Synthesis “demands a broader vision”

We are approaching a new age of synthesis. Knowledge cannot be merely a degree or skill. … It demands a broader vision, capabilities in critical thinking and logical deduction without which we cannot have constructive programs.       —  Li Ka Shing

Three different meanings of Synthesis

1. The first meaning comes from chemistry. When chemists put two or more substances together and a chemicalA researcher weara a white lab coat and safety goggles looks at a test tube with a blue liquid. change takes place, a new substance has been created.  Originally, chemists created substances they were familiar with, but gradually they learned to create new and different substances. These include all sorts of plastics, and many familiar synthetic fibers such as nylon, rayon, polyester and spandex.

The chemist in the picture might be working to create new synthetic fibers.

From the use of the word synthetic to describe man-made substances we now use the word to mean things we make that are not found in nature.  This is interesting but it should not be confused with Synthesis as a kind of thinking.

2. The second meaning comes from Hegelian philosophy although the philosopher, Hegel, apparently didn’t use the term.  It begins with a thesis or stated idea.  Then the antithesis is stated as the opposite. (To pronounce the word, antithesis, the stress is on tith.)   Merging the thesis and the antithesis, we get the synthesis.

. Thesis   ——-  Antithesis        Pay for Univ  ——-  Free Education
.                    I                                                             I
.                    I                                                             I
.             Synthesis                              Financial Aid for poor students

I added an example on the right. In the example, the thesis is that Students should pay to go to a university. If necessary they can get loans and repay them after they get a job. They might say that students appreciate what they pay for.

The antithesis to this ideas is that University education should be free for all students.

The synthesis, here,  is much like a compromise. It tries to combine insights from both the Thesis and the Antithesis. In this case, we get the idea of financial aid for those who cannot afford the costs. This would make it possible for all qualified students could go to college.

3. This is close to what we mean by synthesis today. We no longer begin with a thesis and antithesis. We begin with a variety of good ideas. Imagine that your organization has a financial problem and they brainstorm a long list of possible ways to get money.  In this case, a synthesis would combine many of these ideas to create an effective solution  that the largest number of members will support.

You might write an essay by listing a group of main ideas on the topic and then find a way to connect them, possibly in a new way.  In many ways, this website includes a great deal of synthesis.  From a great deal of research, I have taken a variety of ideas and put them together to create something new. Other parts of the website, I would consider to be completely original.

How could you use this in a class?

I have never had a professor ask me to write a “Synthesis”. What they do sometimes ask you to do is something like this: “Based on the three articles you read on the fall of Rome, write an essay drawing information from all three sources.”

And isn’t this what we do each time we do a research paper?  In most cases, your various sources will not agree on everything. While you might recognize difference of opinions or approaches, you still need to come to your own conclusion. This is synthesis.

These quotations explain synthesis more poetically. The first one takes a little thought.

Science is the spectral analysis of light;  Art is light synthesis.                        — Karl Krauss

A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist, and evolutionary strategist.
— R. Buckminster Fuller

Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.
— Carl Sandburg

If you haven’t already read Analysis, you should read it next    Analysis

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