Wednesday 2 June 2010

Just Like Riding a Bike

There's another great article in this week's New Scientist, where Harry Collins talks about three types of Tacit Knowledge (where he describes Tacit as "knowledge that is not and sometimes cannot be made explicit").

He describes Somatic Tacit Knowledge, which is the knowledge stored in the muscles, nerve pathways and synaptic connections. This is describable - "in principle, if not in practice, science could describe all of this. We still wouldn't be able to use it to guide our actions, because we aren't built for that". in other words, you can read a book that gives you the basic tango steps, but you can't learn tango from a book.

He describes Relational Tacit Knowledge, which is about logistics and social interaction. Basically its the things you could explain, but don't, for one reason or another. It includes secrets, the things you don't know that you know, and the things you can't explain because you don't know what the other party needs to know.

Finally, there is collective tacit knowledge. This is about the way WE work. Its about knowledge held socially and collectively. He gives the example of riding a bike. The mechanics of riding a bike are all about somatic tacit knowledge, but the knowledge of riding a bike in London traffic are collective and tacit; you need to understand the unspoken social conventions, otherwise the taxis and buses will get you.

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