Re: Emergent Learning LO2024

Jim Michmerhuizen (
Mon, 10 Jul 1995 22:47:08 +0059 (EDT)

Replying to LO1984 --

On 7 Jul 1995, Carol Anne Ogdin wrote:

[ ...some things to which I will respond piecemeal, interleaved: ]

> Replying to LO1944 --
> Michael, Michael, Michael <much shaking of head from side-to-
> side, while gazing slightly downward, holding wry grin>

That's something like my first response. But here I'm still thinking
about the whole business, a couple of hours later. I'm not as certain
now as I was then of whether I got Michael's meaning.

> In LO1944, you told an elegant story about "the master" looking for
> failed copies in the wastbasket, then you said in conclusion:
> > One thing I will stand on. This type of knowledge cannot be stored
> > in a database. But it can be stored and made accesible.
> But you just *did* share it in a on my desk.

Oh no. Here I think the argument hinges on two different references for
the word "database". Your reference is more generalized, I think, and
amounts roughly to

"A database is any one or more pieces of information in a computer."

And surely that's much too general. I think Michael's reference was to
something more like a standard relational database as originally defined
by Codd and others, e.g. David Meier's "The Theory of Relational

Support for my construal of your language here comes a few sentences
later, when you appear to conflate "articulability" with "membership in
a database":
> I'll agree that you won't get a database (or DBMS) to *synthesize*
> that wisdom, but I assert that not only *can* you store this kind
> of knowledge (once articulated by a human being) in a database...
> you already have.

Well, in an earlier entry this evening I muddled through a little dialog
with myself about Michael's post, and came to agree with him about this
question at least. I don't believe it can be stored in a database. (Are
you and I talking about the same example? There were two: the Xerox story
and the fleece story. Although they make similar points, their internal
structure and logic are quite different, and that could be a source of our
disagreement here. I'm addressing the fleece story.)

What, first of all, is the tacit knowledge we're referring to? It's a
comparative perception unmediated by language. This kind of knowledge is
_not_ rare; in fact, I'm coming to believe that it's never absent from any
of us. This is the knowledge that painters have of their paints while they
are painting; that all of us have of our feet when we're walking; and so on.
This really is knowledge; that is, it's not "raw perception" of the sort
that an entire generation or two of philosophers believed in earlier in
this century. It's structured, it's patterned, it's ordered in
comparison with other perception: it's just not in propositional form at
the time that its used.

I don't mean anything mystical here either. In particular, I'm _not_
saying that this knowledge _can't_ be articulated. I _am_ saying that
articulation into a spoken language is entirely irrelevant to the role and
the genesis of this sort of knowledge.

How did the fleece inspector acquire his knowledge? By fondling lots of
fleeces. Period. He may or may not have "thought" about what he felt: we
don't know, and he doesn't need to know, and if he does know he doesn't need
to tell us. Nothing that he has to say about his _thoughts_ can have much
bearing on whether he has the knowledge or not; and that's because the
knowledge isn't in his thoughts, it's in his fingertips.

Now there's one sense in which even this knowledge can, at least
theoretically, be represented in a "database". It's a premise of our
argument here that the fleece inspector is not doing something mystical
or occult: that the qualities he is evaluating with his wise and aged
hands are in fact physical qualities and not spiritual ones; that we
could conceivably educate some combination of computer and sensor
equipment, under his tutelage, to some comparable discriminatory
abilities. Now, if we were to accomplish this latter task, then the
computer program and its data would clearly constitute a representation
of the fleece-worker's knowledge.

With regard to Michaels' original assertion, that this knowledge _cannot_
be entered into databases, then, I answer that

a) As straight empirical observation, this is correct, because the
information is not intrinsically propositional in nature, and the work
of expressing it propositionally is extraordinarily difficult;

b) Nonetheless it's not a universal or a logical truth, for almost the
same reason: because there is no tacit knowledge, as exemplified in the
fleece story, that cannot _in principle_ be represented in propositional
form. Given _any_ example of tacit knowledge, there must exist some one
or more propositions expressing that knowledge. Even if we don't know
what they are.

c) Apart from the logical issues, I think that a great part of the work of
this group consists _precisely_ of attempting to find expression for our
tacit knowledge. I believe that many poets also understand their work to
be of this sort. In any case it is difficult work, risky, best done in
the presence of others rather than alone. That is why poets need their
audiences, and why we have this group.

     Jim Michmerhuizen
     web residence at
                "I planted flowers, but nothing happened."
                           "Try planting seeds."