Tacit and formal knowledge LO28236

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@postino.up.ac.za)
Date: 04/15/02

Replying to LO28165 --

Dear Organlearners

Don Dwiggins <d.l.dwiggins@computer.org> writes:

>At, in LO27909, writes in reply to Mark Spain:
>>> 1. What does my tacit knowledge become when
>>> I articulate it?
>> It emerges into "articulated" knowledge. Since these
>> articulations can also be considered as inFORMation,
>> I prefer to call it FORMal knowledge.
>> Most importantly, the tacit knowlegde decreases
>> accordingly.
>I remember you saying this before, and I let it pass
>even though it seemed strange to me. Now I'd like
>to question it.

Greetings dear Dwig,

I am sorry for have taken so much time to reply.

Thess questions I do love so much because questioning explores the mind.

I have a problem here. I usually quote only the revelant part of a reply
to which I respond. But the whole of your next paragraph is relevant.

>I have a different mental model: the formalization process, operating on
>a "chunk" of tacit knowledge (TK), doesn't transform the tacit knowledge;
>rather, new formal knowledge (FK) is created ("to learn is to create"),
>and the result is enriched knowledge EK = TK * FK. I use "*" here to
>indicate that there's a new whole, with the "back action" (your term) of
>the FK on the TK acting as umlomo. Inspired by Polanyi, I'd say that the
>TK->FK mapping is like a homomorphism; that is, there is more in the TK
>than the FK can express. Because of this, if the TK were lost, the
>result of the formalization would be a net loss to the person. (I
>suppose this actually happens, when people mistrust their TK and discount
>it as soon as they have a plausible formalization.)

I can follow and even identify myself with your reasoning up to, but
not including it, the sentence
"Because of this, if the TK were lost, the result of
the formalization would be a net loss to the person."
Perhaps you have even articulated it better than I did it in the past.

It makes me think of protein. All the protein locked up in, say, my heart
as a organ, does not stop being protein. However, this protein cannot also
be used also for other organs because then my heart will suffer such a
loss. This, I think, is about what your symbolism EK = TK * FK says. To
articulate myself better, I should have used "encapsulated TK". My
mistake! But then I have to refer to the TK not yet articulated as FK as
"free TK".

Your sentence
"Because of this, if the TK were lost, the result of
the formalization would be a net loss to the person."
is one which I had hundreds of times the opportunity to reflect
over. I often met people who lack seriously in TK, and not in
their ability to articulate (formalise) some of their TK. This is not
a simple observation, but a conclusion which I have to establish
with careful questioning that person. In such cases I invariably also
discover that the person has a very narrow range of experiences.

On p9 of his "Tacit Knowing", Polanyi writes that tacit knowing
always involves two kinds of things which he calls the two terms
of tacit knowing. He then needs several pages to explain that
there is a "from-to" relationship between them. He calls this the
"functional structure" in the tacit dimension. At the end of page 15
he writes the following
"In all our waking moments we are relying on our awareness
of contacts of our body with things outside for attending to these
This is about the closest he identifies the "from-awareness" to
what I think is articulated best with the word "experiences". I have
searched his book carefully for any mentioning of experience since
it is not listed in the index. I could not find any.

Goethe, on the other hand, articulated long before Polanyi more
clearly that experiences are created by bodily sensations. This I
think is how it is for me too. But where Goethe did not fare as
clearly as Polanyi, is that experiences lead to the "to awareness".
So what we have is
sensations => "from-awareness" => "to-awareness" => formal knowing
It is the middle two which Polanyi refers to as the tacit knowing.

Both Goethe and Polanyi did not succeed in articulating that the
process which I symbolise with "=>" is a constructive emergence
resulting from a bifurcation at the ridge of chaos (large entropy
production). Since Goethe identified the "from-awareness" (which
is Polanyi's term) much earlier with experience, we will have to
call it for reference purposes "experience". I am using the "priority
rule" of all taxonomy here. This leaves me no other choice to
honour Polanyi in the ""to-awareness" as tacit knowing. Following
David Boehm's kind of thinking, I will call all three
sensations => "from-awareness" => "to-awareness"
as part of the implicate oeder or "hidden order" of the mind.

Polanyi warns very strongly on specifying the particulars too much.
He says that it can lead to paralysis and even destruction of the
sensations => "from-awareness" => "to-awareness" => formal knowing
process. I think he is right, but only in the sense of rote learning! As
soon as we accept authentic learning, every fellow learner has to be
allowed to articulate freely how it is for him or her.

That is why I have great respect for what you write next:

>At, I appreciate how your writing prompting me
>to formalize (to a first approximation) my tacit model
>on this. Even more, I look forward to a better
>understanding of your statement "the tacit knowlegde
>decreases accordingly".

May I correct myself, using your insight, "the free tacit knowlegde
decreases accordingly through encapsulation in formal knowledge". Likewise
"free experiences decrease accordingly through encapsulation in tacit
knowledge". To counteract this decrease in free experiences, we have to
expose ourselves endlessly to new bodily sensations by exploring the world
around us in an ever increasing spiral. We have to replenish whatever has
become encapsulated in whatever level of our spirituality. How?

Both Goethe and Polanyi are very clear that in order to grow
intellectually, we have to draw the "world-outside-us" into the
"world-within-us" (Goethe's description). Polanyi use one term for it,
namely "interiorization". I simply say that we have to eat to sustain
whatever got "born" within us, body and spirit, so that new things can get

You might think that the body part is obsolete. It is not. As a result of
my diabetes and my allergy for insulin and like medicines. I had to change
my diet to one of as much proteins and as little carbohydrates as
possible. My physiology has changed considerably. My family complain that
I "smell", even though I bath regularly. The reason is simple. Most
carnivores have a distinctive smell which has to do with their diet. Dogs,
for example, respect that "smell". The behaviour of dogs the past two
years towards me are much different than the earlier part of all my life.

>With best wishes for the joy of creation (and Creation),

Thank you and more of the same to you!

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

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <Richard@Karash.com> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <http://www.learning-org.com>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.