Tag Archives: The Two Cultures

Exploring the Relationship Between “Tacit Knowledge” and “Explicit Knowledge”

Data, Info, Knowledge, Wisdom

Comment: By differentiating between Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom, and seeing their relationship as a movement from Explicit Knowledge to Tacit Knowledge, we avoid the “reductionism” that confuses Explicit Data, Information and Knowledge with Tacit Wisdom. Tacit Knowledge is primal. Explicit Knowledge is strongly influenced by the Tacit Dimension which operates beneathe the surface of our categorical and quantifying cognition.


Comment: This chart is based on the groundbreaking work of the philosopher and scientist Michael Polanyi. By recognizing that the relationship between Explicit Knowledge and Tacit Knowledge is analogous to an Ice Berg with Tacit Knowledge submerged beneathe the surface and Explicit Knowledge rising above the surface, we avoid the “reductionism” that would either deny the presence and influence of Tacit Knowledge altogether or reduce Qualitative and Non-Measurable Tacit Knowledge to Quantitative and Measurable Explicit Knowlege. Reality is more than we know; we know more than we can say; what we do know and say is personally and collectively conditioned by the assumptions, beliefs, values and habits of our “community of practice.”

softer and Harder

Comment: Tacit Knowledge is Softer. Explicit Knowledge is Harder. They are related as the Yin and Yang within the Integral Tao. Their relation is not dualistic but interactive and integral. “The Tao that can be named is not the Tao.” That translates as “The Map is not the Territory.” What we call “Reality” is the Encompassing. It is more than our tacit values, beliefs, habits and skills. It is more than our explicit data, information, categories and paradigms.

Why Literature, Theatre, Music and the Arts Matter: The imaginative power and creative appeal of the literary novel, poem, drama and lyric essay, along with great works of music and art, return us to the primacy of the tacit dimension of ontological, intuitive, aesthetic, expressive, relational and ethical experience in a way that abstract philosophical categories and quantifying scientific data tend to gloss over or reduce to their flatter worlds.


Comment: This chart developed by I. Nonaka in “The Knowledge Creating Company” suggests the continuously interactive feedback loop between Tacit Knowledge and Explicit Knowledge, along with the role of Socialization and the ways in which we combine Tacit and Explicit Knowledge.


Comment: What an astonishing realization! If it is true that our total knowledge is greater than what we can tell or show, and even greater than we can write, record and document, and even greater still than what we can transfer to readers or watcher-listeners of recording, then this can provide a hedge against dogmatism. If we further grant that “the ineffable mystery” that we call “reality” is greater than what we know, eithering tacitly in values and skills, or explicitly in data and categories, then we will have learned the lesson of epistemological humility.


Comment: This chart not only differentiates between Tacit Knowledge and Explicit Knowledge but also differentiates between two kinds of Tacit Knowledge: Know Why and Know How. Tacit Know Why deals with values, feelings, motives, relationships and significance. Tacit Know How deals with intuitive interaction, habit, muscle-memory and competence. By contrast, Explicit Know What deals with facts, categories, models and metrics. Some might prefer to differentiate facts and metrics from categories and models. A problem arises when we conflate any of these three (or four) ways of knowing, imposing either 1. values, 2. skills, 3. data, or 4. categories as an exclusive or dominating epistemology. Why would we do this? It seems that psychological temperament,  social conditioning, educational experience and existential choice each play a role in deciding which of these ways of knowing we trust the most and assume to be regulative of the others. Even here there are those who will tend to pick only one or two of these four factors as the regulative and decisive ones, ignoring or minimizing the other factors that “just don’t agree with them” or with their “community of practice.”

Going Deeper: For a more in depth exploration of these ideas, do a Web search for “The Duality of Knowledge” by Paul Hildreth and Chris Kimble; read about the work of Michael Polanyi at Wikipedia and The Polanyi Society; preview his major writings at Amazon, including “The Tacit Dimension,” “Personal Knowledge,” “Being and Knowing,” and “Transcendence and Self-Transcendence”