The Distortion of Ideas LO22996

AM de Lange (
Mon, 25 Oct 1999 18:49:47 +0200

Replying to LO22949 --

Dear Organlearners,

Fred Nickols <> write:

>It happens all the time, Winfried, and I have some thoughts as
>to why. Let's take two examples: "scientific management" and
>"tacit knowledge."


>But, Taylor is old hat to some, so let's take a more recent
>instance: Michael Polanyi's concept of tacit knowledge. Polanyi
>used the term to refer to the things we know that we can't articulate
>(e.g., how we recognize a particular person's face). By definition,
>then, tacit knowledge is knowledge that can't be articulated. Yet,
>I regularly see tacit knowledge defined simply as "knowledge that
>is in people's heads." That is dead wrong. There is a vast
>between knowledge that HASN'T been articulated and knowledge
>that CAN'T be articulated.

Greetings Fred,

When I read your contribution, I asked myself -- how could I have read
Polyani's works and failed to notice what you are stressing.

So I decided, coming Monday morning, to go to our University Library and
read his book "The tacit dimension of knowledge" once again. It was then
when I experienced a terrible nightmare. His book was not on the old
catalogue (paper based) or new catalogue (computer based). Neither his
book "Personal Knowledge". His two other books "Knowing and Being" and
"Science, Faith and Society" which I also have studied, were still on the
old catalogue, but not anymore on the racks. When I enquired from the
library personel what happened to these books, they explained that the
subject specialists have helped them to get rid of old and little used
books so as to make space for more recent books. They decided to keep
some records in the old catalogue, even after having removed the books
from the library or retaining some of them in the library by switching
over to the new catalogue. When I asked them how I could get hold of that
four books before they are wasted to pulp, they replied that their
demolishing is out of our hands. This irreversible loss of books important
to me, but not to subject specialists, is my nightmare.

Fred, I know that Polanyi stressed that there is a tacit dimension in
knowledge and a tacit coefficient to science. I also remember how Polanyi
stressed how difficult and how futile attempts had been to articulate the
process of scientific discovery -- something which he considered as a
creative art. But you will now have to wait until I have found in another
library a copy of Polanyi's book to make sure whether he meant "can not"
or "has not" -- both for tacit knowledge on scientific discovery and for
the tacit dimension on knowledge in general.

Even after I have made sure what he meant, it is still my interpretation.
If I reach the same conclusion as you, then we still have to find out why
so many other people came to a different interpretation. But let us rather
assume I still find as earlier that he meant "has not" and not "can not",
then why did you and I arrived at different interpretations?

Let me state emphatically that any emergence is not an easy, faultless
event which happens automatically. As I see it, it happens after much and
fast entropy production at the edge of chaos. It is one of the two
possible outcomes at that very edge. That is why I call the profound
transformation which ensue at the edge of chaos an "ordinate bifurcation".
It is a PROFOUND TRANSFORMATION because it results in a change of order.
It is an ORDINATE BI.... because the outcome is either a constructive
emergence to a higher order or a destructive immergence to a lower order.

It is like giving birth to a baby. Whatever the outcome, it is a traumatic
experience at best for both mother and baby. Both may be alive and well
after birth, but one of them or even both can die at birth.

Entropy production happens when free energy drives the conversion of
several forms of energy into other forms of energy. This conversion of
forms of energy to other forms of energy is a very complex process. This
entropy production is necessary to reach the edge of chaos where ordinate
bifurcations happen. But it is not sufficient to ensure constructive
emergences rather than destructive immergences. This makes the emergence
deeply complex. The sufficiency requirements are what I call the seven
essentialities of creativity: liveness, sureness, wholeness, fruitfulness,
spareness, otherness and openness. If only one are impaired to a dgree
less than that which the emergence require, the bifurcation will result
into an immergence. Ususually, more than one are impaired when a
bifurcation result in an immergence.

I have explained how learning results into four distinctive ordinate
levels of knowledge: experential, tacit, formal and sapient. I am very
thankful to Polanyi for pointing out to me that there is an ordinate
difference between tacit (intuitive) knowledge and formal (explicate,
articulated) knowledge. I see the difficulty and often impossibility of
articulating tacit knowledge as typical of any emergent phenomenon.

Polanyi, almost two generations my senior, would have known nothing about
Prigogine's discovery that entropy production drives phsyical systems to
the edge of chaos where bifurcations happen, nor my discovery of the seven
essentialities to guide the bifurcation of phsyical and spiritual systems
into a constructive emergence rather than a destructive immergence. Thus
it is foolish to criticise him in terms of entropy production and the
seven essentialities. The best we can do, is to try an understand how he
TACITLY felt about emergences as well as the seven essentialities.

I recall that for me he was very sensitive to the essentialities surenness
(his love for truth) and openness (his love for free explorations). He
stressed that positivism alone (I explain it by the "identity" facet of
sureness without its "categoricity" facet) is not sufficient to
articulate the process of scientific discovery. In other words, what he
meant in my opinion is that an impairing in the essentiality sureness will
prevent any sound articulation of our tacit knowledge on scientific
discovery. In such a case it "can not" happen.

For me to argue explicitly what he tacitly might have known, is a
futile excercise unless the two of us can get into a dialogue and
became knowledgeable to each others view points. It is
impossible since he is dead. Thus his tacit knowledge "can not"
be articulated. The same with anyone with us. While we are still
alive, we can question each other's tacit knowledge provided
* we accept the dialogue (one devoid of judgements) to do so
* participate in this dialogue to clear up possible distortions
* endeavour to honour the necessary and sufficient requirements
to emerge from creativity through all levels of learning and
beyond to believing and loving.

I once again want to urge you fellow learners for what it is worth to
question my tacit knowledge. I value every question as the sign of
"knowledge in evolution". I have the greatest respect for it happening in
any person, young or old, simple or gifted, irrespective of creed, race,
sex, .... (you know the words.) I do not mind such questioning at all.
But I know of many others who get the jitters or react violently when I do
it. That is why I refrain from questioning other fellow learners directly,
except when they have given me some indication that they do not mind it
also. They know tacitly who they are without us ever having had to
articulate it formally.

Polyanyi's insight on the immense role which tacit knowledge play in
articulating formal knowledge helped me very much to help students in
articulating their tacit knowledge. Fred, like you have written, they have
hit the wall of "can not" do it. When they have hit that wall, they are in
pieces. It is then when I have to help them fitting that pieces again
while also experiencing the emergence from tacit to forlaml knowledge. I
make absolutely sure that the student is doing it and not me by calling
the student as witness to everything which I do. I also make very, very
sure that the student perceive how he/she is healing his/her own learning,
i.e. that the student becomes sensitive to double loop learning --
learning about learning while learning about other things.

I continually make sure that the student BECOMES TACITLY AWARE BY
EXPERIENCES of authentic learning based on deep creativity which
culminates in love. I refrain from expecting the student to articulate
this experential and tacit knowledge because of the immense complexity it
involves. I first did it intuitively, but I now know that I am on the
right track and can articulate it formally, although the explanation is
very complex.

I still remember how Polanyi insisted that it it is not knowledge which
guide his decisions, but his faith. In other words, while stressing the
importance of learning and knowledge as its outcome, he admitted to faith
(using my own articulations) as of an higher order of which its back
action on learning he has to admit to. In this Polanyi helped me to assist
students with DEEP learning problems. They often had conflicts between
what they assumed knowledge to be and what they embraced as their faith.
In most cases their tacit knowledge and faith were in harmony, but
conflicted with their perceptions of articulated "knowledge out there". I
then had to direct them to the thinking of people like Liebniz, Goethe,
Pasteur, Planck and Einstein to show them that these people had quite
different preceptions than those which they assumed themselves. I try to
make sure by follow ups that they indeed did make sure how this thinkers
thought about things.

Fred, there are two ways how formal knowledge on any topic
can change
(1) distortions because of ignorance or superficial studies
(2) natural evolution of a topic because of the spiritual evolution
of humankind.
You have made some very sound comments on (1) which I do
not want to modify or add to.

But I am very concerned that we are not sufficiently aware of way (2) or
ready to articualte formally what we already know tacitly about the
"evolution of knowledge". Let me use the SUPPOSED EVOLUTION on"tacit
knowledge" as an example. You say that Polanyi claimed, after becoming
aware of it and articulating its existence to us, that tacit knowledge
"can not" be articulated. Perhaps you are right. I claim that tacit
knowledge "can not" be articulated when we neglect any essentiality, for
example wholeness. Try to articulate your tacit knowledge while denying
wholeness and you will hit the wall like any student who experiences deep
learning problems.

Some people will try to make up for all seven essentialities, but then
still find that they hit the wall. In that case, as I understand it, they
focus on FORM (the mechanics or grammer of creativity), but neglect
CONTENT (the dynamics or semtics of creativity). They fear many things,
for example, letting go of their digestor, letting all entropic force-flux
pairs to come into action, using up the free energy which they do have,
hesistating to approach the edge of chaos, etc. This I also encounter
frequently among students with deep learning problems.

Consider merely one example. Spontaneity depends on making free energy
availble. If the student fail to to so, the learning process cannot happen
even to that day when horses will get horns like cattle. It concerns all
processes (becomings, actions), including the emergence from tacit to
formal knowledge. In other words, should the student have too little free
energy, the student "can not" articulate his/her tacit knowledge formally.
If too little free energy is the only deficiency, any sufficient elevation
in free energy FOR ENTROPY PRODUCTION will make this emergence a "has not"
-- something potentially possible, but not yet attempted.

There are two ways how the student can gain the entropy roduction for
which that free energy is needed. The one way is for the surroundings
(with me as teacher being part of it) to do work on the student so as to
deluge the student with entropy production. It is something which I did in
my early years as a teacher, but will now never do again. The other way is
to guide the student how to self increase his/her free energy. But this is
not an instant nor a DIY process. The student needs the loving care of a
teacher (and not knowledge manager) who will coach him along several
months to increase in free energy. Tell this to an educational system
which want to measure everything in terms of money and fast results and
you will realise why students with deep learning problems as a result of
too little free energy do not make it. Too be specific, when the lack of
free energy concerns the emergence of tacit knowledge to formal knowledge,
it "can not" happen in the system.

Thus we arrive at Demings remarkable insight -- 85% of production problems
(and now I include even the emergence of tacit to fomal knowledge as a
production process) is the fault of the system and its managers, not the
workers (and in this case the learners.)

Fred, thank you again for articulating so beautifully what we tacitly
know, namely that ideas ideas can be distorted. It took me many screens to
show something else, namely that we can take ideas as young plants and
carefully cultivate them so as to come into full flower. It takes
patience, care and love. The flowers are not the original juvenile plant.
But they are the actualisation of the potential for that juvenile plant to
flower some day.

This flowering of an idea is a change of the original idea,
but not a distortion of it

Sorry for this shouting, but after such a long contribution it is
necessary again to point out what is authentic learning -- it has to
continue without the artificial conditions imposed by the educational
system. Whether this is the case, I will let you fellow learners to be the
judge. Do people persist with their learning after leaving the last
educational institution which they have attended?

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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