Chapter 8 • Synthesizing
The final cognitive tool or habit of mind really ties together all of the previous tools and skills discussed in earlier chapters. Synthesizing entails putting multiple ways of knowing together into synthesized knowledge, or, using the Root-Bernstein's term, synosia. [1] When we fully understand something (a concept, or a proof) our feelings, senses, knowledge and experiences come together in a multi-faceted and cohesive kind of knowing. A person feels what they know and they know what they feel. For example, Einstein noted that when he sailed, he felt and experienced mathematical equations occurring via the boat interacting with the wind and the water. The creative process is often described by artists, writers and scientists as a coming together of the five senses and their emotions, interlaced into an aesthetic and intellectual experience which is difficult to dissect. When feeling and thinking work together, creative and intellectual processes are far more powerful and have been described as being "synesthetic."

  • 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]

Loud tie [2]
Nice. Does it come with earplugs?

If your glass of pinot noir has a "soft" mouth-feel, when you hear a "sweet" tune or a Hawaiian shirt strikes you as "loud", or should you fall into a black mood while reading purple prose, making you see red and then feel blue, you may not exactly be experiencing synesthesia but you are certainly categorizing one sensation in terms of another. (And you might need to take some kava for your mood swings.)

  • 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]

The Russian mnemonist known simply as "S." in A. R. Luria's intriguing study The Mind of a Mnemonist was blessed, or perhaps uniquely cursed, with extraordinary powers of memory, partly through his synesthesia. The subject of this fascinating 30-year study was later revealed to be Solomon Shereshevsky , a journalist. Shereshevsky had the problem that, because of his high level of synesthesia, memories were so strong, he had trouble forgetting them.

by Billy Collins
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

  • 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]

"All the arts are the same: you can write a picture in words just as you can paint sensations in a poem."Pablo Picasso
Guernica by Pablo Picasso

It's hard to look at a painting like Picasso's Guernica and not hear the dirge playing within the images, taste the bile of war, feel the cut of the sword, shudder at every scream made manifest ....

  • 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]

Food does not just provide the energy of life. At its best, food connects us to our cultures, our families, our personal histories. The way food affects us is a compound reaction to a number of sensations: taste, smell, feel, appearance. The sense of smell, especially, reaches the innermost areas of our brains .

Fragrences, too, can evoke moods and memories.

The differing odors of cookies baking, hay drying in the sun, bacon sizzling in a pan, or chalk dust wafting off a blackboard (if you are old enough to have known chalk and boards that are black—or green) can bring memories to the fore, evoking places and people long gone or nearly forgotten.

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

In order to develop synesthetic sense, it helps to begin deliberately relating one sensation with another, tasting through one's ears the minty bon-bons of a Mozart or rolling around on one's tongue the thick and savory roast beef of a Beethoven. A multi-modal response to art is one of the easiest ways to begin to develop that sense-ability.

  • 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]

"What I cannot create, I do not understand." Richard Feynman
Dr. Feynman practicing physics.

Feynman himself had a synesthetic response to numbers and formulae, seeing them in a variety of colors and shapes. He also played a mean set of bongos:

  • 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]

See next: Skill Building
  1. ^ "...derived from the Greek words syn (union), as in synthesis, the combining of ideas, and gnosis (knowledge) or noesis (exercise of reason or cognition)." [307]
  2. ^ Loud tie day:
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