12 November, 2008

Synergistic thinking - II: Some quick notes

Thought I'd jot these things down before I forget them..

Not too long ago, I witnessed this insight from a 3-year old who was tired and wanted to be picked up by her mother. Her mother was busy tending to the even younger sibling and told her to go to the grandparents. To which, the 3-year-old retorts, "But I am your child; I want you to pick me up.." and then bawls inconsolably..

Such an insight from a 3-year-old is unusual indeed. Her anxiety is not a function of what is happening here and now, but what it means in the underlying scheme of things.

This is what I mean by synergistic or "what is" thinking. Synergistic thinkers are concerned about underlying principles and not the present observations themselves. Given a set of observations and experiences, the synergistic thinker starts a concurrent breakdown process where these are stripped down to their underlying principles.

Synergy happens when a set of mutually consistent principles come together and are able to describe a major portion of the observations.

Much of theoretical science happens this way; except that, obtaining synergy in one's mind is not enough for other scientists to accept a theory. They will need imperative proofs and substantiation by experimentation to accept theories. Regardless of the subsequent rigour, the first steps towards building new theories are due to synergistic thinking.

Synergistic thinking is not the same as gestalt or holistic thinking. Holistic thinking (as far as I have understood it) is about thinking of the entire system as a whole. I have come across some articles on holistic thinking that included elements like religion, spirituality, culture and philosophy into what were essentially scientific questions.

Maybe that is also necessary or maybe it is not. I'm afraid, I don't really understand it.

But synergistic thinking is not about understanding the "whole system" but about understanding the "underlying principles".

I also have a theory why synergistic thinkers are prone to extra anxiety than others. It is essentially described by a quote that I have coined: We don't know what we don't know.

New observations or experiences are likely to bring in facts that conflict with existing theories that have been painfully built over a period of time in the minds of the synergistic thinkers. And such conflicts can cause major rollbacks of existing models in order to build new models. Worse, synergistic thinkers may have committed actions based on their earlier models, which have altered the state of the larger environment and to which they may be accountable. Now if new facts suddenly made their earlier paradigms invalid, they suddenly are much more vulnerable.

New, destabilizing facts can come at any time and may cause any amount of rollbacks. We don't know what are all the things that could destabilize our models -- because, "we don't know what is it that we don't know!"