One of the characters in Stand on Zanzibar is a synthesist. Everyone else refers to him as a dilletante, and even the government agency he works for is colloquially called the Dilletante Dept. Don Hogan’s job is to browse through this giant encyclopedic computer archive [sort of prefiguring the internet] and learn about whatever he wants, and report on the interdisciplinary associations he makes. In a sense he is a spy.

What I like about that, is that it is a job I think I could do quite well. I’ve always had a resistance to extreme specialization because I don’t want to be narrowed down into a niche; since I also want to spend my life constantly learning new things and expanding my knowledge instead of contracting it, the job of a synthesist is appealing.

I wonder if there are any similar jobs today that would be equivalent to the synthesist position. Probably the closest would be some sort of consultant, but that is more focused. The synthesist just does some word association football with concepts and links unforeseen relations between different fields and also recognizes the empty space where interdisciplinary gaps in knowledge can be filled through collaboration. It is an interesting idea and one that I think meets with my tendency to look for what I call “seams” in an idea.