What's Synthetic Thinking and What's it Used For?

What's synthetic thinking? How can it be used? In this article, we'll show you and take a look at some examples. We'll also talk about the differences between synthetic and analytic thinking.
What's Synthetic Thinking and What's it Used For?

Last update: 10 January, 2021

What’s synthetic thinking? Before getting into details, you need to remember that thoughts are the product of the mind. They appear due to different processes, whether rational and logical or more abstract processes (such as imagination).

The renowned American educationalist and philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952), for his part, defined thought as the result of what we already know, our memory, and what we perceive.

According to Dewey, by using these three aspects, we give meaning to events and create and invent ideas. Thoughts arise from this. But luckily, there isn’t just one way of thinking but many. Some thought processes make us reflect, while others make us argue, analyze, synthesize, summarize, and explore.

Today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at a specific way of thinking: synthetic thinking. How could you define it? What’s it for? What examples could you state to illustrate it? Find out in this article.

A man thinking at his desk.

What’s synthetic thinking?

If you look at the etymology of the word, the concept of synthesis as we know it comes from Latin. However, by looking even further, you’ll note it originates from a Greek verb. This term refers to a presentation of a whole thanks to a focus on its most interesting or outstanding parts. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines synthesis as the composition or combination of parts or elements to form a whole.

Well, now you know what synthesis is. But what about synthetic thinking? It’s the type of thinking a person uses when they need to reduce the dimensions of objects or processes that they’re learning about, to condense them or unite them into a smaller commodity. This commodity incorporates the most outstanding parts of each section. That way, you can look at many different parts as a whole instead of individually, helping to simplify things.

By means of synthetic thinking, you can explain a phenomenon or event by its role (or function) it carries out within a greater system.

Examples

Synthetic thinking can be one way to study the different organs of the human body. For example, you find the organs within bigger systems (the endocrine, digestive, cardiovascular, and nervous systems, among others). At the same time, these systems operate within an even greater system, the human body itself. Considering the smaller components part of a larger system is one way to use synthetic thinking.

Another example where this type of thinking is useful is in helping you reach conclusions in conversations or debates. Also, it’s what you use to summarize a text, an experience, a book, a movie, etc.

Analytic thinking is the opposite of synthetic thinking. While analytic thinking aims to break down something into smaller, independent parts, synthetic thinking groups information together.

On the other hand, analytic thinking tries to solve or explain each part, as well as put together these explanations to define the whole. With synthetic thinking, the opposite happens: the smaller parts come together to create a meaningful whole.

To make it more visual and better understand these concepts, imagine a hospital team. If you were using analytic thinking, you’d analyze each member of the team individually (their contributions, interests, and tasks).

However, using synthetic thinking, you’d take each member of the team and unite them as a whole, as a team. In other words, you’d reflect on what the team could accomplish together, the advantages, how they operate as a whole, etc.

Synthetic thinking can help to analyze how a team works.

The creation of synthetic thinking

Why did we also mention analytic thinking above? Because this type of thinking, together with synthetic thinking, create what’s called systemic thinking. For its part, systemic thinking allows you to interpret a whole made up of different parts to make decisions.

You can also find other definitions for this kind of thinking, like the one proposed by Francisco Saez. Saez affirms that systemic thinking tries to understand the guidelines that determine how different systems behave, how they interact, and how they influence one another. In other words, it’s a type of thinking that’s very far-reaching and relates different things to each other.

In this article, we’ve taken a look at different types of thinking. However, the idea you can take away is that each way of thinking can be useful for some task or other. At the end of the day, the most important thing is cognitive flexibility. Thus, you can adapt any type of thinking to the task at hand.

As we’ve seen, you can use synthetic thinking to group together or unite conclusive information. That’s why it can be very useful in academic tasks or when you need to summarize information or find key ideas.

“All that we are is the result of what we’ve thought.”

-Siddhartha Guatama-

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  • Gabucio, F. (Coordinador), Domingo, JM, Lichtenstein, F., Limón, M., Minervino, R., Romo, M., Y Tubau, E. (2005). Psicología del pensamiento. Barcelona. Editorial UOC