Organizational Learning & Knowledge Management LO23931

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 02/10/00

Replying to LO23909 --

Dear Organlearners,

Patrick Sue <> writes in reply to my:

>>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.
>I have to agree with Fred here. The knowledge doesn't get
>depleted because it moves from the "unarticulatable" to the
>"articulatable" (explicit or implicit by Fred's definition)
>category. One still has the knowledge.

Greetings Patrick,

I think there is some misunderstanding here.

I did not say that knowledge gets depleted when tacit knowledge gets
"ARTICULATED". I said that the TACIT knowlegde gets depleted. Its like
drawing money from a certain account to do something with it. That account
cannot have the same amount of money after the drawing.

(Sidetrack -- I have capitalised the "articulated" because to me it means
expressing the tacit knowledge in ANY FORM. It can be in a natural
language, mathematical expressions, experiementation, music, or even
cooking. It is again this incredible thing of "transforming content into
form". That is why I prefer to use "form"al knowledge for that which
emerge from tacit knowledge.)

But I said something else too. The tacit knowledge gets depleted FASTER
than the formal knowledge gets filled. It is exactly here where the money
analogy above SEEMS to fail. When we draw money from one account to
deposit it in another account, we would get very angry should the money in
the other account increase less than the decrease in money in the first
account. Theft! Theft? Does this analogy indeed fail?

Go to your bank and transfer money from one account into another account
(where the banking costs of such transactions are reflected) and back
again to the first account MINUS the costs of the two transactions. Repeat
this cycle many times and see what becomes of the money in the first
account. Its getting depleted. There is not such a thing as reversibility
when at least banks are involved.

When articulating tacit knowledge into formal knowledge AND THEN MAKING
SURE that the formal knowledge do indeed express the tacit knowledge,
there are also costs involved. It means that this process is NOT
reversible because SOMETHING gets used up. The LOSS of this SOMETHING is
manifested in the tacit knowledge getting depleted FASTER than the formal
knowledge getting filled.

What is this SOMETHING which is getting used up? I am burning to tell you
fellow learners, but since I have told you before, I will rather leave the
answer up to you to. Let us see if you can articulate that answer

I have used the "measurement problem" of quantum mechanics to substantiate
this "advanced depletion" when transforming content into form. It may seem
as if I wanted to intimidate you so as to accept this substantiation.
Although it is not the case, I was stupid to do it in this manner. Let me
try explaining it from a metaphoric angle.

It is now raining for more than a week in the north-eastern parts of South
Africa. The flood damages amount to billion of Rands, something which the
South African economy cannot afford because more than 30% of our
population are extremely poor. The far majority of those who suffer as a
result of the floods, are the poor. They own so little that perhaps a
million of the billion Rand of damages reflect their own losses. They lost
because they have built their shacks within the flood line of rivers so as
to be close to water. They cannot afford plumbing and our ecomomy cannot
afford to help each of them with water-works.

My late father grew up as a kid along a river. They were very poor. My
grandfather believed that poverty is no reason not to excell in using body
and mind. He expected from my father as a kid to do things which few of us
would expect from any grown-up to do. Yet he never expected from my father
to do things of which he not clearly and frequently had set example
himself. So my father learned early in life the wisdom of "never take the
being of water for granted, but be prepared for the becoming of droughts
or floods."

Here is the metaphoric example for the "advanced depletion" of tacit
knowledge. I think Leo will appreciate it because it brings a new angle to
his "let your thoughts meander to the sea of ideas".

Think of a landscape. Think of a meandering river. Think of the landscape
sloping gently towards the river. The part of the landscape not covered by
the river is the tacit knowledge. The river is the formal knowledge. The
height (upward) of the water level in the river indicates the amount of
formal knowledge. The distance (almost horizontally) from the river's edge
to the horizon indicates the amount of tacit knowledge. These two lengths
are not measured in the same direction (one upward, one sideways) since
the emergence from tacit to formal knowledge is asymmetrical like all
other emergences are asymmetrical. Figuratively speaking, they are at an
angle to each other.

Think of raining and raining and ..... The water level in the river rises
by, say 10 centimeter. Formal knowledge increases. The edge of the river
encroach on the land by a much greater distance, say 10 meter. Tacit
knowledge decreases much faster.

Hundreds of thousands of people in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique
have lost everything the past week. They just cannot relate things which
are becoming at an angle to each other.

My grandfather would have said to my father: "Use your head. When we need
water, the closer to the river, the better. But when we get more water
than needed, the further from the river, the better. Find the drift debris
of previous floods. Show them to me and beware if you miss one. Respect
the one furthest away from the river because it tells us what can become
of the river."

My grandfather became poor as a result of tha Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902).
He lost everything. He had to begin again with seeminly nothing. He died
when I was a kid. Still not rich. Even as a kid he made a big impression
on me. He spoke little. He once said to me when I cried in frustration
after having lost something: "You can lose everything else, but you cannot
afford to lose yourself. That is when you should cry."

It makes me think -- can we afford the "advanced depletion" of our tacit
knowledge when emerging to formal knowledge? Will we not lose ourselves?

>What I believe At is describing is something I despair in
>my own children, i.e. an reluctance to understand first
>principles (which is really about acquiring tacit knowledge),
>and a desire to be shown how to get the answer for the
>particular problem. In their context (spend as little time as
>possible to get a good grade, so that there's more time for
>fun), it makes a lot of sense to go for the answers. With
>our "wisdom", we can see what it leads to down the road,
>i.e. not a lot of tacit knowledge in their heads.

Patrick, is it your kids, my kids, most of our pupils and most of our
students who have this reluctance to understand and the desire to get as
quickly to the outcome, or is it our formal institutions of education
which forced them into this reluctance and desire?

Last Tuesday, when I had to fetch my granddaughter Jessica after school,
she was busy painting. The teacher said to me: ("oupa" is Afrkaans for
"grandfather") "Oupa, there she is painting. They had to paint in one
period of class. All the other kids finished their paintings in time --
Jessica too. But why she wants to continue with that painting after school
is a mystery to me."

I gave Jessica a kiss on the forehead and said it is time for us two to do
some other things. She gave me a Mona Lisa smile. Meanwhile the teacher
was yelling at two other kids.

>At, thanks for your commitment to this LO group. I don't
>read eveything that you or anyone else writes - I don't have
>enough hours in the day! But thanks for your contribution
>on this particular subject.

Thank you for your kind words.

I do not expect anyone to read all what I write.

Millions of people all over the world are losing everything from week to
week. They just cannot relate things which are becoming at angles to each
other. It is my task to get some people to think themselves about such
relationships too. Time is running out.

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.