Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 108.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Tue, 02 Jul 2002 06:46:03 +0100
From: email@example.com (Francois Lachance)
Subject: Re: 16.101 non-verbal thought
How does one graph slippage? I ask because your 101 message posted Jun 29
moves from discussing non-verbal thought through to knowledge and its
I reread the posting to try and determine the point at which the
discourse deflects itself and the point which could be mapped onto the
bend in an elbow representation. This what I found... the mention of
"natural history" builds upon the enlarging circle image (*supply graphic
> reproduced. As a result the circle of technologists whose minds could be
> engaged by the particular problems or stimulated by the particular ideas
> these reliable illustrations expressed was indefinitely enlarged. Francis
> Bacon, John Evelyn and others called for a "natural history of trades" to
> make public the information that had long been available only in workshops.
The concern is spatial: a multiplication of the sites of engagement. The
story told is one of greater admission to the scenes of knowledge
exchange and production. The technologically-impelled history meets social
condidtions (and the historiographic crux of which determines which).
> Bacon in addition advocated a systematic study of the ingenious practices
> in the various trades; his programme was on the agenda of the French
> Academie almost as soon as it was founded. Ferguson argues that more
> important to Renaissance engineers than scientific knowledge were the
> inventions of the graphic arts that lent system and order to the materials
> of nonverbal thought. Mechanical models, through the agency of printing,
> could transmit such tacit knowledge widely.
How did "tacit knowldege" sneek in here? Is it by way of a proposed
synonymity with "nonverbal thought"? Nonverbal thought can be expressed
and indeed that is the point made by the invocation of the development of
imaging arts. Tacit knowledge is in a sense held in reserve. It can be
converted to explicit knowledge: it is available to expression (at a
The bend, the hinge, the articulate turn, perhaps explains the ambivalence
of the penultimate paragraph:
> The situation now is, of course, quite different. The verbally tacit
> knowledge of our technology isn't primarily of the sort that widespread
> distribution of graphical images would particularly affect -- though the
> Web has indefinitely expanded our ability to distribute accurate images.
> Would our equivalent to the mechanical subassembly be coherent chunks of
> code? Should we be looking to the digital library as the means for
> publishing and distributing this sort of tacit knowledge?
Alongside the improvements in image reproduction there was an improvement
in the postal system. Hence the images did not stand alone, they could be
referenced and discussed. Hence the key and single word of the last
The images printed on a rectangular surface allowed for a grid to be
imaginatively imposed upon illustrations and diagrams. One can imagine the
exchange of letters that indicate upper left quadrant ... Likewise the
means for knowledge exchange and production rely less on distinctions
between verbal and non-verbal (or auditory and visual in some discussions)
but on the development of a shared means of orienting attention. The
shared means is sometimes a feature of tacit knowledge among experts (one
can think of acronyms and short forms in biblio references that are never
expanded in an artefact at hand; one can think of all the technical
symbols that dot a survey map or a blueprint). The tacity of shared means
fails when novices engage with complex artefacts or even simple artefacts.
One could be clever and suggest that thinking out of the box depends upon
what you put into it. However it might be a tad more accurate to stipulate
a mindfulness of who and when.
An image in the hands of illiterate persons -- illiterate in the sense of
not being able to "parse" the image -- is no more capable of circulating
in the social imaginary than an image without story along the songlines.
-- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance/ivt.htm per Interactivity ad Virtuality via Textuality
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