Since Polanyi’s famous The Tacit Dimension of 1966, the relevance of experiential knowledge has expanded to most every field. This form of expertise is generally unavailable to articulation and is a type of reasoning that draws upon “preconscious” processes or habits. It is typically thought of as a type of learned skill but is also a perceptual ability.
Perceptions are the means through which the five senses we take in, interpret, and act upon our realities. Without them, knowledge, both explicit and tacit, would be impossible. This is as true for science as it is to art. Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, The Madonna of the Rocks, imbues a deeply mysterious religious scene everywhere with the curiosity of a scientist – the optics and light, plant life, geography, and human anatomy.
To me it seems that those sciences are vain and full of error which are not born of experience, mother of all certainty, first-hand experience which in its origins, or means, or end has passed through one of the five senses. And if we doubt the certainty of everything which passes through the senses, how much more ought we to doubt things contrary to these senses – ribelli ad essi sensi – such as the existence of God or of the soul or similar things over which there is always dispute and contention.
Knowledge in both science and art claims is a perceptual ability and a form of knowledge that is actually objective. Expertise in both domains of expertise requires a conceptual schema, or theoretical framework, through which reality is represented in an interpretation. In art, just as in science, there is a structure to knowledge and experience, something like the building blocks for discovery and innovation.
Experts in science and art construct their knowledge by drawing upon training techniques that have been integrated into unconscious memory and are procedural and combine them with experience. The quality of those experiences stem from both the cognitive and affective sphere. Through a process of selection, deliberation, and arrangement, prioritization, and classification, both artist and scientist seek to structure the stimuli from their worlds. The degree to which our emotions determine these procedures should not be underestimated.
No less than artists, scientists, such as most notably Einstein, speak of the tacit dimension of their discoveries. It may seem they claim their logic was merely intuitive. Yet, their discovery was an outcome of expectations they were not able to explain but for which they had an unconscious grasp. The knowledge their discoveries embody is representations, and they developed them by simultaneously connecting sensory awareness with mental images. They seek to define that mental image and represent it in tangible form by associating similar circumstances and prior experiences.
In this way, those experts of art and science possess the ability to visualize. Through expectation alone, an artist or scientist will actually witness an outcome that really had no way of being predictable given the hard facts immediately given to them. One could argue that Leonardo’s notebooks were the means by which he explored his ideas and left them “incomplete” only because he had reached that point of expectation with them that he could see the outcome. He used the pages of his notebooks to explore and visualize invenzione – both scientific and artistic.