The Form of Knowledge LO26013

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 01/29/01

Replying to LO25982 --

Dear Organlearners,

Artur Silva <> writes:

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

(The old topic: Polanyi - The Tacit Dimension)

>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 point...

Greetings dear Artur,

Your reply may be interpreted that it is contest between you and me in
which we gain points. It is not like that for me. In 1971 it became my
mission to help other people with their learning. Thus it also became my
quest to understand self the act (the "how") of learning. In 1972 I
changed from a promising carreer as research scientist into becoming a
high school teacher. I soon had to learn how to handle life from the
position of the teacher. Many people consider teachers as neither children
nor adults, neither learned nor ignorant and neither valuable nor
irrelevant. They were a bunch of workers of which people's awareness to
them gradually fade away -- making them like general MacArthur's soldiers.

I soon discovered by my own experiences how difficult it was for pupils to
tell what they know. (In those times I did not also had Polanyi's insight
that we can know more than we can tell.) Then from 1976 to 1979 I taught
science teachers deeper understandings about chemistry. This was almost
fatal to my own learning because as teachers they had some experience of
telling for the first time what they already knew for a long time. So when
I began to teach (not lecture -- I hate the word) chemistry for university
students, I expected in vain for them to behave like experienced teachers
because they were also entering adulthood.

What a surpise I had -- university students struggled even more than high
school pupils to tell something of what they know. Soon afterwards I read
Polanyi for the first time. He made me aware of the tacit knowledge in me
and each of my students. I realised that the difficulty for most people to
express some (defintely not all and I will explain later !) of his/her
tacit knowledge was a profound problem for which I sooner or later would
have to find a solution for. I became deeply aware that the problem
concerned the phenomenon of emergence. The problem was that some things
were constraining emergences. But what were these "some things"?

Only some five years later I discovered the seven essentialities. At first
I was not aware (except perhaps in the dimmest corner of the tacit
dimension of my knowledge -- subconscious?) that they are one of the two
keys to overcome a failing emergence. But like a bolt of lighting the
understanding came when I began to connect these newly discovered
essentialities to the difficulty of letting tacit knowledge emerge into
formal knowledge. Suddenly I could articulate for the first time my
increasing tacit knowing of the past fifteen years. Without me knowing
these seven essentialities it was impossible for me to tell what I knew
for fifteen years.

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

On the one hand, your conclusions here is vital to understand what Polanyi
actually said. But I have to warn once again that we should never confuse
correct logical conclusions with superb creative speculations. Phase 2 of
the scientific method makes use of creative speculations, not strict
logical deductions. If the latter was the case, then phase 3
(falsification by additional obervations) would have been unnecessary.

On the other hand, what would each of us tell in terms of our own personal
knowledge and its tacit dimension. I am sure that Polanyi would have
advocated this strongly.

>- - 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).

I am not so sure about this "tacit knowing that we normally are not aware
of". In fact, I have been midwife to many a learner's sudden understanding
(not awareness) of his/her own tacit dimension. After a lot of probing
with questions into the tacit dimension of that learner, I simply say that
I am going to say certain things which that learner will immediately
recognise as his/her own knowing, but which that learner self has never
told before. Afterwards, should the learner agree that I have faithfully
mirrored his/her knowing, I say to the learner that my telling and his/her
recognising of my telling as his/her own knowing is a far way from him/her
recognising self what he/she knows and telling self some of what he/she
knows. I then define by this very own recent experience of the learner
that his/her tacit knowledge is that knowledge which he/she never has
articulated before and of which I had told some to him/her. I warn the
learner explicitly that despite my telling of some of his/her untold
knowing, it will keep on staying tacit knowledge until he/she begins to
tell it self. Then I finally invite the learner to set on a course of
discovering his/her self, a course with hazards and also delightful

Sometimes the learner will stay away for a very long time, so much that I
become deeply depressed, suspecting that I have led the learner into an
abyss from which he/she will never come out again. But wihout any
exception these learners came back to me, sometimes even after a year or
more. The longer they stay away, the more radiant they are when they
become back to me. They tell me that never before did they enjoy life so
much by discovering firstly themselves and secondly their fellow humans as
a result of the personal experiences which they have gained. They are like
fountains flowing over with cool fresh water.

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

If you mean by "cases" the "aspects" of tacit knowing, I agree fully with

>- - 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.

Your articulation here makes me very excited. Firstly, your last
observation has profound importance. Here is an example. When some atoms
emerge chemically into a molecule, they are not "atoms inside the
molecule" any more. The elemental hydrogen atom H has certain chemical
properties of which the most important is that it is a strong reducer. The
elemental oxygen has also certain chemical properties of which the most
important is that it is a strong oxidiser. When they have emerged into the
water molecule H -- O -- H (H2O), we can forget about finding that water
have both strong reducing and oxidising properties. In fact, whatever has
now become of the H atom in the molecule, it now reacts as a strong acid.
Likewise, whatever has now become of the O atom in the molecule, it now
reacts as a strong base. Compare this with the facts that the elemental
atom H does not have the acid property and the elemental atom O does not
have the base property!

Believing that each of the "parts of a sum" retains its identity after
that "sum" has emerge into a whole, is a most constraining Mental Model. I
can give you beside the H2O above many other examples from the physical
and spiritual worlds.

Your first observation also has a profound importance (especially to the
establishing of a Learning Organisation). The person who tries to
articulate some aspect of his/her tacit knowing, may believe that whatever
becomes articulated is superior because of the very fact that it has been
articulated. In fact, the articulation may be way of the mark because of
using words with meanings not even closely to what is known tacitly. The
articulation may also invoke a logical structure (the way in which the
words are ordered) which is very different and sometimes even
contradictory to the tacit knowing. I can actually sketch a nightmare of
inferior rather than superior articulations by using the seven
essentialities. What I will do is to assume an impairing in each
essentiality and then trace its destructive conseqneces.

For a person to be able to articulate that his/her organisation is a
Learning Organisation (LO) is no guarantee at all that the organisation is
indeed a LO. The person, for example, may have failed in the essentiality
sureness ("becoming-being"). Say the person is has the Mental Model that
organisation is primarily about being (the picture) and that becoming (the
movie) is of secondary value. In this case the case the person will have
given a superior articulation of the theory of the LO with the five
disciplines. But the person will have told little, if anything, of that
organisation practising as a LO.

Nothing can be so deadly to an organisation when its members are told by
the executive team that they are a Learning Organisation because of this
and that theoretical considerations. When a person tell of a doing and
that doing is not actually backing up the telling, it makes that person's
fuel tank empty (it destroys that person's spiritual free energy).

>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 standing...)

I would self like very much to be informed what fellow learners know on
this possible and restricted articulation of tacit knowing. However,
whatever they tell, I will always consider as mere information and not as
their knowing which dwells within. Because the telling is information and
knowledge, I will have to deal with it as such. I have experience too much
how information complicates my life because it does not reflect the
knowing. Sometimes I fail to comprehend the knowing which it reflects and
the other times the preson who articulated it failed to reflect his tacit
knowing to a reasonable level. Thus I am in need of the learning dialogue
to make sure what meaning should be given to the information.

>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:

There is no doubt at all to my mind that recognising the "tacit dimension"
have indeed crucially important consequences.

>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).

I have introduced many topics with the theme "Learning and xyz...". The
one which I hesistate to write about, is "Learning and Information". I am
sure that Winfried Dressler would recognise that he also has tacit
knowledge on it and especially that I have never articulated my own
knowing on this issue. I hesistate because it has to do with rote
learning. I have carefully guided many fellow learners into authentic
learning and would not want to undo much of it by telling about "Learning
and Information" prematurely.

Before we can do that, we first must have a serious dialogue on
imagination. I am waiting for many moons now for another fellow learner to
to take the lead on imagination.

>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.

Practice is indeed one way fo creating tacit knowledge theough experience.
But Einstein taught us another powerful method to create tacit knowing and
that is by imagination (Gedanken-experiment). Here the learner taps into
all his/her past experiences so as to imagine a world beyond what the
information seems to tell.

>That is, by the way, the reason that real
>knowledge begins AFTER the students leave
>the school and begin "practising".

That is why Einstein exclaimed "Thank God that not all
the scools destroy the imagination of all the pupils."

>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 why I exclaim: "Thank God that some lecturers still
have sufficient imagination to fire once again the imagination
of some students."

>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.

Some German or Dutch educationalist (Winfried or Leo, please help here
because I cannot remember who it was) wrote that life itself is the only
true 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).

Amen -- especially on that sharing because this is responsible that we
cannot speak of "knowledges".

>In this line, I like more and more At's comment
>that what is external is always "information" and
>not knowledge.

Wow. I thought that I stuck my neck too far out by making it a claim
and not merely a comment. In the distance I foresee the AI, IT and KM
warriors preparing themselves for war ;-)

>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"?

This is indeed a very hot question for me too. As I understand it now, my
concept of a "creative collapse" is crucial to answering it. The "creative
collapse" is an extension of the "deconstruction" of Heidegger and Derrida
by incorporating the "dance of LEP on LEC" and the "seven essentialities
of creativity" in articulating this "deconstruction" into a higher level
of complexity -- which is not a nice thing to do. It is so much easier to
speak in terms of metaphors like you "must autocatalyse yourself so as to
rearrange your atoms for a new molecule", "you must become a pulpa so that
the butterfly can emerge", "you must sow yourself as seed so that you can
make carry fruits" or "you must be born again".

Metaphors and parables carry complexity tacitly within them. We need our
experiences and imagination to unfold this complexity. We need to be
creative learners. To learn is to create.

With care and best wishes.

PS I have just received the digest with your reply LO26004 to Winfried. In
it you wrote:

>Were I writing in Portuguese and I would probably
>wrote "podes levar a bicicleta" but At would not
>understand (and I would not be able to explain) why
>I would be offering him a bicycle... Idiomatic
>expressions have many nuances...

I love idiomatic expressions. I will make now an extraodinary claim. My
mother tongue Afrikaans (the youngest written language in the world) has
the highest percentage of idiomatic expressions of the couple of dozen
languages which I know of -- some good and some poor, but sufficient to
trace idiomatic expressions in them. For example, on water alone Afrikaans
has more than thirty idomatic expressions! This abundance of idiomatic
expressions is not serendipity, but because of the unique emergence of
Afrikaans in Africa. One day I will try to explain it again in terms of
its emergence which depended on the richness of two cultures (cariied by
many languages) from two continents.

When I was in Brazil and I saw the road sign "Quebrar de molla", I nearly
drove off the road with laughter after finally making sense of it.


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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