Organizational Learning & Knowledge Management LO23888

From: Fred Nickols (
Date: 02/04/00

Replying to AM de Lange in LO23873 --

At writes at length in relation to the tacit-explicit discussion in this
thread (and there's more to it [the thread and At's post] than the
tacit-explicit shorthand I just used). I will happily agree that
experiences and what might be called experiential learning precedes the
development or emergence of tacit knowledge. I'm not sure what At
accomplishes by introducing "sapient knowledge" because sapient means full
of knowledge and is used as a synonym for wisdom. "Sapient knowledge"
seems a little redundant.

>Its a pity that Polanyi's books have been scrapped from our university's
>library as books having "no value any more for modern times". Thus I
>cannot check upon Fred Nichol's insistence that tacit knowledge cannot be

I'm sure someone else will, At.

...snip the lengthy and excellent Faraday example that shows how Faraday
arrived at the value of F

>Yet, how do we know for sure about F that "its value is 96500 coulomb
>irrespective of space-time events and ionic species involved"? By
>conducting many "experiments". It means that we have to make many
>"controlled experiences". In other words, we have TO PAINT A RICH PICTURE
>on electrochemical EXPERIENCES.
>I hope it is now clear to you fellow learners why the level of
>EXPERIENTIAL knowledge has to emerge before the level of TACIT knowledge
>can emerge from it. For me any discussion on tacit knowledge without a
>discussion on experiential knowledge is fragmentary, hence fruitless and
>consequently even liable to destructive immergences.

At introduces another category of knowledge here: "experiential." Based
on the Faraday example and the comments immediately above, I take that to
refer to knowledge acquired over time from a number of experiences.
That's a good fit with learning how to ride a bicycle and so I don't have
a lot of difficulty with the basic term. However, learning to ride a
bicycle, which results in certain know-how that can't be articulated, is a
very different matter from the kinds of experiences I sense were part of
Faraday's experimentation. In Faraday's case, the knowledge is much more
abstract and mathematical in nature, clearly capable of being articulated
using mathematical notation as well as words. More to the point, I doubt
Faraday knew the value of F before he could articulate it. So, I'm not
quite sure how the Faraday example fits in, despite At's efforts to
explain it. Maybe the answer is in the next snippet from At's posting.

>Since no student nor the educational beaurocrats who take their money want
>to learn creatively like Faraday, no person of the calibre of Michael
>Faraday emerges any more. Lack of innovation becomes big problem. The
>solution? Bring in the new subject creativity. Lecturer A teaches
>chemistry and lecturer B teaches creativity. Seldom will a student enroll
>for both chemistry and creativity. Who cares? Yet A will not teach on
>Faraday's creativity and B will not teach on electrochemistry. The perfect

What Faraday learned in the example At gave us was probably learned
through a process of experimentation, analyzing those results, conducting
more experiments and so on until at last he had either zeroed in on F or
he stumbled across it and, like Archimedes, shouted "Eureka." What is
missing for me, and perhaps At can supply it, is Faraday's goal. Was he
in fact in search of the value of F or was he up to something else and
came across F in the course of a quest for some other goal?

>Where is the wisdom? When will the third level of EXPLICIT knowledge ever
>emerge into the last level of SAPIENT knowledge? What is our topic
>(Organizational Learning & Knowledge Management) worth without wisdom?

What is wisdom, At?

>Fred Nichols insists persistently that tacit knowledge cannot be
>articulated. I have much respect for his firm standpoint because how many
>people can shift their paradigms? 1%? How many people can shift their
>grand paradigm? 0.01%? If only 1 out of 10 000 people can shift his/her
>grand paradigm and thus articulate what formerly was impossible to
>articulate, would we say carelessly that tacit knowledge can be

A "firm standpoint" is a nice way of saying I can be pretty stubborn and
not easily moved once I drive a stake into the ground. I agree.

Enter here a lengthy section of text about what all At sees as being
involved in articulating tacit knowledge. Here is where it became clear
to me what I need to say. My definition of tacit knowledge follows
Polanyi's statement that "We can know more than we can tell." By that
definition, tacit knowledge cannot be articulated. Some other definition
of tacit might leave open the possibility of articulating it; indeed, I
have seen tacit used in exactly such ways (i.e., as knowledge that can be
articulated but hasn't). So, given the definition of tacit that I use, it
is a complete waste of time to try to persuade me that it can be
articulated. By definition, it can't.

Next At posed some questions, which I will answer.

>So, let us ask Fred to think carefully about his intuition.
>* Would you say that F is the only "universal constant"
> known?

I would say "Probably not." The speed of light comes to mind but that's a
piece of "know about" or declarative knowledge learned a long, long time
ago and I don't even know if it's still true. Lord knows what those
physicists have been up to in the last 50 years.

>* Is your answer, either YES or NO, an articulation of
> your tacit knowledge on the previous question, or merely
> an indication that you are aware of this tacit knowledge?

Well, I didn't answer it yet or not but, if pressed, I would say no. I
don't see my answer as an articulation of tacit knowledge or as an
indication that I am aware of this tacit knowledge. I view my answer as a
halting expression of some explicit, declarative knowledge learned a long
time ago and now, many years later, being called into service for the
purposes of answering the question.

>* Would you say that F may be related to some other
> "universal constants"?

I do not know enough about F or other universal constants to answer the
question with conviction. But, again, if pressed, I would say it seems
possible that there could be such a relationship.

>* Did your answer to the former question, either YES or
> NO, articulated in any way why or why not such a
> relationship with other "universal constants" is possible?

I don't think so. I think my answer reflected only an admission of my own

>* Do you know anything of the "fundamental unit of charge"
> (symbol e) and the "Avogadro constant" (symbol A)?


>* Are you able to articulate the Faraday constant F in
> terms of the universal constants e and A?


>* How will you come to the tacit knowledge on e and A
> in such a manner that you will never forget them again,
> unlike our students who will look them up in a text
> book and forget them a couple of hours later?

I won't. I have no interest in them.

...snip here At's explanation of how e and A relate to F.

>What we can we learn from this? Every byte of tacit knowledge which we do
>succeed in articulating, happens by way of an emergence -- a quantum jump
>in our internal self-organisation.

At's comment above illustrates the difficulty in communicating when
different definitions are used. From his perspective, we can succeed in
articulating tacit knowledge; from mine, we can't. I've stated my
definition of tacit knowledge

>Fred Nichols is right to insist that we can't articulate our tacit
>knowledge, but in a manner which he perhaps will not agree to. When we
>articulate our tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge, the tacit
>knowledge decreases faster than what the explicit knowledge increases.
>This is a direct consequence of the "measurement problem" of Quantum
>Mechanics. Thus, should we not take CARE of our tacit knowledge as in rote
>learning, our tacit knowledge will eventually become depleted. In other
>words, there will be no tacit knowledge left any more to be articulated.
>We can't make something out of nothing.

That sounds like a fixed quantity depletion problem, At, but I don't agree
that the solution is replenishment because I don't agree that the
depletion actually occurs. Even if I could articulate my tacit knowledge,
I still have it. If I could successfully describe how to ride a bicycle
in ways that would enable others to do so, I would not lose my ability to
ride the bicycle, that tacit know-how would still be present.

That said, I agree wholeheartedly and even fervently with your
encouragement below to continuously add to our stock of knowledge, both
individually and collectively. One of my favorite quotes is from fiction,
from Merlin to Arthur on the eve of the great battle. Merlin, responding
to Arthur's concerns that perhaps Camelot hadn't worthwhile, remarks that
"The only thing worth doing for the human race is adding to its store of
knowledge" and that Camelot was a worthwhile addition to our store of
knowledge. So I agree that learning through experiences and that subset
of them known as experiments is indeed a worthwhile effort.

>So, how do we take CARE of our tacit knowledge? As for myself, I know that
>it has to be replenished by emergences from my experiences. Thus I have to
>increase my experiences. And again, as a consequence of the "measurement
>problem", I have to increase them faster than the decrease in my tacit
>knowledge so as not to get bancrupt in experiences. How do I manage this?
>By responding more and more to the seven essentialities -- put becomings
>before beings, seeking sureness outside indentities, tracing associative
>patterns in wholeness, making effective connections between reactive
>centres, pushing the limits further to the frontier, focussing on the
>greatest variance in diversity and opening myself up to the world outside
>me. In short -- "painting rich pictures".

...snip here At's lengthy development of "deep relativity" in response to
Rick's comment about the need for another category which I think I followed
but can't be sure. Nevertheless, I will hazard a comment or two

Those relationships you expressed, At, culminating in F = (f x N) x (A /
N), seem to me to be the result of applying some knowledge of math and
other areas consistent with some rules for their application. In other
words, you worked up a new form that expresses some relationships not
previously known (at least not to me). I don't view that as expressing
tacit knowledge. I view it as the application of mathematical rules and
principles to known quantities in accepted operations. It is a form of
know-how. I see nothing tacit in there.

>Knowledge is a whole. Knowledge of the LO is not a whole, but part of a
>whole. Understanding concerns the whole of at least knowledge and not a
>mere part of knowledge. If a "LO" means that we all have to be content
>with struggling with a mere part of knowledge, then I am not pleased with
>the results of this "LO". By Ricks definition of a LO this "LO" does not
>qualify as a LO should I be a member of it. In other words, any
>organisation of which some members condone the fragmentation of knowledge
>cannot qualify as a LO. Furthermore, it will never emerge into a LO, even
>should its members claim a zillion times or more that it is a LO. Should I
>join in such claims an become part of this "LO"? Would you do it? Why?

To say that "knowledge is a whole" is a bit of a stretch for me in one way
and, in another, I'm in agreement. My knowledge, what I know, is indeed a
whole and to fragment it is to fragment me. So, in that sense, I agree
that knowledge is a whole. But I just used knowledge in the sense of a
state of knowing (and know-about or know-how makes no difference at this
point). However, knowledge is also used to refer to the accumulated
information (e.g., principles, concepts, theories, etc) of humankind.
There, categorization is indeed possible. True enough that this can lead
to compartmentalization and all the downside risks associated with
specialization but I don't think it negates completely the possibility of
such categories nor the upside value of doing so. What I think you are
getting at here is the folly that stems from specialization without
integration. On that score I agree.

>With care and best wishes

Same to you, At.


Fred Nickols The Distance Consulting Company "Assistance at A Distance" (609) 490-0095

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