2. “The Body Knows”

Tacit and Explicit Knowledge

The term “tacit knowledge” has been in fashion for a while and it even took on some sort of mystical quality. In our seconds exercise we want to dig a little deeper and get an understanding of what we actually mean when we talk about “tacit” or “implicit knowledge”. The paradox about this term is that it is basically an antipole to “explicit knowledge” that is: knowledge that can be communicated explicitly. In his book “Tacit and Explicit Knowledge” Harry Collins sheds some light on the matter. His starting point is the observation that not tacit but explicit knowledge – the fact that we can actually communicate using language – is actually a strange phenomenon worth giving a closer look. After defining explicit knowledge as knowledge that can be communicated he begins by clarifying how this communication might work, or might not work. On the way he structures many technical terms. He pays particular attention on the distinction between the transformation of information and the translation of information. Equipped with a proper toolset of terms he then lays out his concept of tacit knowledge which he basically divides into three categories: relational (weak), somatic (medium), and collective (strong) tacit knowledge.

Collins considers somatic tacit knowledge as not very interesting since it may – in theory – be transformed into explicit knowledge. For our investigation this very sort of tacit knowledge which Michael Polanyi and the Dreyfus brothers refer to might just be the one which interests us most. Even if it were for the limits of our bodies and minds that we are equipped with the ability to learn something like balancing a bike without explicitly understanding it, does that make this process any less uncanny?

Bits and Atoms

The evolution of media quite often goes along with a change of information carrier or “strings” as Collins calls them. Recently we have been witnessing a lot of information being detached from its “original” carrier. Being “digitized” it seems to dissolve into some ephemeral sphere (even though it is of course still physically stored on some hard disk … somewhere). We get a sense of “losing touch”. Yet we are physical beings in a physical world so in order to interact with this information we need some mediating physical space.

Pick some information that has been detached from its physical carrier (e.g. music from records or CD) and come up with a new material shape for this information which is accessible to the human body and mind. Juxtapose the “original” physical representation with your design.