Thoroughly Conscious Ignorance

Thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude
      to every real advance in science.”
James Clerk Maxwell
As you may have read:
  • on our Welcome page – Syntheney is the perception of a natural harmony first seen when you aren’t looking.
    • It is the discovery so succinct, so fundamental, and so obvious in an instant, after its articulation, it elicits a lively, “Of course…!”
  • on our About page – We help people discover what they never knew they know, surprising themselves with an Aha! of recognition leading to an insight that informs and inspires.

Aha!s arrive in all matters and all degrees of:

  • insight & creativitywater-90781_1920_Pixabay
    • from commonplace to brilliant,
  • substance
    • from speculative to fully formed and actionable,
  • novelty
    • from new-to-you to heretofore unheard of, and
  • utility
    • from incremental improvement to game-changing, fundamental shift.

Continue reading

Dunning-Kruger Cognitive Bias

As we first addressed in our posting Standing In Midair, cognitive bias is a limitation in our ability to think objectively.  When you see a person materially overestimate their ability, the Dunning-Kruger Cognitive Bias is quite likely the cause.  Somewhat surprisingly, this cognitive bias is also the likely cause when a person materially underestimates their ability.  Social Psychologists, David Dunning, and Justin Kruger identified the illusion of superiority as a cognitive bias in their study “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments” (1999).


This first version of this bias results in a twofold effect.  A person who is incompetent at something fails to see their incompetence.  Then the person more often than not mistakenly believes they actually are competent, thus significantly overestimating their competence.

Continue reading

A Tale Of Two Mental Models


A mental model is a representation of how something works.  If used properly, it can be a powerful tool to enhance your effectiveness in dealing with a wide range of topics and situations.  brain-998996_1920_PixabayIf overlooked, its loss can limit your horizons and compromise your opportunities. What follows is:

  • a brief history of two early mental models
  • a profile of the elements of a mental model
  • examples of mental models you can use.

A single mental model was the original and definitive standard practice for financial operations of businesses until it was supplanted nearly overnight by a successor.  The reach of the original practice and the duration of it influence reflects the power of mental models.  The speed of its extinction demonstrates the necessity for us to question periodically even the most useful and honored of the mental models we use.

Continue reading

Standing In Midair

The Archimedean Point

Archimedes (c. 287-211 BCE) was perhaps the most notable mathematician and inventor in ancient Greece.  He lived most of his life in Syracuse on the island of Sicily, then a colony of Greece.

Archimedes is reputed to have said, “Give me a place to stand, a fulcrum, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.


As depicted here, he seems to be doing just that.  But, where is that place for him to stand outside of the world he is moving?  Must he actually be somehow standing in midair?

That place has become known as an Archimedean point. It is a hypothetical point from which we can perceive the subject of our inquiry.  It is where we stand,  removed from the object of our observation, seeing how it is related to every other thing, yet remaining independent of them.  As such, we are viewing our subject in its entirety with pure objectivity, a power great enough to move the world, just as the metaphorical lever of Archimedes shown here.

Whether we can ever achieve the power of such pure objectivity has been debated over the millennia.  One of the more succinct comments on this question comes from the founder of the Skeptic Society, Michael Shermer – “We can no more separate our theories and concepts from our data and percepts than we can find a true Archimedean point—a god’s-eye view—of ourselves and our world.”

There is something worse than failing to achieve objectivity.  It occurs every time we  Continue reading

A Step In The Right Direction

What we remember is who we are.  The pace of communication among our brain networks governs what we realize and retain.  Our creative capacity and solution seeking pursuits depend on how well we discern new information now and associate it with our memories of past perceptions.brain-1787622_1920_Pixabay

Strengthening our competence and our performance in these areas is crucial to promoting and preserving our personal potential.

Happily, there is a simple strategy to accomplish this.  All that is required is to Continue reading

Simplicity Is The Ultimate Sophistication

This statement has been attributed variously to Leonardo Da Vinci, Steve Jobs, and Clare Boothe Luce among others.  Whoever said it originally, Richard Feynman (1918-1988) lived it.

Richard Feynman-Wikipedia Public Domain

Feynman was a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of  Technology (Caltech).  He was a leading proponent in the field of quantum electrodynamics (QED).

  • QED describes how light and matter interact.
    • It is the first theory to achieve complete agreement between quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of special relativity.

Richard Feynman was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize For Physics in 1965.  In part, his award was in recognition of what looked like a series of doodles he drew that became Feynman_Diagram_of_Electron-Positron_Annihilation_v2_GNU License_Free_CC3.0known as Feynman Diagrams. (Here illustrating an electron-positron annihilation.)

He used these to visualize the behavior of sub-atomic particles.  The diagrams are a simplified representation of what otherwise could be expressed only in a highly complex, abstract formula that is difficult to understand and to apply.

Although “simplified,” the diagrams have become a standard tool of physicists for calculating probability amplitudes in theoretical particle physics, exemplifying the power of simplicity.

Simplicity is the essence of the insight we addressed in Not All Wandering Minds Are Lost.

The Great Explainer

Feynman was no ivory tower intellectual.  He would mix it up with nearly anyone.  It was common to see him wandering around the floors of other departments avidly engaged with students or other professors concerning their fields of study. One of his favorite pastimes was challenging colleagues to explain any idea they were working on or teaching, whatever it happened to be, using only simple terminology that could be understood by a novice.

He was known “The Great Explainer” for his uncanny ability to articulate even the most complex ideas, such as quantum physics, in a clear, straightforward way that nearly anyone could comprehend.

The Feynman Technique

Richard Feynman created the mental model that came to be known as the Feynman Technique.  It is an effective tool to improve your grasp of current information, to learn new information, to retain information, or to study for a test.  Beyond that, the technique

Continue reading

Empirically Yours

On Monday, August 21 a large swath of North America will be treated to a spectacular display of celestial magic, a total eclipse of the sun.  For the first time in 99 years from coast to coast across the entire continental U.S., daytime will become total darkness for usa_eclipse_map_print_2017_NASA about two minutes in a 70-mile wide band stretching from Oregon to South Carolina.  Those outside this path of totality will see a partial eclipse, as illustrated above in the lines parallel to the path of totality.

This marks an unusual opportunity for scientists to study features of the outer atmosphere of the sun that are usually obscured by its blinding brightness.  The international space station, orbiting satellites, high-altitude balloons, and ground based telescopes will all be focused on this rare astronomical event.

In spite of the well-justified attention garnered by the Eclipse of 2017, the information gathered, as the eclipse transits the continent, is likely to provide only an incremental improvement in our understanding of the sun, its outer atmosphere, and surrounding regions of space.  In contrast, another eclipse, observed by only a few ground-based astronomers using mostly marginal equipment, resulted in undoing mankind’s fundamental concept of the universe accepted as immutable fact for nearly 250 years.  How this happened illustrates an important lesson in how we should judge what we think we “know” is so.

Continue reading

Simply For The Sake Of Doing It

This summer the Monterey Pop Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary.  There was great music and much reminiscing about the pMP17_Schedule_Finalerformances of the original 1967 lineup featuring among others: Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company (Janis Joplin), Eric Burdon and the Animals, Otis Redding, Simon & Garfunkel, The Mammas & The Pappas, and Steve Miller Band.  But the talk of the three-day event in ’67 was the astonishing performance by Jimi Hendrix, fresh from touring in England, who was invited to appear after the organizers received a recommendation from the Beatles.

Continue reading

Looking Without Seeing…Seeing Without Looking


On July 7, 2017, Air Canada Flight 759 from Toronto, an Airbus A320, made what the pilots thought was a routine approach to Runway 28 Right at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Moments before touchdown, at an altitude of merely 59 feet, they abruptly pulled up attempting a go-around for another landing approach to avoid four fully loaded aircraft on the ground almost immediately in front of them.

Continue reading

Not All Wandering Minds Are Lost

River_river-krka-slovenia-autumn-nature-940367In 1870 a 23-year old budding inventor arrived from Scotland with his parents at their new home near the banks of the Grand River just outside of Brantford, Ontario, Canada.  He expected he would soon succumb to tuberculosis as his younger and older brothers had before him.  Instead, he survived and flourished in his new environment.  Over the next four years, he worked as a teacher while toiling painstakingly to invent a revolutionary new technology that remained just beyond his grasp.

Continue reading