Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension LO25925

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Date: 01/18/01

Replying to LO25901 --

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to you all and especially Artur Silva and Fred Nichols.

I have now received also the other two books: "Science, Faith and Society"
and "The Tacit Dimension". Thank very much again Fred!

[Host's Note: For those who might want to read themselves the four books
that Fred Nichols has send to At... In assoc w/Amazon.com:

   by Michael Polanyi, Harry Prosch, Kevin Prosch (Contributor) 1977

Personal Knowledge Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy
   by Michael Polanyi 1974
   (This book is a personal favorite of mine!)

Science, Faith and Society
   by Michael Polanyi 1964
   (Back-ordered at Amazon)

Tacit Dimension
   by Michael Polanyi 1983


Fred wrote long ago that Michael Polanyi (MP) defined that tacit knowledge
CANNOT be told.

This present topic "Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension" was introduced by Artur
in LO25698. He wrote recently in LO25875:

>Here we go again: tacit knowing is the one that
>CAN NOT be articulated (by no one)...

I could not find in "Personal Knowledge" as well as in "Meaning" that MP
defined "tacit knowing" or "tacit knowledge" as that which CANNOT be told
or articulated or expressed or explicated. So I had to wait for "The Tacit
Dimension" (TacDim) itself.

First of all, let us look at what Artur wrote:

>First, I have used (as Polanyi) "tacit knowing" and
>not "tacit knowledge". Now you understand why...

MP does make in TacDim a distinction between "knowing" and "knowledge".
He writes (p7):
. I shall always speak of "knowing", therefore, to
. cover both practical and theoretical knowledge.
When MP uses "knowing", he definitely means theory (which requires
explicating) AND practice (which requires doing). It does not mean he
shall never speak of knowledge because he already do so (before p7) on p4.
He still does so for the first time on p8 (only one page later). Then one
page further (p9) he uses for the first time both "tacit knowing" and
"tacit knowledge" on the same page.

It ought to be clear that we should comprehend very carefully every
sentence in which MP uses "knowing" or "knowledge". Common use of English
would give to "knowing" the meaning of "practicing the knowledge", but MP
means both "theoretical and practical knowledge".

I can already see a controvery looming. When MP writes "tacit knowing" he
means "theoretical and practical tacit knowledge". Is any theory possible
in which no natural language (needed to tell) is used? MP reckons it is
not possible and I also do. Since every theory uses some natural langauge,
then how can "theoretical and practical tacit knowledge" which is
shortened into "tacit knowing" never be told by anyone? The theoretical
part of "tacit knowing" means that some natural language is used to tell
that theory. How can language be used to tell the theory of knowledge and
not to tell the theory of tacit knowledge? It seems to be a logical
contradiction and thus invites a controversy.

But for me there is no contradiction because we also have to consider the
practice (doing) of tacit knowledge. It is here where language fails to
tell all. In all his books MP gives many examples, all of them pointing to
the practice of tacit knowledge. It is something which I myself began to
address in the topic "To become or not to become". Impaired liveness
because of too much being and too little becoming. It is something which
Leo Minnigh began to take up in the topic "Dialogue, language and
learning". A too rigidly formalisation of our natural languages so that we
become increasinly unable to reflect the becoming (movie) of our lives. It
is something which the peoples from the desert easily overcome because no
linguist enforcing a rigid structure of grammer ever comes there to make
their speaking difficult for them.

However, we still have the claimed definition that "tacit knowledge"
CANNOT be told. Is this the definition for "tacit knowledge"?
Unfortunately, as in the other two books, nowhere in TacDim does MP define
either "tacit knowing" (although he does denotate the "knowing") or "tacit
knowledge". This seems to be curious. Even more curious is that MP does
not define anything else, although he discusses definitions as such in a
learned manner. Unfortunately for us, he does not tell why he avoid using
definitions. In the topic "Definitions and Learning" I have tried to
explain at great length why I personally avoid definitions. But my
explanation cannot be fitted to MP, although I can offer as motivation
many of the ways which MP uses to explain things that he might have
thought tacitly from the same viewpoint as I. We will just have to accept
the fact that for some curious reason he avoid using defintions and thus
did not define tacit knowledge explicitely.

To explain (rather than define) "tacit knowing", MP begins on p4 with:
. I shall reconsider human knowledge by starting
. from the fact that WE CAN KNOW MORE
. THAN WE CAN TELL. This fact seems obvious
. enough; but it is not easy to say exactly what
. it means.
He then proceeds from p4 up to p20 to paint a rich picture by many
examples, gradually artioculating the structure of "tacit knowing"! This
seems to stop at p20 when he begins to write:
. I think I can show that the process of formalizing all
. knowledge to the exclusion of any tacit knowledge is
. self-defeating.

I think that in this brave sentence lies the clue for the controvercy.
What does MP means by "formalizing all knowledge to the exclusion of any
tacit knowledge". There are three words used here with crucially important
logical meanings. They are "all", "exclusion" and "any". See how the
meaning of this phrase change by changing the "any" to "all" and leaving
the rest the same: "formalizing all knowledge to the exclusion of all
tacit knowledge". So exactly what did MP mean by using "any" rather than

The common meaning in English of the predicate "all" is
. "not even one person/thing/part can be excluded".
But the common meaning in English of the predicate "any" is
. "one indefinite and indifferent person/thing/part can be
. included".
Did MP mean that not even one part of "tacit knowledge" can be formalised or
did he mean that at least one part of "tacit knowledge" cannot be formalised?

Such is a language that one tiny word, in this case the word "any" can
cause a great controvercy -- the butterfly effect (or grain of sand effect) of
complexity thinking. How will we resolve such a controvercy? MP did it for
himself by formulating his introduction to tacit knowledge by saying "we
can know more than we can tell". He carefully avoids all predicate logic and
thus quantifiers like "all", "some", "any" and "none" so that no confusion can
arise from this angle. He then paints a picture to explain this "more than".
This picture differs sharply from tradition "we can know what we can tell".
Or in symbolic notation MP says
. [we can know] > [we can tell]
whereas tradition says
. [we can know] = [we can tell]

I myself had to wade through many such controvercies in literature. In
each controversy I always felt the immense need within me to get more
order in my own knowing despite the lack of order in the information
reflecting the knowings of those in conflict. So gradually I began to
learn how to get more order in my own knowing. That was to go more complex
in my own thinking than the complexity reflected by all the infomation I
could lay my hands on. I now call it "painting rich picture".

If we want to resolve what MP meant with using this "any", then we have at
least try to do it from the viewpoint of MP. Since MP is not with us any
more, we have to use the information which MP left us. For example, we can
scrutinize every example he has given, looking whether he meant either
"not even one part of tacit knowing can be formalised" or "some, but not
all, parts of tacit knowing can be formalised". Let us not forget that
"all", "some", "any" and "none" does have a logic. The logic is
. all of a, b, c, ... = a AND b AND c AND .....
. some of a, b, c, ... = a OR b OR c OR .....
. any of a, b, c, ... = NOT (a OR b OR c OR .....)
. none of a, b, c, ... = NOT (a AND b AND c AND ..... )
We may try to work with "=", AND, OR and NOT of prdicate logic, but MP
began his explanation of tacit knowledge with
. [we can know] > [we can tell]
in which there is no equality "=" and no NOT, but only the MORE THAN. It is
in this sense that we have to find the meaning of the "any" because this is
how MP means it.

However, MP stressed already from the days of Personal Knowledge that
knowledge is also within a person through indwelling and interiorizing. (I
myself put it much stronger by saying that no knowledge exists outside
persons -- what exists outside them is inferior information, not superior
knowledge. Even the outer information which a person has produced is not
equal to the formal knowledge within that person, but is much inferior to
it.) Thus according to MP we should not merely try to figure out what he
thought, but each of us must especially figure out what we each as a
person in own right thinks. In other words, we each must figure out what
is our Personal Knowledge on this issue. Perhaps may then try to tell each
other how each of us understand it -- with all the inherent problems in
doing so as MP often stress.

I have done exactly that for a couple of years. I will summarise it.
Knowledge is part of my spirituality. My knowledge has four levels --
experential, tacit (mute ;-), formal and sapient. Immediately below my
knowledge is my creativity and immediately above it is my faith which I
would rather call my fidelity. Their is a continual upwards flow of
transformations as a result of Entropy production from my creativity
through my knowledge to my fidility and even my peity above that. The same
kind of flow happens within my knowledge itself through its four levels.

The transformation from any level to its next level is a constructive
emergence. (It is like using the stairs to walk up in a building from
level to level). It happens through a bifurcation at the edge of chaos.
This means that some of my attempts to transform into the next higher
level fail and thus become what I call a destructive immergence. The
reason why any such transformation from one to another fail I now
understand as two fold. Either as the necessary condition I do not produce
enough entropy at that level or as the sufficiency conditions at least one
of seven requisite patterns (such as wholeness and openness) is too

Most important for this topic of ours is my observation with respect to
myself that not one of the many levels in my spirituality may ever become
empty. Its like trying to build a many storey building with one of its
levels completely abscent -- just a hole where it should be. Obviously, in
the case of a physical building taking out one level by using dynamite
will cause all the higher levels to implode downwards. Their momentous
impact on all the levels lower than the one where the dynamite was used,
will cause all the lower ones to collapse by explosion. It is the same
with my spirituality. Should I allow anyone to blast away all of my tacit
knowledge, my formal and sapient knwoledge as well as my fidility and
peity would implode. Furthermore my expernetail knowledge and creativity
would explode. The result of it all will be deadly to my spirituality.

I am also not hooked on calling each level of my spirituality with one and
only one name. The case at hand can serve as illustration. If someone uses
"intuition" rather than "tacit knowledge" in a dialogue, I would rather
use "intuition" as soon as I percieve sufficient correspondences between
this person's "intuition" and my "tacit knowledge". The same would apply
to "implicit knowledge" and "inarticulate knowledge". Yet I do not
consider these four things exactly the same thing. I rather think of them
in the biological sense as four specimens of the same species. Should
another person then speak of "intuition and expression" like many artist
do, I would as soon as possible try find the correspondence with "tacit
and formal knowledge". If there is not such a correspondence, then I know
that this person thinks so much differently form me that I have to seek an
"umlomo" (mouthpiece). With this I now have to end as follows.

I am not arrogant as to claim that it has to be the same for any of you
fellow learners. But I am brave enough to say how it is for me as well as
to resist any attempts trying to force me saying something which I do not
understand or which does not reflect my understanding. To do so would be
very much like allowing someone to bring dynamite into my spirituality.
Sooner or later it may get activated and thus cause me immensely spiritual
harm. I am also open enough to allow others with good intent in guiding me
to improve on my own spirituality -- perhaps swopping the contents of two
levels or adding a new level.

How it is for each of you fellow learers (Fred and Artur included) is for
each of you to make out personally. But how is it for MP? Upon reading his
books again I am deeply impressed how he defend the right of each person
to find out self. I am also aware that I now read him differently than
some twenty years ago because since then I have not stand still in my own
personal knowledge.

I will not try arguing how it is with MP in every issue, except for one
note at the bottom. I will now rather focus my spiritual free energy in
creating that promised Learning Condensate of "The Tacit Dimension" should
I live long enough by the grace of God. I want to begin with it, but have
not yet received any suggestions from you fellow learners. I would
appreciate them very much. Nevertheless, I have learned by the experiences
of my desert journeys to go alone into the unknown without any requestion
suggestions from anyone else. Afterwards, telling about my adventures --
some very hair raising -- I often get advice from hearers who never even
had been to any desert what I should have done. I do not mind because it
means that they have learned from my adventures too. But I have learned
much more from these adventures self. Why?

Many times I have written
. To learn is to create.
. Knowing is in the doing.
Or as Michael Polanyi says on p17:
. "... true knowledge lies in our ability to use it."
I think MP and I agree on at least this crucial issue.

Thank you once again Fred and Artur for your inputs.

Please, I ask again, give me your inputs on Learning Condensates.

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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