C- Compression facilitates synthesis
Authored By:: P- Joel Chan
Synthesis is creating a new whole out of component parts. But what should the “parts” look like? What kinds of building blocks would facilitate synthesis?
One important dimension of conceptual building blocks for synthesis is “size.”
Intuitively, having building blocks that are too “large” or complex would make reassembly into a new whole impractical or impossible. Thus, the most basic requirement for synthesis is having appropriate(ly sized) building blocks to start with.
There are a few ways to think about size and why it matters for synthesis.
- A simple benefit is just making it easier to find what you’re actually looking for! For example, @ribaupierreExtractingDiscourseElements2017 found that scientists who compared an enhanced faceted search engine (with ability to search a large corpus of articles by discourse elements) to a regular keyword search system in terms of efficacy for various targeted search tasks, self-reported a significantly higher signal-to-noise ratio in results with the faceted search system compared to the keyword search system
- Decomposing ideas into smaller pieces also enables us to connect ideas in richer and more meaningful ways. For example, we learn from creativity theory that C- Breaking ideas down into component parts facilitates creative reinterpretation. This is because synthesis is a creative act, and conceptual combination is-fundamental-to creative knowledge production.
It is important to distinguish atomicity from compression - in creative thought, it is less about decomposition in the atomic and disconnected sense, and more about flexibly using compression to move between different levels and states of “granularity”.
- We see this chiefly from the literature on insight problem solving, which informs us that C- Breaking ideas down into component parts facilitates creative reinterpretation.
- A related idea is that C- People process complex information in multiple levels and stages of processing.
We might wonder: if we break complex documents down in a [synthesis] [infrastructure], what should the component parts look like? What defines an “idea” level, or an appropriately “small” building block for scholarly synthesis?
- One answer to this is that scholarly synthesis is argumentation and scholarly argumentation operates on atomic statements and concepts as fundamental units.
- This should be nuanced, though, because restricting ourselves to only linguistic / symbolic representations would probably be a mistake. There are other forms of knowledge, visual and otherwise, that are important “units” that can’t be reduced to their “underlying” linguistic representation.
- We also may not want to “reduce” ideas to a single representation, since C- Multiplicity facilitates synthesis.
- This is important, because, like insight problem solving, if chunk decomposition is harder, then the task of synthesis gets harder.
- Scholars encounter a problem with “chunks” (papers, sources, etc.), either ones they have already, or ones they seek out.
- They want to construct a new understanding. To do that, they need to decompose the chunk of the paper/source/chapter, etc. into the component parts they care about, to be able to manipulate them, combine them, move them around, etc. (cf. scholarly argumentation operates on atomic statements and concepts as fundamental units).
- The source of difficulty for chunk decomposition in this case isn’t necessarily the fact that the chunks are “tight” in the specific sense that Knoblich meant: that is, the components of the chunk are meaningful. It’s just that the scholar has to “chisel” them out of the paper. It takes work!
- But the point remains that having access to the chunks is important!