Wednesday, January 15, 2014

On Tacit Knowledge and the social distance you get living abroad.

There is a good op-ed piece by David Brooks in the New York Times. This is what he says about implicit (or practical) knowledge:
(C)raftsmen possess and transmit practical knowledge. This sort of knowledge, Oakeshott says, exists only in use. It cannot be taught, only imparted by imitation and experience. It’s knowing when to depart from the cookbook; how much, when running a meeting, to let the conversation flow and how much to rein it in. 
Practical knowledge is hard to see, but it is embedded in traditions of behavior. It is embedded in the lives of older legislators and public servants, and it is passed down by imitation to the younger ones. 
And he says this about living abroad:
Go off to some alien part of this country or the world. Immerse yourself in the habits and daily patterns of that existence and stay there long enough to get acculturated. Stay there long enough so that you forget the herd mentality of our partisan culture. 
When you return home, you will look at your own place with foreign eyes. You’ll see the contours of your own reality more clearly. When you return to native ground, you’re more likely to possess the sort of perceptiveness that Isaiah Berlin says is the basis of political judgment.
I believe that one of the functions of a professor is to profess, that is to demonstrate one's faith in his/her profession. For a professor of science or engineering, it would be both to profess the faith in the profession of teaching and the profession of science/engineering. That is because some of the tacit knowledge of the profession is learned by the example from the professor.

It is a long time since I spent several years in Chile, but I had the advantage of a good course from a good professor of anthropology before going. It is also a long time since I later spent several years in Colombia, but I had the advantage of working with a great group of Colombian professionals who taught me a lot. But I remember how I had come to see things at home differently when I returned.

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