Last year, I started to try to better understand what exactly it is that I do. Is it synthesis, knowledge integration, something else?
That initial research led to these two posts:
Recently, someone on Twitter asked me how I describe what I do. This got me thinking again. I’ve often felt the same way as Maria Popova of Brain Pickings who says:
“I don’t even know how to articulate it to myself most days.”
I’ve been described as a “writer,” but that doesn’t really feel right. Writing is probably the smallest portion of what I do. And, I’m not primarily driven by the need or desire to write. Writing just happens to be my preferred medium because it meshes best with my introverted personality (vs other mediums like audio or video), and I also think it’s the best medium for deep learning.
Again, I feel similar to how Popova describes herself:
“A reader who writes.”
Interestingly, reading, thinking, and writing are all intertwined. Popova says:
“It’s hard to separate the reading and research part of the process from the writing and synthesis one. The osmosis of the two is where the magic happens – that place where you pull existing ideas together into a mesh of insights that germinates your very own point of view, that illuminates the subject in an entirely new way. Is that reading? Writing? Or some other form of sense-making we don’t yet have a word for?”
Perhaps that word could be “figuring”:
“Popova’s way to meaning is through ‘figuring’, a word she uses for her distinctive practice of creating linkages, adjacencies, and intersections among disparate individuals and ideas.” — Janet Sternburg, LA Review of Books
Long story short, the question about what I do sparked an adventure into one of the deepest Wikipedia rabbit holes I’ve ever ventured into—probably around 50 connected pages.
Not all of them ended up being relevant, but I’ve saved short overviews of a number of interesting topics here as an introduction. Almost all of the information on this page is sourced and paraphrased from Wikipedia. You could say this is a synthesis of synthesis—metasynthesis.
Post Contents: Click a link to jump to a section below
- Cognitive Exploration
- Lifelong Learning
- Educational Perennialism
- Great Conversation
- Knowledge Integration
- Integrative Learning
- Integral Theory
- Knowledge Coordinator
- Personal Knowledge Management / Mastery (PKM)
- Knowledge Science
- Tree of Knowledge (ToK)
“So, what do you do?” An Introduction to Synthesis, Integration, Interdisciplinarity, & More
What is Cognitive Exploration?
These notes on cognitive exploration are from “Transcend” by Scott Barry Kaufman.
“Cognitive exploration—which can be defined as a general curiosity about information and a tendency toward complexity and flexibility in information processing—enables us to be curious about confusing situations, increasing the likelihood that we will find new meaning in the seemingly incomprehensible.”
- “Creative self-actualizers are capable of transcending the ordinary dichotomy between the intelligence of the mind and the wisdom of the heart. They are able to throw their whole selves into their work, flexibly switching between seemingly contradictory modes of being—the rational and the irrational, the emotional and the logical, the deliberate and the intuitive, and the imaginative and the abstract—without prejudging the value of any of these processes. Creative self-actualizers are true cognitive explorers.“
- “Openness to experience reflects a drive for exploration of aesthetic, affective, and sensory information through imagination, perception, and artistic endeavor.”
- “Intellect reflects a drive toward exploration of abstract and verbal intellectual information, primarily through reasoning.”
- “It’s only through shedding our natural defense mechanisms and approaching the discomfort head on, viewing everything as fodder for growth, that we can start to embrace the inevitable paradoxes of life and come to a more nuanced view of reality.”
What is Lifelong Learning?
Lifelong learning is the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.
- All learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences.
- Enhances personal development of human potential, self-sustainability, social inclusion, and active citizenship.
- Learning to learn (learning how to recognize learning strategies) and monitor and evaluate learning.
- Metacognition is an essential first step in developing lifelong learning.
What is Educational Perennialism?
Educational Perennialism (or Universal Curriculum) is the belief in teaching the things that are of everlasting pertinence to all people everywhere, and that the emphasis should be on principles (not facts).
- As promoted primarily by Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, a universal curriculum based upon the common and essential nature of all human beings is recommended.
- Education should focus on the historical development of a continually developing common oriented base of human knowledge and art, the timeless value of classic thought on central human issues by landmark thinkers, and revolutionary ideas critical to historical paradigm shifts or changes in world view.
What is the Great Conversation?
The Great Conversation is the ongoing process of writers and thinkers referencing, building on, and refining the work of their predecessors.
- “What binds the authors together in an intellectual community is the great conversation in which they are engaged. In the works that come later in the sequence of years, we find authors listening to what their predecessors have had to say about this idea or that, this topic or that. They not only harken to the thought of their predecessors, they also respond to it by commenting on it in a variety of ways.” — Mortimer Adler
What is a Philomath?
A philomath is a lover of learning and studying.
- Philomathy is similar to, but distinguished from, philosophy in that -soph, the latter suffix, specifies “wisdom” or “knowledge”, rather than the process of acquisition thereof.
- Philomath is not synonymous with polymath, as a polymath is someone who possesses great and detailed knowledge and facts from a variety of disciplines, while a philomath is someone who greatly enjoys learning and studying.
- Polymathy: “knowledge of various matters, drawn from all kinds of studies … ranging freely through all the fields of the disciplines, as far as the human mind, with unwearied industry, is able to pursue them”. — Johann von Wowern
- Renaissance Man: Often applied to the gifted people of that age who sought to develop their abilities in all areas of accomplishment: intellectual, artistic, social, physical, and spiritual.
- Universal Education: The idea of a universal education was essential to achieving polymath ability, hence the word university was used to describe a seat of learning. At this time, universities did not specialize in specific areas, but rather trained students in a broad array of science, philosophy and theology. This universal education gave them a grounding from which they could continue into apprenticeship toward becoming a master of a specific field.
What is Interdisciplinarity?
Interdisciplinarity (or interdisciplinary studies) involves the combining of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g. a research project).
- It draws knowledge from several other fields like sociology, anthropology, psychology, economics etc.
- It is about creating something by thinking across boundaries. It is related to an interdiscipline or an interdisciplinary field, which is an organizational unit that crosses traditional boundaries between academic disciplines or schools of thought, as new needs and professions emerge.
- Can be applied to complex subjects that can only be understood by combining the perspectives of two or more fields.
- Any broadminded humanist project involves interdisciplinarity.
- An interdisciplinary study is an academic program or process seeking to synthesize broad perspectives, knowledge, skills, interconnections, and epistemology in an educational setting.
- In academic discourse, interdisciplinarity typically applies to four realms: knowledge, research, education, and theory.
- Interdisciplinary knowledge: Familiarity with components of two or more disciplines.
- Interdisciplinary research: Combines components of two or more disciplines in the search or creation of new knowledge, operations, or artistic expressions.
- Interdisciplinary education: Merges components of two or more disciplines in a single program of instruction.
- Interdisciplinary theory: Takes interdisciplinary knowledge, research, or education as its main objects of study.
- Many intellectual, social, and practical problems require interdisciplinary approaches.
What is Transdisciplinarity?
Transdisciplinarity connotes a research strategy that crosses many disciplinary boundaries to create a holistic approach.
- Jean Piaget introduced this usage of the term in 1970.
- Concerns that which is at once between the disciplines, across the different disciplines, and beyond each individual discipline.
- Its goal is the understanding of the present world, including the overarching unity of knowledge.
- The transdisciplinary methodology applied in the field of Big History seeks to understand the interconnections of the human race with the different levels of reality that co-exist in nature and in the cosmos, and this includes mystical and spiritual experiences.
- In abstract, the teaching of Big History … implies a transdisciplinary vision that integrates and unifies diverse epistemes that are in, between, and beyond the scientific disciplines, that is, including ancestral wisdom, spirituality, art, emotions, mystical experiences and other dimensions forgotten in the history of science.
- Transdisciplinary education is the education that brings integration of different disciplines in a harmonious manner to construct new knowledge and uplift the learner to higher domains of cognitive abilities and sustained knowledge and skills. It involves better neural networking for lifelong learning.
An Investigation into Synthesis
What is Intellectual Synthesis?
Intellectual synthesis is a broad term describing scholarly endeavors meant to unify and fuse a large amount of information into a single integrated body of knowledge.
- The goal of intellectual synthesis is to bring together all of the related transdisciplinary knowledge into a single, cohesive whole to provide for a more complete and comprehensive understanding and potentially lead to new theories, perspectives, and interpretations.
- Commonly, intellectual synthesis occurs as an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary academic effort.
- Intellectual synthesis is most apparent in fields which blur the lines of existing disciplines. For example, history has been regarded as a social science, but is dependent upon anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, military theory, climatology, etc.
What is Synthetic Thinking?
Synthetic thinking is the combination of ideas into a complex whole.
What is Synoptic Philosophy?
Synoptic philosophy is the love of wisdom emerging from a coherent understanding of everything together (“seeing everything together”).
What are Syncretism and Eclecticism?
Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, while blending practices of various schools of thought. Syncretism also occurs commonly in expressions of arts and culture (known as eclecticism). Eclecticism in ethics, philosophy, and religion is also known as syncretism.
- Syncretism involves the merging or assimilation of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths.
- Eclecticism is a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases.
An Investigation into Integration
What is Knowledge Integration?
Knowledge integration is the process of synthesizing multiple knowledge models into a common model.
- Knowledge integration focuses on synthesizing the understanding of a given subject from different perspectives.
- Knowledge integration has also been studied as the process of incorporating new information into a body of existing knowledge with an interdisciplinary approach.
- This process involves determining how the new information and the existing knowledge interact, how existing knowledge should be modified to accommodate the new information, and how the new information should be modified in light of the existing knowledge.
What is Integrative Learning?
Integrative learning is a learning theory describing a movement toward integrated lessons helping students make connections across curricula.
What is Integral Theory?
Integral theory is a systematic philosophy which suggests the synthesis of all human knowledge and experience.
What is a Knowledge Coordinator?
A knowledge coordinator is a person who has a wide range of knowledge that transcends the disciplinary boundaries, has free thinking and comprehensive judgment, deep insight and the ability to think systematically.
- Ability to acquire theories such as knowledge management theory and innovation theory, communicate with different fields, and coordinate interdisciplinary research projects.
What is Personal Knowledge Management / Mastery (PKM)?
Personal Knowledge Mastery is a set of individually-constructed processes to help each of us make sense of our world, work more effectively, and contribute to society.
- Personal: According to one’s abilities, interests & motivation (not directed by external forces).
- Knowledge: Understanding information and experience in order to act upon it (know what, know who, know how).
- Mastery: The journey from apprentice to disciplined sense-maker and sharer of knowledge (masters do not need to be managed).
What is Knowledge Science?
“Knowledge science is a problem-oriented interdisciplinary field that takes as its subject the modeling of the knowledge creation process and its application, and carries out research in such disciplines as knowledge management, management of technology, support for the discovery, synthesis and creation of knowledge, and innovation theory with the aim of constructing a better knowledge-based society.” (Source)
What is Consilience?
Consilience is the interlocking of fact and theory into a coherent, holistic view of knowledge.
- In science and history, consilience (also convergence of evidence or concordance of evidence) is the principle that evidence from independent, unrelated sources can “converge” on strong conclusions.
- When multiple sources of evidence are in agreement, the conclusion can be very strong even when none of the individual sources of evidence is significantly so on its own.
- Commonly attributed to E. O. Wilson, but the word consilience was originally coined as the phrase “consilience of inductions” by William Whewell (consilience refers to a “jumping together” of knowledge).
What is the Tree of Knowledge (ToK)?
The Tree of Knowledge (ToK) is “a new unified theory of knowledge that maps the pieces of the scientific puzzle in a novel way that connects Quantum Mechanics to Sociological processes and everything in between into a coherent whole. The most novel aspect of the ToK is its visuo-spatial depiction of knowledge as consisting of four dimensions of complexity (Matter, Life, Mind, and Culture) that correspond to the behavior of four classes of objects (material objects, organisms, animals, and humans), and four classes of science (physical, biological, psychological, and social).” (Source: Official Website)
- The ToK offers alternative perspectives on how knowledge is obtained because it depicts science itself as both emerging out of culture and as a unique type of “justification system” that is based on the values of accuracy and objectivity.
- A “justification system” refers to any belief system that emerges that coordinates the behaviors of individual humans to human populations.
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