Talkin' about ... synthesis

The inevitable goal of transformational thinking is synthetic understanding, in which sensory impressions, feelings, knowledge, and memories come together in a multimodal, unified way… All sensations, all perceptions become all knowing, and the synthesis of sensing, feeling, and knowing became the wellspring of … imaginative achievements. [296]

In susceptible individuals, sights, sounds, and all sorts of other sensations get mixed up… More commonly, music is linked to and stimulates color… In addition to sight- or sound-triggered associations, perceptual fusions may also originate in other sensations such as touch or taste. [298 – 300]

All of these varied and idiosyncratic manifestations of interfused sensations are forms of synesthesia, from the Greek root words syn (union, together) and aesthesis (sensation), a “feeling-together” or union of the senses. [300]

The kind of conscious sensory fusion and intensity with which it occurs clearly differ from individual to individual. People who cannot control the nature or degree of sensory fusion are rare… Associational or learned synesthesis, in which people are consciously sensitized to the simultaneity of sense impressions, their harmony, and ultimately their fusion, is far more common. [300 – 301]

Everyone has similar memories of specific sounds, smells, tastes, or actions that trigger particularly pleasant or unpleasant synesthetic experience. This is natural because… we store memories and ideas as kinesthetic, visual, auditory, and other sensory forms or patterns. When we remember to think about them, they return in the multimodal form in which we experienced them. [301]

Associational synesthesia occurs in about half of all young children and from 5 to 15 percent of the adult population. The huge difference between the number of synesthetic children and adults clearly suggests that the typical educational focus on unisensory experiences and expression stifles an early and nature association of perceptions. [301]

If thinking is naturally synesthetic, it should be possible to maintain and develop associational synesthesia with practice. [301]

There is so much more to synthesizing than just a sensual or aesthetic component… Synesthesia is key not only to experiencing but to understanding things at a much deeper level than is possible using single modes of perception… To know is passive; to understand is to be able to act on one’s knowledge. [304]

… thinking—all thinking— involves, or at least should involve, a synergistic interaction between our sensations and abstract knowledge… Whether or not people cultivate a conscious awareness of sensory fusion, thinking depends on the associations and connections made between sense and knowledge. Although we are used to beliving that each of our senses perceives the world differently and discretely, they must, in fact, be coordinated for us to be able to think and act reasonably. [305]

… we are all whole brain thinkers. An accurate understanding of apple taste relies as much on the eyes, the nose, and the hand as it does on the tongue… Mind and body are one. Sense and sensibility cannot be separated. [306]

We sense and make sense of the world in multiple, concurrent, and intersensory or “cross-modal” ways. But we do even more than that… more than a mere combining of senses. This is synthetic knowing—a combining of sensation, feeling, memory, and rational thought. All creative work is based upon this. [306]

Recognition of the synthetic nature of creative understanding is apparently so rare that there is no word for it, so we suggest synosia, derived from the Greek words syn (union), as in synthesis, the combining of dieas, and gnosis (knowledge) or noesis (exercise of reason or cognition)… synosis, or synosia [is] the union of different forms of knowledge, or synthetic knowing. [307]

Hearing and seeing are not passive experiences; they require active intelligence, whether or not we are blind of deaf… Synosia is therefore the intellectual extension of synesthesia. Just as synesthesia is considered the highest form of aesthetic sensibility, so synosia denotes the highest integration of multi-modal feeling with multiple ways of knowing to create an ultimate form of understanding. [307]

Synosia is the natural and necessary result of imaging, analogizing, modeling, playing, and transforming. Although an individual or group must work step by step through a series of transformations to define and create something new, when the process of invention is completed, the individual or group understands the creation as a whole. More, the inventors carry within themselves the processes by which they invented and the proprioceptive and emotional senses of excitement, frustration, and eventual validation that occur during the course of creating. [307]

Creative people have always combined many ways of feeling and knowing simultaneously… melding sensual and intellectual concerns… this synthetic way of knowing is what all creative people strive for in their work and look for in the work of others. [309 – 311]

The only real schooling… trains the mind, the body, and the spirit to strive for synthesis. The challenge in modern life and education still remains to reintegrate poetry and physics, art and chemistry, music and biology, dance and sociology, and ever other possible combination of aesthetic and analytical knowledge, to foster people who feel that they want to know and know that they want to feel. [313]

To comprehend the advances of this century, one must be able to perceive the connections between mathematical calculations, logical constructions, patterns, visual images, and the technical processes of manipulating artistic media to produce electronic inventions—or to make similarly unexpected concatenations of thinking tools. [314]

We desperately need synthetic minds. No major problem facing the world today can be boxed neatly within a single discipline or approached effectively by analysis, emotion, or tradition alone. Innovation is always transdisciplinary and multimodal. The future will therefore depend upon our ability to create synthetic understanding by integrating all ways of knowing… Synosia is not an ideal or a dream; it is a necessity. [314 – 315]

First, we must emphasize the teaching of universal processes of invention in addition to the acquisition of disciplinary products of knowledge. The purpose of education should be understanding rather than simply knowing; its focus should be the active process of learning and creating rather than the passive acquisition of facts…. Active understanding subsumes passive knowledge and builds upon it. Students must not only analyze the products of creative understanding, such as novels, poems, experiments, theories, paintings, dances, and songs, they must copy and imitate them, thereby learning the sensual and synosic processes of their invention. [316]

Second, it follows that we must teach the intuitive and imaginative skills necessary to inventive processes…. creative thinking in every field begins in nonlogical, nonverbal forms. To think is to feel and to feel is to think. Everyone should receive early and continuing stimulation of visual, aural, and other body senses and learn how to imaginatively recreate sense images. [316 – 317]

Third, we must implement a multidisciplinary education that places the arts on an equal footing with the sciences… The arts are not merely for self-expression or entertainment. They are… disciplines as rigorous as medicine or mathematics, with their own bodies of knowledge, techniques, tools, skills, and philosophies. [317]

Fourth, we must integrate the curriculum by using a common descriptive language for innovation. There is no point in teaching a liberal arts and sciences curriculum that continues to fragment knowledge and create4s specialists who cannot communicate across disciplinary lines… Tools for thinking… [provide] a common language with which practitioners from different fields may share their experience of the process of innovation and discover links between their creative activities. [317]

Fifth, we must emphasize the transdisciplinary lessons of disciplinary learning…. Teachers should downplay tags … that place knowledge in insular boxes and focus instead on how the same material can be used flexibly in many disciplines. The object is to help everyone think simultaneously as artist and scientist, musician and mathematician, dancer and engineer. An education that trains the mind to imagine creatively in one field prepares the mind for creative application in any other, for thinking tooks as well as flexible knowledge are transferable. [318]

Sixth, we must use the experiences of people who have successfully bridged the disciplines as exemplars of creative activity within our curricula. The best way to learn is to watch others and then model their techniques, insights, and processes… Until students see the human face of the creative process that underlies the disembodied products of their world, they cannot realize that they, too, may participate in creating their own vision of the future. [318]

Seventh, to reach the widest range of minds, ideas in every discipline should be presented in many forms. There is no one single imaginative skill or creative technique that is adequate for all thinking needs. … Every idea can and should be transformed into several equivalent forms, each of which has a different formal expression and emphasizes a different set of thinking tools. The more ways students can imagine an idea, the better their chances of insight. The more ways they can express that insight, the better their chances that others will understand and appreciate it. [318 – 319]

Finally, we must forge a pioneering education, whose purpose is to produce the imaginative generalists who can take us into the uncharted future… Pioneers of the creative imagination must have adaptable minds, too, and all-purpose toolboxes of inventive skills that enable them to make new knowledge. [319]

What this new knowledge may be, we can only guess, but much remains to be known and invented… To expand our conceptions… will require manifold acts of the creative imagination… The new symbols will be unexpected and surprising… and they will emerge only when the humanities and the sciences, the arts and technologies, “advance together.” [319]

In our educational endeavors, we may be compelled to think of specialization in breadth rather than specialization in minutiae… For when we look closely at the formative years of productive artists, scientists, and inventors we find that although the strong enthusiasms of youth shaped their future contributions, they did not lead to them in any direct, disciplinary fashion… Out of youthful enthusiasms and mature interests, the creative individual interleaves vocations and avocations that together stimulate imagination and innovation… They made contributions to particular disciplines because of, not in spite of, their broad interests… It has long been observed by psychologists that people who are innovative tend to participate in a wider range of activities and develop a greater degree of skill in those activities than other people… One need not be a genius to be a polymath. Everyone can develop hobbies, arts, crafts, intellectual interests, and challenging physical pastimes. Everyone can draw connections between an amateur avocation and a professional vocation. [319 – 323]

Polymathy and imagination go hand in hand. Multiply trained individuals transform experience, synthesize knowledge, and lead us toward synosia, the understanding that… “everything in nature is connected with everything else.”… The same impulse that motivates the best art, the best literature, the best science can be harnessed to provide the best schooling, as innovators and their teachers have been doing for centuries… Education is meant to open many doors, leading to many rooms. [325]

Technical training alone is not enough to fit a man for an interesting and useful life… We need polymaths and pioneers who know that imagination thrives when sensual experience joins with reason, when Illusions link to Reality, when intuition couples with intellect, when the passions of the heart unite with those of the mind, when knowledge gained in one discipline opens doors to all the rest. [326]