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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Tacit Knowing and Indwelling

One of the cornerstones of heuristic research is the concept of tacit knowing. By tacit knowing, Polanyi (1966) means “we know more than we can tell” (p. 4). Tacit knowledge cannot be put into words but is at work behind the scenes, essentially explaining from another view the underlying dynamics of the hermeneutic circle. Moustakas further explicates the concept of tacit knowledge:

Polanyi has stated that all knowledge consists or is rooted in acts of comprehension that are made possible through tacit knowing: . . . . “this knowledge cannot be put into words” (p. 4). Such knowledge is possible through a tacit capacity that allows one to sense the unity or wholeness of something from an understanding of the individual qualities or parts . . . . Vague and defined dimensions or components take on “sharp outlines of certainty, only to dissolve again in the light of second thoughts or of further experimental observations. Yet from time to time certain visions of the truth, having made their appearance, continue to gain strength both by further reflection and additional evidence. (Polanyi, 1964, p. 30) . . . . the tacit dimension underlies and precedes intuition and guides the researcher into untapped directions and sources of meaning. Tacit knowledge is a basic capacity of the self of the researcher and gives “birth to hunches and vague, formless insights that characterize heuristic discovery.” (Douglas and Moustakas, 1985, p. 49). (Moustakas, 1990, pp. 20-22)

Gauss is reported to have said, “ I have had my solutions for a long time but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them” (Polanyi, 1960, p. 130). His statement echoes the nature of tacit knowledge and its relationship to the heuristic journey. One intuitively discovers the destination before working out explicitly how to get there. The process is similar to Michelangelo’s unfinished St. Matthew, where the artist perceived the figure inside of the marble block and then just needed to cut away the stone from around the figure to reveal it (Polanyi, 1963).

The tacit knowledge Jung (1961/1989) realized in his “confrontation with the unconscious” was the foundation of his later work:

Today I can say that I have never lost touch with my initial experiences. All my works, all my creative activity, has come from those initial fantasies and dreams which began in 1912, almost fifty years ago. Everything that I accomplished in later life was already contained in them, although at first only in the form of emotions and images. (p. 192)

In Jung’s artwork and building games we see an example of focusing and indwelling. Focusing, a technique originally described by Eugene Gendlin, facilitates a receptive and relaxed state. It provides an internal clearing which enables one to tap into the essence of what matters, making contact with and explicating core themes (Moustakas, 1990). Jung’s confrontation with the unconscious required that he take the time and space he needed to really be with all of the contents of his unconscious. He unceasingly sought to understand and elucidate his experiences. He followed clues from his dreams and let synchronicity guide him.

Indwelling “involves the willingness to gaze with unwavering attention and concentration into some facet of human experience in order to understand its constituent qualities and its wholeness” (Moustakas, 1990, p. 24). It is conscious and deliberate but not logical or linear. One follows clues “wherever they appear and then dwells inside them expanding their meaning and associations until a fundamental insight is achieved” (p. 24). By indwelling, one moves toward the ultimate creative synthesis, which reveals an experience’s essential meanings and qualities.


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