As I sneak gingerly into the thicket of consciousness studies I cannot help but remember a famous quote from Thomas Nagel, the philosopher, “there is something that it is like to be a bat.”
From The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974):
The statement implies application of what we call consciousness to this question. Surely bats have some sort of consciousness but as it is largely based on echolocation, we humans struggle to imagine what that might feel like. The effort is interesting but I choose instead to wonder what it is like to be a baby. Our family is blessed with a fresh, new baby, now over a year old, and examination of the behavior of this little girl reinforces my suspicion that what we call consciousness is being built from the ground up in real time by the efforts of a baby whose job appears to be creating its consciousness. Psychologists and philosophers conduct extensive and valuable research into the nature of consciousness while under their noses the baby makes it from scratch.
Ameria is continually examining the environment asking non-verbal questions like, “What is this?” “How does this work?” “Can I control this?” And so on. Answers come slowly but only with experience. Grabbing, dropping, mouthing, banging, throwing, all actions that correlate object behavior with motions of arms, fingers, seeing, hearing, tasting, etc. At the same time neuronal structures are gradually forming memories in a manner we do not yet understand. The coherence of muscle movements with these consciousness building exercises tells us that another phrase for this process could be the development of tacit knowledge.
I am BACK! Today is June 20, 2020
Consciousness as Tacit Knowledge
How many books are published about consciousness? Certainly so many that readers would be hard pressed to study just a few of them. Many come from experts plowing specialized fields such as the behavior of neurons within the brain, or from the analysis of psychological experiments, or arrive after plunging into deep philosophical reflections, while others even speculate on the possible effects of quantum mechanics on consciousness. These contributions are interesting, and surely necessary, but I choose instead to limit my focus on a rare subset of psychology called tacit knowledge. I think something useful crops up there. By starting with tacit knowledge I am choosing to use an intermediate level of scale. Not atomic, not microscopic, not galactic, but very human. Some scientists suggest that little protons might be conscious or that a universal consciousness pervades the entire universe. How about backing off from such speculations and instead look directly at where consciousness actually comes into being. Where is that? Within the mind of a newborn baby!
Since tacit knowledge is a feature of our mental landscape deriving from experience and repetition, I will start with what I consider to be the beginning of consciousness, the biological system known as the baby. I argue that the primary job of a baby is the construction of its consciousness. Certainly this incomprehensively complicated endeavor is somewhat guided, by the programming via DNA. Some may argue that a soul has influence over the building of this new consciousness but I will bypass such considerations for now. So I begin with the brain that began constructing its mind while still in the womb. The process is helped along by following some organizational dictates from genetics. Yet the new born baby soon becomes an evolved matrix of senses, some more developed than others. There are eyes with which to see, ears to hear, tastes to experience, a nose to smell, and skin receptors to feel touch and heat (or cold). This complex of nerves also has muscles with which to move appendages. Thus the baby, just off the production line, is confronted with a dizzyingly strange array of inputs. I admit that I have no recollection at all of such a primordial state. So what happens next must be inferred by persons looking very closely at the behavior of their baby. Of course there is always the expectation that scientists will conduct non-destructive testing on the busy bundle of joy. We will look for the results of those tests as we go along on this journey. Experts on consciousness seem to look everywhere but at the place where consciousness is being created; inside the bewildered head of the astounded baby.
A baby, although not the tabula rasa of philosophers, is offering us a live example of an emerging creature whose primary job is to construct consciousness! You need to take advantage of that baby in front of you and in addition become familiar with Michael Polanyi and his tacit theory of knowledge which is the scaffolding for most of what is necessary for constructing consciousness.
It is now the end of 2015 and Amazon has my self-published book advertised and available for purchase. Seems like many years have gone by so this is a moment of relief as well as offering a sense of birthing of my baby. The front page description of this blog has a clickable link to the book on Amazon. Now comes the task of marketing which looks to be daunting as this blog has not created any discernable traffic of interest in the project. I now turn my attention to search engine optimization and utilization of the new social media system. The potential audience for the book should be anyone trying to learn something rather difficult or anyone else tasked with the job of teaching something difficult. Full comprehension is argued here to depend somewhat on the development of tacit knowledge as described by Michael Polanyi.
I am so pleased to have the much needed help of Dr. Virginia Shepard as an editor for both content and copy. She is a former English professor at West Liberty University where we met back in a former lifetime. Not only does she find all the missing commas and other mysteries of punctuation, along with better word usage, but she is responding to the content of the book with considerable insight and requests elucidation where my words are vague and suggests fascinating tangents for further clarity. I am now in the process of incorporating these invaluable ideas and suggestions into the manuscript. Ginny is writing several books herself so no grass is growing under her feet. Retirement can be a rich opportunity to stretch ones wings!
One reason for developing this blog is to help me with the task of writing and editing a book explaining the structure of tacit knowledge as laid out by Michael Polanyi in his theory by the same name. I am editing a first rough draft and keep finding new material and ideas to add into the book. I will be testing these out in some of the post categories. Current plans are to publish the book using Amazons “CreateSpace” self publishing arm. This is all a new and somewhat bewildering experience.
A key problem I have is that no audience exists for the book. Nobody knows to be interested and the absence of Polanyi’s thought within the field of education leads to a sense of “who cares” and “why bother”. I have just hit upon an idea to apply the tacit theory of knowledge to current controversies in education for which there are many. Critics slam educators for many reasons including a concern that teachers are not content oriented enough. Educational theory offered in colleges of education appear to stress social, “feel good”, theoretical ideas above the necessary and hard content that makes up “real” learning. Professional educators slam back at the critics for promoting old “drill and kill” tactics certain to deluge reluctant students with unpleasant stultifying, fact-based, cramming. Polanyi offers a common ground for these disparate views. Understanding the tacit theory of knowledge can lead to an engagement between intellectual foes. We might find a way for both sides to come together. My first rough draft now needs significant rewriting. The adventure continues on a new path.