Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension LO25871

From: maggie griffin (mgriffin@unm.edu)
Date: 01/12/01

Replying to LO25846 --

Greetings--I wanted to respond to At's statement that "tacit knowledge" is
of a higher order than "formal knowledge." (a portion of his post precedes
my response)

> 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.

One major thesis that emerges from Personal Knowledge is that our
methodology (the vehicle of formal knowledge) is "only a criterion of
stability."(Polyani) Taking in the uncountable bits of information we
receive moment-to-moment would render us crazy. (As perhaps At alludes to
in the thread cited above)

Only through selective inattention can we cope with the information that
bombards us. So what gets processed and what gets left out? Well, to a
large extent, the reigning methodology is the tool that separates these
bits of information. The reality system of each one of us is generated by
participation in the world in which we are immersed, and so many of the
big ideas that we accept as reality in this world have been scripted long
before we were born into it. I think Polyani makes mention that there is
a contradiction in phrases like "objective knowledge" because the knower
is always implicated in the known, so to a large extent, the methods that
we use as tools of discovery lead us to what we discover.

I think that Polyani would argue that the tacit does play a role in the
creation of methodologies. In some way, tacit knowledge may be one of the
inextricable building material of constructed reality along with a
particular comportment toward the world. So, I think tacit knowledge, at
least as a partial definition, might be a coexistent of formal knowledge,
but I also believe that tacit knowledge does play a larger role and does
have a higher order. Even as I type these words, I can't help but notice
how the language belies a preconceived methodology-"higher order" is the
language of a hierarchical system.

I think at the heart of tacit knowledge is our inability to "see" or
articulate or conceptualize what underlies the system or systems at work
in defining what we know. Our systems themselves point to tacit knowledge
as underpinnings of the systems themselves, but tacit knowledge is
experiential, rather than conceptual, so the systems and the methods are
only partial reflections of the tacit realm.
Western science tells us that we must distance ourselves from the world if
we are to know it. We must stand apart objectively and observe, making
sure that our untrustworthy, subjective impressions do not taint the data
or "reality." We create lexical systems, complex symbolic language, and
logical categories that describe what the world is, and we teach those
systems to others, and eventually we inhabit a world that we have created
through an agreed upon methodology. Whereas, tacit knowledge carries with
it the notion of the experiential, the visceral. And the experiential
does not always match up to the methodological system in place. While
tacit knowledge might be seen as a scaffolding for formal knowledge, a
visceral experience can jar us and cast doubts on the reigning
methodologies. In this way, yes, the tacit is the "higher" order. Tacit
knowledge can stun the "criterion of stability." Getting beneath what we
think is there and experiencing something new and unfamiliar is scary,
exhilarating business.


maggie griffin <mgriffin@unm.edu>

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