Tag Archives: Consciousness

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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.