Organizational Learning & Knowledge Management LO23975

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 02/14/00

Replying to LO23953 --

Dear Organlearners,

John Zavacki <> writes:

>I don't see the mechanism. The tacit knowledge still exists as
>tacit knowledge. The formal representation of it as a parsed
>sentence, a flowchart, equation, or even a novel, doesn't mean
>that the tacit knowledge has been changed.

Greetings John,

If you do not see the mechanism, is it not the case that all explicit,
formal knowledge is nothing but part of tacit knowledge. What then do you
make of "A person knows more than what that person can tell."? For me a
denial of any mechanism by which tacit some knowledge gets articulated,
entails in the long run that knowledge does not have any process or
structure in it so that any categorisation or attributation of it is a
waste of time. It is especially Prigogine and Capra who stress that there
are inner relationships between process and structure of all systems which
make gives them chararteristic patterns externally.

Here is another example of how the transformation of some things by way of
emergences into more complex things influence their availability. Think of
all the essential elements, vitamins and amino acids we have to get in our
dialy diet. They certainly do not remain available even after they have
been used in producing living material of our body.

Perhaps the simplest example is when atoms combine to form a molecule. For
example, think of two hydrogen atoms (2 H) and one oxygen atom (O) which
combine to form a water molecule H2O. Are the two hydrogen atoms in water
still hydrogen atoms and the oxygen atom still an oxygen atom? Let say
that that they remain the same. It means that the oxygen atom in water has
to have the same properties/atributes as an oxygen atom in an oxygen
molecule O2 in order to qualify as oxygen. In that case, since our body
needs oxygen, why do people drown tragically when water fill their lungs?

What we learn in the case of atoms/molecule is that the hydrogen atoms and
oxygen atom get transformed in their chemical identity, but not in their
physical identity. Whereas hydrogen in the free state is a strong reducer,
it bcomes weak acid and oxidiser in water. Similarly, whereas oxygen in
the free state is the second most powerful oxidiser, it becomes a weak
reducer and base in the water moclecule.

The hydrogen and oxygen atoms do not become completely transformed when
forming the water molecule. Some inner part of each remains intact which
GN Lewis refered to as the "kernel" of each. The "kernel" cannot become
transformed by any chemical means. In this case there is powerful evidence
for a statement close Fred Nikols firm standpoint "tacit knowledge cannot
be articulated". It is the statement "SOME tacit knowledge cannot be
articulated without a pardigm shift".

By the way, one of the greatest conceptual problems to learners in
chemistry (and this not merely my opinion -- see the many papers in
Journal of Chemical Education of the American Chemical Society) is to
grasp that once any atom, free or bound, becomes the focal point (reaction
centre) in any chemical reaction, its properties change as a result of
that very reaction.

In my opinion it is a cenceptual problem because learners, as a result of
rote learning, have never contemplated the existence of the tacit/implicit
and formal/explicit levels of knowledge. In most cases I succeed in
helping them to overcome this difficulty by pointing out that what they
experience is in not a difficulty in chemistry, but a difficulty in
cognition (knowledge creation) itself. The cases in which I do not succeed
in my help involve learners who believe that they have to learn only
chemistry in chemistry -- if they have any learning diffculties (which
they are "sure" they do not have), they will consult a

>I snipped the money examples, which to me are not a fair
>or even uselful representation of the problem.

You are right -- the money examples do complexify the problem. That is why
I have included them. Do we have a simple or complex problem when we
consider the "advance depletion" of lower ordered constituents? Or do we
have no problem at all by denying that such a thing is possible.

>> 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.

>I'm afraid I'm having a problem with entropic notions in this
>context. The change of states, addition of states in a mental
>model don't appear to have an entropic ordering. If I learn
>new ways to express (that is, teach) a bit of knowledge, it
>does not deplete the knowledge. It may decrease storage
>capacity in my little gray cells, is that the point?

The only word I used above which you can link to "entropic notions" is the
word "reversible". I can certainly reformulate the paragraph without using
that word. But this will be like leaving a trail with a red herring.

The central issue is -- should there be any relationship between "we know
more than what we can tell" and any formal representation of what we know,
what is the nature of this relationship?

I have suggested that it is an emergence and given examples. You claim
that they are not useful analogies like in:

>As for rivers and grandfathers, I've experienced only the
>former. I don't find the analogy useful.

Perhaps another possible relationship is that whatever happens to "we know
more than what we can tell" in our formal representations of what we know,
it will be a mystery forever. It is a relationship which was prevailent
two millenia ago in human thinking.

What about suggesting a third possible relationship? O, yes, you have
suggested one with "It may decrease storage capacity in my little gray
cells, is that the point?"

Yes, it is a point -- the capacity of our neurological system to sustain
our thoughts. Perhaps our dialogue will have to wade through this facet
too? How about taking the lead?
>I do, however, believe that you can't step in the same
>stream once and that it is this systems dynamic which
>needs be understand in more than two axes.

Should it not be "twice" rather than "once"?

Why does this particular "systems dynamic" not apply to tacit knowlegde
itself? When expressing tacit knowledge it is certainly for me "stepping
in the same stream twice, but not the same water".

>With whimsical and good spirited teaching, the joke
>becomes the intellectual paradigm which creates the
>new theory.....

I cannot understand this one. Please explain it to me.

>Gemba Kaizenski

I do not understand this too. Please explain it also.

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

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