Arnold Pacey, Book                        

Meaning in the Hands

Chapter 3

Tacit knowing and tactile knowledge as essential to understaning technology.

Have we "lost contact with the primary element" Jacques Ellul says?

p. 73

What is the evidence for our having lost touch or been out-of-touch with the elements?

Secrets of inventiveness | Form and sense | failure of logical deduction | conclusions

Four elements: Air, Water, Earth, Fire,
animistic theory gave way to organic order of the alchemists.
Ninety-two Naturally occurring elements, from hydrogen to uranium and more....
atomic theory gave way to quantum mechanics of quarks and neutrons.

Richard Wilber, poetry of place

secret of inventiveness

Ancient world of Greek science:

The "eureka effect"    The story of Archimedes.

discovery of the principle of displacement 

"was the result of an observation he made as he got into the water and noticed the level rise""

p. 59.

Gordon Glegg, "the secret of inventiveness is to fill the mind and the imagination with the context of the problem and then relax and think of something else."

"sometimes the subconscious will "hand-up " a picture of what the solution might be."

p. 59.


The sense of form

 "The ability to recognize patterns of one kind or another is important in a variety of disciplines, and may be compared with the ability of a good engineer to evaluate a structural design "by the eye"."

p. 61-62.

reading x-rays is at first difficult and the role of tacit knowledge (acquired from experience, intuition and immersion).

p. 62.

One failure of deductive logic is that

"choices have to be made as to which conclusions  are significant and then judgment is called for"

p. 63.

"One problem seems to be that the use of such equipment (any device) is sometimes associated with a narrowing of the focus of what one looks at. The equipment itself is part of the fascination, so one tends to look only at what it reveals."

p. 65.

"we were shown how to feel the soil between our fingers, thereby judging its sand, silt, and clay content."

"In many other jobs 'the living movement of his hand' and the rhythm of the work may help the author or craft worker maintain the flow of what is being done."

(> Efficiency)


The wheelwright knew about the timber "not by theory, but more delicately, in his eyes and fingers."  

p. 67.

"But operators still need insight and imagination (and" still depend on a sense of form and an occasional Eureka effects."

p. 73.


  1. There is a constant necessity to emerse the mind and the senses in materials (imagination).
  2. Decuction alone is often ubable to detect the problem because the world is not a machine, per se.
  3. We too often are narrowing the focus of what we look closely at and miss the context and the point.
  4. Insights only come to the mind ready for detecting hidden relations.
  5. Summary of Jacques Ellul's critique.

Technology, Conclusions about | Pacey, in World Civ. | Pacey, Meaning | Pursell | Kranzberg

Related concepts: historical relations of tools and society, defining technology, significant events in history

Spectrum of the means of production