A Polanyi Problem. LO26936

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Date: 07/04/01

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to all of you.

Polanyi defined tacit knowing as: "We can know more than we can tell".
With this he meant that we can acquire some knowledge which nobody told
us. Should we have been told such knowledge we would be able to tell it

It often happens that I know something which I can tell in my mother
tongue, but not in English. As step (1) I will use an Afrikaans-English
translation dictionary to find the possible English words. As step (2) I
will use an English explanation dictionary like the Oxford to select among
the possible English words the one which say closest what I know. As step
(3), should I still not be satisfied, I will use a Thesaurus to find all
the synonyms to the English possibilities. I will then look up in the
explanation dictionary which one of these synonyms will tell what I know.

Sometimes the reverse happens when I have to find the Afrikaans word for
what I know and can tell with an English word. If the English word is from
Romanic (Latin or Greek) origin, I can easily create an Afrikaans word
resembling the English word by following certain rules. For example, words
like organisation and innovation will become "organisasie" and
"innovasie". However, Afrikaans (via Dutch and Saxon) has a much richer
Germanic substrate than English (via Angle and Saxon). In the former
examples from the Romanic superstrate of English we then have
organisation="inrigting" and innovation="verandering". Finding these
Germanic equivalents in Afrikaans for the Romanic English words is far
more difficult than using rules to convert them in Romanic Afrikaans

Why is it far more difficult? Because I need the tacit knowing of what I
want to tell. For example, I had to have the tacit knowing which enabled
me to decide using the Romanic English word organisation. By telling that
tacit knowing with the word organisation, it is not tacit knowing any
more, but formal knowing. However, when I now want to find the Germanic
rather than Romanic Afrikaans word, I have to deconstruct my formal
knowing so as to get back into my former tacit knowing. Only thereafter
can I tell it with the Germanic Afrikaans word should I have encountered
that word in the past. In the case of organisation="in-rig(t)-ing" the
prefix "in-"=in-, the root "rig"=aim;rig and the suffix "-ing"=-ing. How
these three parts become organisation is the mystery of an emergence. But
here are some more mysterious emergences: "in-rig"=furnish,

The above is not what I want to write about specifically. It is merely to
create the context for what I now want to tell. It is something which I
know tacitly, but for which I cannot find an English word (whether
Germanic or Romanic) nor an Afrikaans word (whether Germanic or Romanic).
I have searched many hours in the best of dictionaries. This eans it is
something in the sense of Polanyi which I know tacitly since I have not
told it before. Neither have anyone else told it otherwise I would have
found the word in the dictionaries. It may be something which only I know
tacitly, or it may be something which many of us know tacitly.

In honour of Michael Polanyi I will call it A (not THE) "Polanyi Problem".
It does not mean that Polanyi formulated this problem. But it may be that
Polanyi knew this problem tacitly, but did not tell it. It may also be
that Polanyi was aware of another problem which belongs to the same class.
That is why I used the indefinite "A" rather than the definite "THE".

My own Polanyi Problem is even worse. Afrikaans allows me much more
expressive freedom than English to create a word with the precise meaning
from one or more existing words with close meanings. However, I cannot
connect to such closely related words which together will tell what I know
tacitly. The worst of this Polanyi Problem is that I can tell indirectly
all the nuances of what I know, but that will take several pages of
dedicated terminology. I am willing to do it, come hell or high water. But
will such a complex explanation serve its purpose to tell what I know?

A simple escape from this Polanyi Problem would be to create any word
@#$%& which does not exist and then to define its meaning with that
complex explanation. Another escape would be to take an existing word with
some meaning somewhat related to what I know and then define this complex
explanation to be an additional meaning of this word. But I call them
escapes of my Polanyi Problem rather than the solution for it because as
escapes they do to language almost the opposite of what I know tacitly in
a much wider context and wish to tell.

By now you fellow learners may have come to the conclusion that either I
have become crazy or I am selling you some crap. Furthermore, this
contribution has become so complex that it will now be almost futile to
add that complex explanation to it. So the next is what I will do.

(1) Please help me with suggestions what you will do should you have such
a Polanyi Problem as the one which I have described above.

(2) Just to assure you that I am not fooling around, what I want to tell
will involve terminology such as evolution, natural, irreversibility,
symbiosis, self-organisation, autopoiesis and CAS (complex adaptive

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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