Roger Hull: Two ways to learn

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 11, 2022

How do we learn? According to author Jonathan Haidt (The Happiness Hypothesis) there are two primary methods by which we learn. The first is “Explicit Knowledge,” knowledge gained directly from an external source. The second is “Tacit Knowledge,” knowledge gained from experience.

For example, explicit knowledge would be a dad instructing his son or daughter that, when changing the oil in their car, to replace the drain plug before adding fresh oil. Tacit knowledge would be the lesson learned from watching fresh oil run out from under the car because the drain plug was not replaced. Which type of learning do you think is most likely to be retained?

There are examples of tacit knowledge experiences in scripture. Moses encountered God in a burning bush (Genesis Chapter 3). I doubt he was told (explicit knowledge) that this is how God is usually encountered. Paul, on the road to Damascus, encountered Jesus in an aural visionary experience (Acts Chapter 9). Again, I doubt he was told (explicit knowledge) that Jesus was usually encountered in aural visionary experiences. These are examples of life changing tacit experiences.

Such experiences of tacit knowledge are not limited to Christianity. Muhammad encountered an angel in a cave and the Buddha had an important insight while sitting under a Bodhi tree. There tacit experiences were also life changing.

These two different methods of learning can influence the way in which God is understood. I have had two life changing tacit learning experiences. Christians would attribute the source of those experiences to God based on the explicit knowledge taught by the church. However, there is no way to prove that and no way to be certain. If there is no way to prove that and no way to be certain, what then? It would be a mystery, especially if the tacit experience did not match the explicit knowledge of God taught by the church. We should not discount a tacit learning experience because it does not agree with explicit knowledge.

There are people who will disagree with me. However, keep in mind that “…when a group of people make something sacred, the members of the cult lose the ability to think clearly…” (from The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt).

Roger Hull lives in China Grove.