Michael Polanyi (1966) introduces his notion of tacit or silent knowledge with the oft quoted phrase, “we can know more than we can tell.” For Polanyi “tacit knowledge” is part of an innovative view of the nature of knowledge which preceded, and influenced, Kuhn and Feyerebend. Polanyi embraces the quest for objective knowledge, but acknowledges human fallibility. He recognizes inescapably subjective and context-bound elements in the process of knowing informed, not least, by an individual knower’s personal commitment and affective motivations.
For Polanyi, explicit knowledge, the fragment that can be articulated, always rests on a much larger, hidden foundation of tacit knowledge. Polanyi (1958: 50) illustrates this point by contrasting the arcane technical algorithm for riding a bicycle with the experience of actually riding. Polanyi wryly informs us that:
For a given angle of unbalance, the curvature of each winding is inversely proportional to the square of the speed at which the cyclist is proceeding.
The physics behind this is slightly counterintuitive. Specifically:
if the cyclist: starts falling to the right, he turns the handlebars to the right. This results in a centrifugal force pulling the cycle to the left.
Clearly, even if we grasp the physics, it is impossible to learn to ride until we actually mount the bicycle and give it a try.
Polanyi, Michael (1958) Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. University of Chicago Press.