In his groundbreaking book, The Tacit Dimension, Polanyi explores the nature of human knowledge and shows how we rely on tacit, or unarticulated, knowledge to function in the world. This blog will explore the implications of Polanyi's ideas for education, business, and society.
The Importance of Tacit Knowledge
Tacit knowing is an unarticulated form of personal knowledge that cannot be readily conveyed to others in the form of words or symbols. Tacit knowledge is said to be "sticky" because it is so hard to transfer to someone else. It is often context-specific and can only be acquired by spending time with a more experienced individual who can act as a coach or mentor. Many experts have argued that tacit knowing is more important than explicit knowing, particularly in the field of creative arts such as music, painting, and dance. The ability to share one's hard-earned tacit knowledge with others is seen as a key factor in the success of any organization. While tacit knowing is difficult to define, there are several ways to measure it. One common method is to ask individuals how they would go about solving a particular problem or accomplishing a task. Another option is to ask them to describe a time when they had to rely on their tacit knowledge in order to succeed.
How We Acquire Tacit Knowledge
Most of us acquire the greater part of our knowledge tacitly, without being aware of how we know what we know. We learn to perceive, discriminate, conceptualize, and solve problems mostly by example and through gradual procedures of apprenticeship and practice. Our skills in these matters develop in the context of communal life and culture through processes that are essentially social in nature. Much of this learning is accomplished implicitly; that is, it does not enter into our consciousness as such. In learning to drive an automobile or balance a checkbook we almost never make use of explicit rules or ponder the logical structure of the problem; rather, we allow ourselves to be guided by practical experience and common sense. For the most part we take these skills for granted and go about our business without giving them much thought. We say that in acquiring them we have "picked them up" or "learned them by heart," as though they had been impressed upon us from outside rather than being internalized through a long process of assimilating experience to our own ways of perceiving and thinking.
The Role of Tacit Knowledge in Expertise
While acknowledging the importance of formalized knowledge, Polanyi insists on the centrality of tacitness to all knowing. He contends that we can know far more than we can tell, and much of what we commonly take to be "intuition" is in fact a highly disciplined form of intelligence that draws on tacitdimension. Indeed, our very capacity to learn depends on such tacit knowing. A brilliant tour de force by one of this century's most distinguished philosophers, The Tacit Dimension will fascinate all those concerned with the issue of knowledge in society. In this classic work, first published in 1966, Michael Polanyi extends his earlier thesis that scientists do not merely collect data but actively interpret it by bringing their background knowledge and values to bear on their observations. Tacit knowing, he argues, is an integral part of all thought and action; it exceeds our power of verbalization because it is not identical with any particular thing that we can say about it; rather it governs what we are prepared to say or think about a given situation. To grasp the full meaning of what we perceive we rely heavily on models supplied by past experience - models which are often so deeply ingrained that we are scarcely aware of them. Consequently, learning consists not only in acquiring new skills but also in assimilating these new skills into our existing system of thought and action so that they become part and parcel of ourselves.
The Problem of Communicating Tacit Knowledge
Tacit Dimension is a book written by Polanyi to try and better understand tacit knowledge and how it can be communicated. Throughout the book, he discusses various case studies and examples in order to explain his findings. One of the biggest problems that he addresses is the difficulty in communicating tacit knowledge. This is because, by definition, tacit knowledge is something that we cannot express in words. Therefore, it can be very hard to share with others and teach them. Polanyi argues that we need to pay more attention to tacitness if we want to improve our ability to communicate and learn from each other. He believes that we should try to create opportunities for people to share their tacit knowledge, so that we can all benefit from it.
The Limits of Tacit Knowledge
In The Tacit Dimension, Polanyi argues that there are many things we know how to do that we cannot explain in words. He calls this "tacit knowledge." This type of knowledge is often more important than formal, explicit knowledge, because it is the foundation on which explicit knowledge is built. However, Polanyi also argues that there are limits to tacit knowledge. We cannot know everything implicitly; at some point, we must learn things explicitly. Moreover, our ability to use tacit knowledge is often limited by our own individual experiences and perspectives. In other words, tacitness is not an all-encompassing way of knowing; it has its own limitations.
The Dark Side of Tacit Knowledge
While much of the focus on Tacit Dimension has been on the positive aspects of this form of knowledge, it is important to consider the potential downside as well. One negative aspect is that Tacit Dimension can lead to confirmation bias, where people only seek out information that supports their existing beliefs. This can create echo chambers where people only hear their own views reinforced, instead of being challenged by different perspectives. Another potential issue is that Tacit Dimension can lead to a kind of tunnel vision, where people become so focused on one particular area that they neglect other important aspects of their work or life. This can lead to missed opportunities and sub-optimal decision-making. Finally, it is important to remember that Tacit Dimension is often based on personal experience and intuition, which means it is not always easy to explain or justify to others. This can make it difficult to build consensus or gain buy-in from others, especially if they do not share your experiences or intuition.
The Future of Tacit Knowledge
Tacit knowledge is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. It is the sort of knowledge that we typically use in our everyday lives without thinking about it, such as knowing how to ride a bike or use a fork and knife. Polanyi believes that this type of knowledge is more important than ever in today's rapidly changing world. He argues that the main source of progress in society comes from people who are constantly learning new things and adding to their store of tacit knowledge. One of the challenges in studying tacit knowledge is that it often resists attempts to formalize it or quantify it. This has led some researchers to conclude that tacit knowledge is unimportant, or even nonexistent. However, Polanyi makes a strong case that tacit knowledge is actually the key to understanding how humans create new knowledge and how societies progress.