Re: Objectivism and Extropianism

Mark Crosby (
Mon, 4 May 1998 12:16:28 -0700 (PDT)

---Technotranscendence wrote:
< I'd like to start a thread on the compatibilities
and incompatibilities between Objectivism and
Extropianism. I know many list members have
sympathies for the former. I generally consider
myself to be Objectivist or, at least, heavily
colored by Objectivism. Is this a plus or a minus? >

I haven't read any works of Objectivism (capitalized
or not), but I'm mostly attracted to the free-market
libertarianism that seems to result from such
thought. On the other hand, I'm also attracted to
some of the (predominantly) European science and
philosophy that emphasizes constructivist aspects of
human knowledge and 'non-Cartesian cognitive science'
\1, even though (unfortunately) many of these same
sources seem to gravitate toward socialistic
economics & politics \2 \3.

More coherent objections to Objectivism (than those
mentioned in note 3 ;) are raised by Hungarian
physician, chemist, and philosopher Michael Polanyi
(whose major work - _Personal Knowledge: Towards A
Post-Critical Philosophy_ - I am trying to read
sporadically). Polanyi's work describes what he
calls 'tacit knowledge'. A good online intro to
Polanyi's thought is Richard T. Allen's 1996
Polanyiana article \4, "Polanyi's Overcoming of the
Dichotomy of Fact and Value", where Allen declares:

"Life then is a realm of achievement and not of mere
processes and events... there are no neutral facts,
nor mere descriptions of them, in the realms of
machinery and devices, organisms and organs, and
conscious beings and intelligent and intentional
activities. The facts here are complexities of
success and failure, correctness and incorrectness,
and can be understood only as such".

This Allen article is strongly critical of what he
calls 'Objectivism'. I think what he means by
Objectivism follows Polanyi's usage and primarily
refers to behaviorist psychology and Marxist
sociology, plus strongly reductionist science that
attempts to reduce everything to the physico-chemical
level of description, and (perhaps) not necessarily
(at least not explicitly) to the Objectivism
enunciated by Ayn Rand and her elaborators.

Let me cite a passage from the end of Polanyi's
_Personal Knowledge_ (I skipped ahead ;) which, I
think, shows the extropic nature of his thought \5:

"Let me now introduce the concept of a heuristic
field... The lines of force in a heuristic field
should stand for an access to an opportunity, and for
the obligation and the resolve to make good this
opportunity, in spite of its inherent
uncertainties... Can we see then all the works of the
human mind invisibly inscribed already in the
configuration of the primeval incandescent gasses?
No, we cannot; for the capacity of coming to life is
due to the power of a field to consolidate centres of
first causes. Each such centre bears a possibility of
achievement which, however limited, uncertain, and
unspecifiable in its outcome, characterizes this
centre as an essentially new and autonomous prime

I would be interested to hear if anyone else familiar
with Polanyi's philosophy (or based on the excerpts
provided) thinks this is compatible with pancritical
rationalism and Extropianism \6.

Mark Crosby


\1. See for example, Ronald Lemmen's Non-Cartesian
Cognitive Science and Philosophy pages, with MANY
interesting links, at
and also Alex Reigler's Radical Constructivism page,

\2. Note the recent Edge debate between "The Two
Steves [Pinker and Rose]" at as
well the list discussion of this between Gburch1 and
myself on the 'politics of autopoiesis'.

\3. I am also morbidly fascinated with the radical
philosophy of Deleuze & Guattari (I would say
extropian, *in some respects* - see, for instance,
the surplus-value semiotics described in the Guattari
interview mentioned below), despite their avowed
communism; because, I think this politics is
sometimes the result of social situations and, in
another life (or if they'd paid attention to the work
of Friedrich Hayek), they might have been
anarcho-capitalists rather than anarcho-socialists.
For example, Felix Guattari noted (see
) "this left-right split is absolutely evident in
social struggles, in power relations ... But on the
level of thought, it's not at all clear." He then
goes on to cite, for example, how he agrees with
Milton Friedman on the legalization of 'drugs'.

BTW, the philosophy of D&G is very much a
post-existentialist elaboration of the ideas of
Nietzsche, who is familiar to many Extropians, and
also those of Spinoza (who proclaimed "It is"
compared to Descartes' "I think").

or use contents.html to view all the articles in this

\5. Michael Polanyi, _Personal Knowledge: Towards A
Post-Critical Philosophy_, page 403, originally
published in the 1950s, but still available in a
paperback edition - see

\6. Having just read Max More's "Pancritical
Rationalism: An Extropic Metacontext for Memetic
Progress" (,
I want to note that by "post-critical" I think
Polanyi was referring to the (primarily) French
trends in philosophy to *focus* on criticism as a
*primary* approach, rather than (IMO) any desire to
establish some sort of unassailable foundation. As
an Extropian, I want to move beyond; still, I feel
some of the same ambiguity toward Polanyi as I feel
towards D&G. Paul Nagy's "Philosophy in a Different
Voice: Michael Polanyi On Liberty And Liberalism"
nicely expresses the aspect of Polanyi's conservatism
that I admire: "[Polanyi] was the most moderate of
radicals... What made him differ most from those
around him was his reverence... his attachment to the
perennial enables him to be ahead of his time".
Also, from _Personal Knowledge_, Polanyi warns: "Our
objectivism, which tolerates no open declaration of
faith, has forced modern beliefs to take on implicit

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