Medawar, and Barry Commoner. I WONDER IF YOU EVER HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO RUN ACROSS THESE MEN OR ANY OF THEIR FORMER STUDENTS?
Below is a portion of the transcript from the CD and Michael Polanyi’s words are in italics while Francis Schaeffer’s words are not:
During the past 15 years, I have worked on these questions, achieving gradually stages of the argument presented in this paper. These are:
- Machines are not formed by physical and chemical equilibration.
- The functional terms needed for characterizing a machine cannot for defined in terms of physics and chemistry.
Polanyi is talking about specific machines but I would include the great cause and effect machine of the external universe that functions on a cause and effect basis. So if this is true of the watch, then you have to ask the same question about the total machine that Sartre points out that is there, and that is the cause and effect universe. Polanyi doesn’t touch on this and he doesn’t have an answer, and I know people who know him. Yet nevertheless he sees the situation exactly as it is. And I would point out what Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) and J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904–1967) said and that it needed a Christian consensus to produce modern science because it was the Christian consensus that gave the concept that the world being created by a reasonable God and that it could be found out and discovered by reason. So the modern science when it began with Copernicus and Galileo and all these men conceived that the cause and effect system of the universe would be there on the basis that it was created by a reasonable God, and that is Einstein’s big dilemma and that is why he became a mystic at the end of life…What Polanyi says here can be extended to the watch, and the bridge and the automobile but also to the big cause and effect universe. You have to give some kind of answer to this too and I would say this to Michael Polanyi if I ever have a chance to talk to him. You need another explanation too Polanyi.
3. No physical chemical topography will tell us that we have a machine before us and what its functions are.
In other words, if you only know the chemicals and the physics you don’t know if you have a machine. It may just be junk. So nobody in the world could tell if it was a machine from merely the “physical chemical-topography.” You have to look at the machineness of the machine to say it is a machine. You could take an automobile and smash it into a small piece of metal with a giant press and it would have the same properties of the automobile, but the automobile would have disappeared. The automobile-ness of the automobile is something else than the physical chemical-topography.
4. Such a topography can completely identify one particular specimen of a machine, but can tell us nothing about a class of machines.
5. And if we are asked how the same solid system can be subject to control by two independent principles, the answer is: The boundary conditions of the system are free of control by physics and can be controlled therefore by nonphysical, purely technical, principles.
In other words you have to explain the engineering by something other than merely physical principles and of course it is. You can’t explain the watchness of the watch merely by this. You can explain it on the basis of engineering principles in which the human mind conceives of a use for the machine and produces the machine. But notice where Polanyi is and that is in our argument of a need of personality in the universe though Polanyi doesn’t draw this final conclusion, though I thought that is the only explanation.
If you look at the watch a man has made it for the purpose of telling time. When you see the automobile a man has made it for the purpose of locomotion and the explanation of the difference is not in the chemical and physical properties but in the personality of a man to make these two different machines for two different purposes out of the same material. So what you are left here is the need of personality in the universe.
Thank you for your time. I know how busy you are and I want to thank you for taking the time to read this letter.
P.O. Box 23416, Little Rock, AR 72221, United States, cell ph 501-920-5733, firstname.lastname@example.org
__ Featured artist today is James Bishop
Guided Tour of James Bishop with the artist, September 5, 2014
|Born||October 7, 1927 
Neosho, Missouri, United States
|Education||Syracuse University (1950)
Washington University in St. Louis (1954)
Black Mountain College (1953)
|Alma mater||Columbia University (1956)|
- 1966: Fischbach Gallery, New York, New York
- 1993: Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland
- 2008: Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, Germany
- Farm, 1966, oil on canvas; in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
- Untitled, 1980, oil on canvas; in the collection of the Art Institute Chicago
- Untitled, 2002, oil, pencil and colored pencil on paper; in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art
- “James Bishop”. Annemarie Verna Gallery. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
- “Bishop, James”. Union List of Artist Names Online. Getty. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
- “James Bishop”. Explore Modern Art. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
- “Untitled, 1980”. Collections. Art Institute Chicago. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
- “Untitled”. The Collection. Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
|This article about a painter from the United States is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.|