Imagining the Ineffable: Elucidating Tacit Knowledge through Deliberate Imagining


  • Natalie M. Fletcher


Introduction: Michael Polanyi famously stated that “we can know more than we can tell,”1 but is it possible to know more than we imagine? Or, on the contrary, does imagining play a role in elucidating what we feel we know but cannot fully express? In this article, I will argue that imagining can elucidate knowledge by helping us to name and color in the contours of the fuzzy but existentially significant aspects of our phenomenological experience. Specifically, I will claim that if we initiate deliberate imagining, as a conscious, flexible process of meaning-making, we may be in a better position to express the ineffable qualities of our tacit knowing, notably through interpretive acts of meaning-generation that are affectively charged. To start on a metaphorical note, this article deals with concepts that cannot stand still. Concepts like imagination, tacit knowledge, affect and embodiment imbue richness and texture into our mental landscape—that vast expanse of intertwined knowledge, memories, beliefs and feelings that make up the scenery of our mind—but they do not stick around long enough for our direct contemplation; if chased, they move in so many different directions that it seems only definitional dizziness can ensue. In some sense, these concepts all share an ineffable quality, one that has alienated many theorists and rendered the prospects of the obscured illuminating the obscure hard to fathom. After all, how can that which is tacit itself elucidate tacitness elsewhere? Accordingly, putting these restless concepts in relation is no easy task, and the connections and demarcations this article proposes will likely not satisfy all readers, but will hopefully lessen the conceptual fidgeting. To begin, in the first section, I will present some of imagination’s lovers and haters from intellectual history and a handful of key criteria garnered from the interdisciplinary contributions of contemporary imagination theory. The subsequent sections will examine tacit knowledge from major theoretical frameworks in an effort to reveal a relative subspecies of tacit knowing that deliberate imagining can help elucidate through immersive philosophical exploration. Finally, in the concluding section, I will briefly outline why formal education should be concerned with the process of elucidating relative tacit knowing through deliberate imagining, notably through the Community of Philosophical Inquiry (CPI) pedagogical model.