The Form of Knowledge LO25968

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 01/23/01

Replying to LO25961 --

Dear Organlearners,

Richard Karash <> writes:

>I and my organizational learning colleagues understand
>Polanyi a little bit differently.


>Then the symbolic notation will be:
> What we know how to do > what we can articulate ...or...
> Know how > can tell


>I suggest we express "know how" not in words but in action.

Greetings dear Rick,

Polanyi refered indeed to this "how" in The Tacit Dimension by using the
German words "wissen" (know what) and "koennen" (know how) to make the

The "koennen" corresponds to the Old English "cann" which became the
auxiliary verb 'can' in modern English. It still means the
ability/competancy/capacity to do what the verb tells. In other words,
when I say "I can tell", then I have the capacity to tell. How do I get
that capacity? By inheritance or serendipity? No, through sustained
learning! This involves personal work ("weor-can" OE) which becomes
necessarily possible when I have enough spiritual "free energy" to do so.
But what is necessary a necessary condition is not automatically also a
sufficiency condition. Wholeness, for example, is also needed with "free
energy" so as to increase the possibility of learning. Thus, after
learning has indeed happened, it means that wholeness (being one of the
sufficiency conditions) must be in this little word 'can'. Now is this not
a nice example of the tacit dimension of 'can'?

Are you not articulating it with the following as example?

>I find it helpful to think of tacit knowlege personally
>and time dependent. My present tacit knowledge is
>the "know how" I cannot articulate right now. With effort,
>I can understand how I do things and articulate explicit
>knowledge that a) helps me understand what I do, and
>b) may be useful to another person in acquiring "know how."

I think so!

>I agree with Polanyi:
>(his words) We know more than we can ever tell.
>(my words) We have more 'know how' than we can ever express.

And my experience is that when I begin to express my own 'know how',
others frequently tell me (in many subtile ways and even openly) that they
find it an overwhelming flood of words which they dislike. When I tell
them that it is not me trying to show off, but that it is the digestive
action of complexity (see < >)
that seems indeed to be telling too much what we know tacitly ;-) Their
frustration makes me happy because it exemplifies how serious I have to
consider digestor action.

>p.p.s. Polanyi's _Personal Knowledge_ is a great favorite
>of mine! At, I'm looking forward to your report from that one!

I hope that your "report" did not imply a Learning Condensate (LC). To
create a LC for each of "Personal Knowledge" and "The Tacit Dimension"
would be a time consuming task. But perhaps I should "report" the
following because I CAN.

Michael Polanyi was originally of profession a physical chemist. It
strikes me that his first meandering outside physical chemistry in
"Science, Faith and Society" (1946) was a daring and novel philosophical
enquiry. Thus I suspect that he got a lot of flack from professional
philosophers who degenerated into the habit of merely criticising existing
philosophical systems. What would be easier than to take pot shots at
someone who was not a full time philosopher -- the tyranny of the experts.

In "Personal Knowledge" (1957) Polanyi showed beyond any doubt that he was
a master of the traditional methods of philosophy. Thus this book is
voluminous because of bringing in the view points of many other
philosophers on various issues. I wonder whether he was frustrated because
of having had to establish his credentials as a philosopher. Yet I am sure
that he enjoyed it because he did it through doing (the "how") rather than
the endless tellings on the "what" of others.

But his personal evolution had taken such a dramatic turn that the outcome
in his "The Tacit Dimension" (1966) gives me once again much pleasure.
Here Polanyi allowed Polanyi to talk as clearly as possible on what
Polanyi knew. Gone is all which could be labeled as philosophical
pretentions. The vast knowing accumulated by nine years of research which
would need several volumes and dozens of papers to articulate was
condensed in this jewel of a book. He knew more than what he wanted to
tell in "The Tacit Dimension".

He kept up this stance (diction) even in his last work "Meaning" (1974).
But what surprised me immensely was his visionary stature in "Meaning". It
culminates in the last chapter on "The Free Society". Here he says that
"we appear, unlike all other animals, to need a purpose that bears on
eternity", eventhough in our physiology we are merely one of many kinds of
animals. The Free Society has to protect this "it is only by faith and
trust in the all-encompassing grace of God that we can project ourselves
in that supreme work of imagination -- the Kindom of God ....". Thus "We
must somehow learn to understand and so tolerate - not destroy - the free
society" in which we can pursue "all those things that bear upon
eternity." This is how this extraordinary book ends!

How much are our societies free? Does "we must somehow learn to understand
and so tolerate" not articulate sheer wisdom? Is it not a tenet like "to
learn is to create" which are requisite to every Learning Organisation?
Can a Learning Organisation persist or sustain itself if it has no bearing
upon eternity? Does love-agape not encompass all which bear upon eternity?

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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