Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension LO25723

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Date: 11/29/00

Replying to LO25698 --

Dear Organlearners,

Artur Silva <artsilva@mail.eunet.pt> writes:

>Some people, respecting Polanyi, defined "tacit knowledge"
>as the knowledge that CAN NOT be made explicit. Others
>decided that they preferred to think about "tacit knowledge"
>as knowledge that had NOT YET emerged to the explicate
>level. An alternative has been proposed, reserving the expression
>tacit to what Polanyi (who "coined" the idea) intended to say,
>but recognizing that in certain skills (but not in all of them)
>there is "implicit knowledge" that can be formalized and
>made explicit - but that this has nothing to do with Polanyi
>concepts, so the use of a word different from "tacit" (like
>"implicit") should be used.

Greetings Artur,

How is it possible that Polanyi can define "tacit knowledge" as knowledge
which CANNOT be made explicity, yet write a book on his idea of "tacit
knowledge"? One possibility is that his book is an explication on
something else than "tacit knowledge". Another possibility is that the
articulation of "tacit knowledge" into "formal knowledge" is something
complex and which does not happen automatically. A last possibility, among
many others, is that demanding to articulate exactly what has been
articulating before leaves no time to articulate what has not yet been
articulated or not aritculated satisfactoraly.

>So, from "Tacit Dimension", the ideas of Polanyi seem
>very clear: Polanyi departs from the evidence that there
>are thinks that one knows but can't speak, and refers to
>it as "tacit knowing" to include both formal knowledge and
>practical skills.
>And gives arguments to conclude:
>- that the efforts to explicit the tacit knowing are impossible
>and dangerous.

It is for me fine trying to understand what exactly Polanyi articulated.
But should I be prevented to use his understanding to improve on my own
understanding because my own understanding happen to differ from his, then
it is not fine with me. We all need to learn, individually and
collectively. Collective learning does not imply that some has the "first
born right" (right to emergent learning) and others does not have it
because they were born later. To patent concepts already conceived is the
most destructive thing we can do to any learner.

We ought to be very careful when using the word impossible.

For example, every non-spontaneous act it is impossible for a system which
has to perform that act "self". Yet many of these impossible acts become
possible and some will even happen when the "self" is replaced by another
system in the environment. In this case the other system have to do more
than a minimum work on the system so as to ovrecome the system's deficit
in free energy. Here is an example. It is impossible for the geo-system of
nature to construct a concrete highway. The geo-system does not have the
free energy to do so. But humans may do work on the geo system, using its
sources of fossil fuel and minerals, reorganising them into metallic
machines, cut-offs, crusher aggregate and cement so as to construct a
concrete highway. The impossible has become possible.

Yes, making impossible non-spontaneous acts-process-becomings possible is
indeed dangerous. The system in the surroundings which has to perform work
on the non-sponatneous system, has to convert self "free energy" into
work. Such a conversion invariable cuases "entropy production" in the
surroundings. When the system self eventually gets deluged by such
"entropy production", its losses by way of destructive immergences are
more than its gains by forcing it with work done on it.

Gobal warming is one of the outcomes on the physical world of making the
impossible possible. Some people are worried about "physical global
warming". I am too. But I seem to be the only one worried about the
complementary "mental global warming" because of forcing people to make
impossible mental changes possible. The more it increases, the more
unpredictable human behaviour becomes and thus the more humans have to
submit themselves to destrutive immergences in the spiritual world.

>- that the pseudo objectivity of science is a dangerous
>demarche that shall be contradicted by an understanding
>of tacit knowing

Thinking of organisational changes in a system SY without bearing in mind
organisational changes in all its surroundings systems SU become a sheer
contradiction when anything else than a stable equilibrium -- rigid
organisation -- is contemplated. It applies to even science in particular
and knowledge in general. To insist that "tacit knowledge" cannot be
articulated is to isolate "tacit knowledge" from all other levels of
knowledge, to view it as as system SY for which the surroundings SU,
including formal knowledge, have no role to play. Forcing any living
system into a stable equilibrium will surely kill it.

>- that practicing and indwelling is the way to interiorize
>knowledge, habitudes, moral teachings and scientific
>theories, that when fully "learnt" become profoundly
>interiorized and then tacit.

As for myself, I make a careful distinction between the emergence of a
system and its subsequent "back action" on the systems from which it has
emerged. Although "formal knowledge" emerges from "tacit knowledge", the
subsequent "back action" of "formal knoweldge" on "tacit knowledge" has a
profound effect. But this effect cannot be over estimated so as to speak
of an inlusion of "formal knowledge" into "tacit knowledge".

>He thinks that when one explicates tacit knowledge,
>or decomposes an aggregate in its parts and particulars,
>one doesn't attain more knowledge; on the contrary, one
>looses the knowing one previously had. He criticizes the
>idea of modern science, namely in Academia, to think that
>everything must be made explicit, as being self-defeating
>and dangerous.

Whatever "tacit knowledge" becomes articulated, cannot be "tacit
knowledge" any more. Nothing in the universe can change irreversibly and
yet remain the same. All emergences are irreversible changes. The
articulation of any "tacit knowledge" is an emergence so that it cannot
also stay "tacit knowledge".

What is indeed very dangerous, is to think that "formal knowledge" can be
created out of nothing by fragmenting "tacit knowledge" and "formal
knowledge". Using "tacit knowledge" up so as to create "formal knowledge"
without renewing the "tacit knowledge" itself, will eventually cause a
state of no "tacit knowledge". This is self-defeating, the result of
denying wholeness so as to fragment freely.

>I hope that I have proved that when dealing with concepts
>that others have created is always needed to go back to
>the sources, instead of trying to "assimilate" (and in some
>cases destroy) those ideas within the scope of a predefined
>and valued theory.

We have profoundly important problem here. What to preserve and what to
change? To preserve all concepts as they have originally emerged, will
bring an end to the evolution of knowledge. We will then all have to
become digestive learners. To change all concepts beyond recognition of
their original emergence, will also bring an end to the evolution of
knowledge. We will then all have to become emergent learners. If we cannot
dance between digestive and emergent learning, we will lose our capacity
to learn irreversibly. We will immergence into something less than human.

To change either nothing or to change everything are equally dangerous. We
ought to learn what must change (by way of LEP -- Law of Entropy
Production) and what else have to remain the same (by way of LEC -- Law of
Energy Conservation). In other words, we ough to learn the dance of LEP on
LEC rather than trying to dance on either LEP (produce) or LEC (conserve),
learning nothing.

>Being this one a list on learning, I believe that a fully
>understanding of the "tacit dimension" is important;
>from that understanding one can agree, or disagree,
>as I said; without that understanding opinions or
>preferences have little value.

I agree with you. I want to say it even stronger. Anybody who wants to
assist somebody else with learning and knows nothing of "tacit knowledge"
will fail to do so.

>All comments are welcome

Thank you for bring "tacit knowledge" once again to our LO-dialogue.

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@gold.up.ac.za> 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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