Synthesists

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.