What I wanted to be when I grew up

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I always wanted to be a mom to a large family, but there were also lots of other things that attracted my attention. One concept that attracted me was to be an encyclopedic sythesist. It's a profession described (possibly invented by) Robert Heinlein, the science fiction writer who profoundly influenced my youth (for better and for worse). (It's in Beyond This Horizon). Basically, a person with this profession tries to learn as much as possible about as broad a variety of fields as humanly possibly, and then brings together items from disparate fields and ties them together into a new knowledge. As described by Heinlein, it requires eidetic memory, high intelligence, and an ability to see patterns that others can't, and then be able to explain those connections to others so that they understand it.

One of the main characters in John Brunner's dystopia Stand on Zanzibar has similar talents - but Brunner calls him a 'patty-ducker' - from pattern inductive reasoning. "He's spent the last ten years of his life, every work day, at the New York Public Library reading a little bit of everything, filing regular reports on patterns he's noticed, all very low-key." (from a review ).

My memory is a long way from photographic (I lose objects on a regular basis and get lost myself a lot too!) but I find that I can retreive obscure factoids in my memory cells and can then make use of external resources to finish putting together the puzzle. I think that the efforts made in memorization as a child (from the multiplication tables to various bits of prose and poetry) probably helped as well. Some snippets that I use fairly frequently I can actually picture the pages where I read them. It's a gift God gave me, but I really haven't been able to put it to much real use as far as I can see. It's fun but often comes off as more of a parlor trick than anything else.

Still, I do appreciate that I can still sometimes be triggered to think in a sideways and out-of-the-box fashion by random stimuli. Thank God for weblogs - it gives me an outlet for sharing some of my more random (or even pertinent but obscure) connect the dots ideas. My knowledge base may not be encyclopedic (at least according to my personal criteria) but my mind set is certainly that of a synthesist. When I'm writing at my best, it just flows from the trigger to the ideas to the conclusions. That doesn't happen as often as I would like, but then my writing is not how I earn my tea or pay for my daughter's cello lessons.

Don't get me wrong here, I love midwifery. I love my Church, my prayer life (except of course when I can't stand it) and all the other parts of my life. I've become resigned to the fact that my talents as a synthesist of ideas will never be a remunerative part of my life. I've integrated them in to the rest of what I do. I do occasionally get the sideways glance from one of my co-workers when I connect two or more seemingly unrelated ideas in a logical fashion.

When I was younger, I also wanted to be able to write fiction. I specifically wanted to write good science fiction, the literature of ideas, to prod others to think. To my mind, SF is harder to write than other kinds of fiction, because one needs to not only have the usual features of interesting fiction but must also create a background that is out of the world we currently know, and yet is believable and in the background. At this point in my life, I'll leave the fiction to those who have the skill set. I don't.

When I started college in 1972, I was invited to join the Honors seminar. Each term we had a different topic. One of the first I attended was Introduction to Creativity. We read, we talked, we did projects and papers. It was wonderful for me because for a few hours a week I was in a room with 9 or 10 others who also had ideas that went all over the map, and a teacher to keep us in line. Here on the blog I rely on my readers to keep me in line, remembering that as Marshall MacLuhan says, "A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding."

One of the great things(to me) about being Catholic is that I can have both faith and reason. God gave me a brain with which to reason and a heart with which to love, and a soul to know and to love Him.


I find that right now being a synthesist of ideas just confuses other people. I find patterns and see similarities that go right by other people. I'm not as good as I'd like to be at explaining them, but that's probably because I never tried all that hard. It's nice to find another person who finds patterns.

An encyclopedic sythesist sounds a lot like a Mentat (for those who've read the Dune series).

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by alicia published on April 16, 2005 4:34 PM.

Intro to the Catholic Church for Evangelicals was the previous entry in this blog.

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