The Form of Knowledge (2) (Tacit Dimension revisited) LO25982

From: Artur F. Silva (
Date: 01/24/01

Replying to LO25961

[At least in my mind, this is a continuation (some hours later) of my
previous mail on this thread]

>From At's digests and from my own re-reading of a small part of Tac Dim, I
am now convinced that that the assertion that Polanyi said that "no part
of tacit knowing can be made explicit" is wrong. Ok, At, you made your

I will repeat a small part of two quotations I send before to mention now
what is in the middle (part of it) :

> "...Meticulous detailing may obscure beyond recall a subject
> like history, literature or philosophy" (pag 19)

The same paragraph concludes with:

" Speaking more generally, the belief that, since particulars are
more tangible, their knowledge offers a true conception of things
is fundamentally mistaken".

(The next paragraph begins...)

"Of course, tacit reintegration of particulars is NOT the only
way to recover their meaning, destroyed by focusing our attention
on them. The destructive analysis of a comprehensive entity can be
counteracted by EXPLICITLY stating the relations between
particulars. Where such explicit integration is feasible it goes
far beyond the range of tacit integration. Take the case of a
machine (...)"

(then the next paragraph states:)

"But my examples show clearly that, in general, an explicit
integration CANNOT replace its tacit counterpart..."

(3 examples suppressed, and the next paragraph I have included in the
previous mail)

> "We are approaching here a crucial question. The declared aim of
> modern science is to establish a strictly detached, objective
> knowledge..."

Ok, from the quotations of my previous mail and this one, I think that
we can conclude that Polanyi intended to say that:

- All knowing, either practical (know how) or theoretical (know what)
has included in itself a lot of tacit knowing that we normally are not
aware of (and can not tell).

- In some cases this tacit knowing can be made explicit, and
in some others it cannot.

- When it can be made explicit, in same cases the meaning is
destroyed (imergence); in some others a new and superior meaning
can be created (emergence). But in both cases the explicit version
is not equivalent to (and cannot replace) the tacit one.

So, it seams that me and Fred Nickols were right in a part of it and At
was right in part of it... Would the others agree with the previous
interpretation? (I know that some people think that, as Polanyi is not
between us, it doesn't matter what he said. I think it matters. If it is
true that we can create new knowledge because we are standing at the
shoulders of giants, it is important for me to know in what shoulders I am

In fact, from my experience, I would agree myself, with the assertions I
made before relating to Polanyi - and I think that they have important
consequences for learning and education. Some consequences:

1) It is important to recognise that there is a tacit dimension in all
knowledge, including scientific knowledge. This allows us to understand
why it is so difficult to make a paradigm shift, to change old "mental
models" (or "mental habitudes" - as we learn them mainly through practice
and we may become addicted to them...), the main reason being that they
are tacit, have been learnt in tacit mode, and even if we can make them
explicit, the old tacit habitudes will persist, until they are eventually
destroyed through new practices that will create a new tacit understanding
(and not only through new "theory").

2) In what concerns "know how" it is clear that it can be learnt through
seeing and repeating/imitating others, though, through practice and
directly in a tacit mode (more about that when I will come to the
"Reflective Practitioner" in a different post).

3) In some cases we may make explicit our tacit knowledge and this may
accelerate the learning of others. But even in this case, what is
transmitted is not Knowing or even Knowledge - the learner must act, have
a practice of, so that he can create is own tacit knowing, that does not
come only through theory.

That is, by the way, the reason that real knowledge begins AFTER the
students leave the school and begin "practising". That is also the reason
why "life long learning" is exactly THE CONTRARY of prolonging students
life in schools (by Masters, PhD's etc, that immediately follow BAs, with
no "practice" in between). That is also the reason why adults coming back
to school is NOT the solution to "life learning" - life learning must be
done through "reflective practice" and out of school. The mission of the
school (as the mission of any parent) is to make himself "not needed any
more", promoting INDEPENDANCE and capacity to learn how to learn (and how
to share).

In this line, I like more and more At's comment that what is external is
always "information" and not knowledge. This is very in line with Piaget
assertion that all learning implies "action", with Polanyi's idea of the
need to create "personal knowledge". In these conditions, it is clear that
in learning, content is not so important as context and interrelationships
(or connectivity).

4. But for me the most important point of the previous assertions is that
they allow us to understand that what is taught or said when it is in
contradiction with the "tacit values and practices" of the
teacher/parent/boss, what is learned is the implicit tacit meaning. (An
example: a parent that says "we shall not lie" but lies everytime will
"teach" their children to lie and cover the lies. This must be related
with Bateston concept of "double binding", with the prevalence of Argyris
and Schon Model 1, and also with the fact that parents and Churches are
unable to teach moral values when themselves don't practice them.

5. Finally, if changing tacit knowing (old models, values and habitudes)
is so difficult, one must question if "training" (in any disciplines or in
anything really) has any real value to create the free energy that will
allow for old tacit knowing to be "unlearnt" and so replaced by a new
tacit knowing? In other words how can we facilitate personal, individual
or social "metanoias"?




"Artur F. Silva" <>

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