Posts Tagged ‘nondeclarative memory’

A few days ago, I attended a seminar on tacit knowledge, organized in the Rotterdam School of Management. Nigel Holden was talking about the difficulty of analyzing and communicating tacit knowledge, for the good reason that tacit knowledge is by definition hard to communicate in a formalized way!

The speaker and the audience came with a lot of different examples of tacit knowledge to express their points: how to ride a bike, how to test the temperature of melting iron, how to greet a visitor… what struck me then is that those examples were involving vastly different kind of experience.

Riding a bike has often been consciously learned (with help of parents), while greeting someone from one’s culture has been learned unconsciously, surely by imitation.  If the problem is to communicate tacit knowledge, maybe that it would be useful first to distinguish between different sorts of tacit knowledge?

And here comes (neuro)psychology. I had been reading a chapter about memory in Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of the Mind. One of the basic distinctions they made is between declarative and non-declarative memory. Declarative memory is stored knowledge which once retrieved, can take the form of statements. “When I was a kid, I had a red bike”. “World War II happened in the XXth century.” “If the photocopier is broken, one has to call this phone number.”

“Non-declarative memory” covers what is called “tacit memory” by Michael Polanyi and the management people. Where it gets interesting is that psychologists distinguish between a lot of different types of non-declarative memories:

From Cognitive Neuroscience by Gazzaniga et al. (2009, p. 361).

From Cognitive Neuroscience by Gazzaniga et al. (2009, p. 361).

This chart shows that “tacit knowledge” covers things as different as the ability to speak a language (procedural memory) or the knowing of when the temperature is right for melting iron (perceptual priming). It is interesting because if the issue is “how can tacit knowledge be transmitted through organizations, or even transculturally”, then it would help to make a difference in treatment between these different types of things. One thing might be more learnable through careful imitation, while the other might involve repeated experience.
The psychologists might have a great key to the comprehension of tacit knowledge!

Whether neuro-psychologists have even more definitive answers (as the chart claims, at the bottom level),  seems to be still research in progress.

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