Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension LO25846

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Date: 01/05/01

Replying to LO25823 --

Dear Organlearners,

Chris Klopper <syntagm@icon.co.za> writes:

>More recently Winfried wrote:
>>My company has noticed that I started to approach
>>strategical issues differently. I get the chance to
>>structure my work around entropy production. Although
>>I won't take that word in my mouth, the concepts help
>>me to design interventions and ways to communicate
>> - having a look at the rate of entropy production
>>(confusion and ordering, bifurcations and digestion) and
>>the essentialities and their interconnectedness (Onsager
>It is a very disturbing thing to see a large corporation,
>which provides employment for many thousands of people
>who in turn support even larger numbers of dependents,
>use all its energy just to maintain its present level of
>organisation. It means there is nothing (or very little free
>energy) left to put it on a course of ongoing strategic
>improvement. That in turn means that sooner - rather than
>later - it will relinquish it's vaunted and celebrated position
>of competitve advantage. Look at the FORTUNE 500 list at
>10 year intervals and witness the very poor survival record
>of all but a select few.
>It is even more disturbing to "take THOSE WORDS in your
>mouth" - as I have done with conviction and much enthusiasm,
>only to walk away feeling as if I charged a blank wall. The
>dents (and pain) are all in the wrong place. I can't help feeling
>that this has much to do with the current debate (mostly between
>Artur and At) concerning tacit knowledge.

Greetings Chris,

You and Winfried are not the first to experience such dents and pain when
"taking THOSE WORDS in the mouth" ;-) It happened several times to me on
this very LO-dialogue. It even began to happen to me more than twenty
years ago in education when I began focussing on authentic learning. I did
it in terms of two tenets: "To learn is to create" and "Creativity is a
result of entropy production".

I have the nagging notion that we in South Africa have to cope far more
with organisations having a lack in free energy than in other countries.
It is because we have to work in a much more destructive environment
(culture and nature) than in other countries. Some of the destruction is
our own making, but the rest is forced upon us because we are an
insignificant third world country. Because of the destruction, we tend to
protect rather than to produce. See in my reply to Winfried on Definitions
and Learning what meanings I have attached to "protection" and
"production". Anyway, I appreciate your keen sense on this issue.

But I suspect that soon some even first world countries will experience a
more destructive environment too. Thus our stress on "free energy" which
now appears to be insignificant in them, will also become imortant to
them. Hence many thinkers will experience the dents and pain by "taking
THOSE WORDS in the mouth".

I think that it is not actually "taking THOSE WORDS in the mouth" which
causes all the dents and pain. It is the shift from the paradigm of
simplicity to complexity. In simplicity thinking we can avoid concepts
such as energy, entropy and free energy by relegating them to a tacit back
ground. But in complexity thinking we have to recognise that every system,
material and mental, have an organisation which influences its future
changes. All changes requires "free energy" so as to change by way of
"entropy production". Up to now most first world organisations have lived
in the idyllic world of importing rather than producing self their sources
of free energy.

>I firmly believe (even now) that my audience were
>mentally capable of recognising the object 'free
>energy' I think they have what I would like to think
>of as deep tacit knowledge. Deep, because it remains
>beyond my reach. I may have lacked the necessary
>and sufficient conditions (all seven the essentialities?)
>to stimulate the deductive process.

Dear Chris, whether it concerns the articulation of "mute (tacit?)
knowledge", the production of a novel idea or even a paradigm shift like
that from simplicity to complexity, it all depends on bifurcations at the
edge of chaos. To reach the edge of chaos, much "free energy" is needed to
produce enough "entropy". This makes "entropy production" a necessary
condition. But to have a constructive emergence rather than a destructive
immergence, we also need sufficiency conditions. The seven essentialities
are one way to describe the sufficiency conditions.

Both the "entropy production" and the "seven essentialities" have to be at
a requiste level so as to procure a constructive emergence. You, Winfried,
a few others and I may be at the requiste level of complexity to "take
THOSE WORDS in the mouth". Thus we do not feel the danger of a pending
destructive immergence. However, the Law of Requisite Complexity is a two
edged sword. Those who have proceeded to the requiste level of complexity
will benefit by emergences from it. But those who have not yet reached it,
will suffer by immergences. The dents and pain which we experience ought
to be a continual reminder to us that we are dealing with a two edged

We can now either defect from "taking THOSE WORDS in the mouth" or guide
fellow learners with utmost patience and care how to learn these seemingly
"mute concepts" of "deep creativity". I myself had learn about the
material manifestation of "free energy" in chemical systems almost forty
years ago. But it took me another twenty years of mental preparation to
become ware of it for the first time in mental systems. (I have told
fellow learners of that delightful experience while lecturing students on
the role of free energy in chemical systems.) Since I needed twenty years
to proceed to the requisite level of complexity, I will be a fool not to
have patience with someone else needing also a couple of decades to become
aware of it.

The rate at which you, Winfried and a few others have mastered the
concepts involved, is astounding to me. It gives me much hope for the
future. But for that inevitable "but" which signify a pending bifurcation

Chris, with all respect, I think you are impatient with yourself. You want
to accelerate your "mental ripening" with respect to the neccesary and
sufficiency condistions for deeply creative thinking. But I wonder whether
this warning will ever have any effect. Many concepts in chemistry have
this peculiar property of a "lengthy ripening time". I have redesigned my
chemistry courses so as to introduce them as soon as possible. I have also
warned students to contemplate these peculiar concepts from the first day
upon encountering them. Yet the majority of them avoid these concepts
until the "days of reckoning" (examination) have come close. Too late they
discover that they are bashing their heads at a solid wall. Patience
itself is the result of emergences -- it is not just out there to pick
when necessary.

The Law of Requisite Complexity and evolution according to it is something
which cannot be taken lightly. Thus please have patience when I say some
things over and over again. Those for whom the ripening process has
already begun, it will often be frustrating because they lack the patience
for others who still have to make an effective connection. Only when the
ripening process has been completed successfully, with they also have
patience as an adjoint to it.

>Perhaps it is not At or Artur, but At AND Artur. Keep going at it please.

Yes, perhaps at the very heart of this dialogue on Polanyi's Tacit
Dimension of Knowledge is the two edged sword of the bifurcation at the
edge of chaos.

I may know something personally, but of I do not push my entropy
production to the edge of chaos and if I do not are sufficiently mature in
the seven essentialities, then I will not be able to articulate what I
know. Is this then "tacit knowledge"? Furthermore, whatever I will
articulate, would be such a monstrosity that it would be sheer serendipity
if someone else could make any useful sense out of it.

However, Artur made me thinking deeply over the festive period. He insists
that "tacit knowledge" is of a higher order than "formal knowledge". I
suggested to him that he may be confusing "formal knowledge" which inside
a person with "information" which can be formulated outside a person. This
is one possibility. However, there is also another possibility. That is
the wisdom not articulate certain knowledge which will be detrimental at a
too immature stage of development. That wisdom is tacit (but not tacit
knowledge) to those whom the knowledge cannot be articulated. This is
exactly what Winfried has written about.

A rather striking example is HIV-AIDS. When I was a kid, adults did not
articulate their knowledge to us on sex. Even the lessons in biology on
sexual reproduction in mammals were very uncomfortable to us. But HIV-AIDS
has become so epidemic in South Africa that we now have to articulate
sexual behavior to kids long before they even have sexual thoughts
themselves. What once has been considered as "mute (tacit?) knowledge" has
now to be articulated at the youngest possible age to prepare the child
against getting infected with HIV-AIDS.

I still feel very uncomfortable telling my grand daughter about sexual
behaviour. Part of it is my own experiences as a child. But the rest is
also my experiences as a teacher. To tell about something which requires a
requiste level of complexity to a person when that that person has not yet
reached the requisite level of complexity by way of personal experiences,
is a dangerous malpractice. It is talking which outruns the doing. Since
the knowing is in the doing and not the talking, it is reversing the order
of learning. I have observed far too many destructive immergences when
reversing this order of learning to feel comfortable in doing the talking
rather than talking the doing.

For me the permanent solution to HIV-AIDS is not to talk on sexual
behaviour, but to guide kids, young people and even adults into so many
creative behaviours that they will have little time for sexual behaviour.
This is my greatest worry for many South Africans in particular -- they
lack seriously in creativity. However, it is not their fault. It the
organisation of the South African societies in all walks of live which is
responsible. For example, in our recent elections the greatest catch
phrase was "vote for us because we will create jobs". What is it else than
admitting tacitly "you have to depend on our creativity to provide you
with a job". What a sad thought!

The trouble with many South Africans is that they make apartheid the scape
goat for whatever lack in creativity which they have. It is true that
apartheid has destroyed our sense of wholeness to a large extend. But lack
of wholeness is not the only constraint of creativity. Another constraint
is the lack of openness. Here the rest of the world with its policy of
boycotts and sanctions (forcing closures on South Africa) has to take
responsibility too. Yet another constraint is the lack in spareness.
During apartheid money was lend to the government by international
agencies at such high rates that paying it back now is our greatest
national expenditure. We are blead to death by the international money
lenders -- a sort of global taxation instigated at a time when we could
not care for ourselves.

Yes, our creativity as South Africans is taking a heavy toll. The worst is
that the rest of the world is expecting us to overcome it by ourselves
before they will again take in us a keen interest free from opportunism. I
believe that we will succeed, perhaps later than sooner. But when we have
suceeded on our own, other nations will have lacked in experience from
helping us. This lack will be detrimental to themselves when for some or
other reason they also move into a destructive climate as has happened
with us. This lack in Learning Organisations on the international level is
indeed very worrying to me.

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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