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Intellectual synthesis is a broad term describing scholarly endeavors meant to unify and fuse a large amount of information into a single integrated body of knowledge. Commonly, intellectual synthesis occurs as an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary academic effort by one or more scholars.
A good example would be Big History, which is an effort to reexamine human history within the context of the wider history of the universe, applying diverse fields of knowledge to paint a picture which is wider in scope, and relies on much information generally outside of the discipline of history (anthropology, systems theory, geology, biology, sociology, cosmology). Intellectual synthesis is most apparent in fields which blur the lines of existing disciplines (for example, history has been regarded as a social science, but is dependent upon anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, military theory, climatology, etc., and some such as Jared Diamond have proposed establishing human history as one of the historical sciences).
World history is another example—as typically historians specialize on particular periods or regions or nations—with a new synthesis occurring of the histories of the world's diverse societies being brought together to tell a unified picture of the course of world history.
The goal of intellectual synthesis is to bring together all of the related transdisciplinary knowledge into a single, cohesive whole to provide for a more complete and comprehensive understanding and potentially lead to new theories, perspectives, and interpretations.
Many new and emerging fields involve intellectual synthesis:
- Big History
- World history
- Geographical determinism
- Environmental determinism
- Technological determinism
Pursuits that seek the broadest possible intellectual synthesis so as to establish principles that apply to everything in the universe include:
- Big History
- Integrative levels
- Systems science
- Universal Darwinism
- Energy rate density
The topic of intellectual synthesis is the subject of many books, as often proponents of the need for such a scholarly endeavor will use a written work to voice their call to the intellectual community:
- Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
- Maps of Time: an Introduction to Big History
- The Human Web by the McNeills
- Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson