Monday, March 29, 2010

Synthesis



Synthesis

When charcoal is recovered from the refinery kiln, there is always a substantial collection of small bits and pieces of charcoal left over. This material is too small to sell. But charcoal manufacturers did not want to waste it either. By combining existing knowledge to form new knowledge, a solution was found. The existing knowledge was that charcoal is a natural fiber material just like wood. Its fiber creates surfaces so that, within a single gram of charcoal, there is a surface area estimated at 200 – 300 square meters. The other knowledge came from the paper industry, which had discovered that natural starches serve as a good binding agent for natural wood fibers. By mixing a starch and charcoal slurry and forming this mixture into balls and letting them dry out, one could create a lump of charcoal. This is how briquettes of charcoal are made. It allowed the manufacturers of charcoal to recover this waste and sell it as a product.

What Edison was referring to when he spoke of “logical thinking” is synthesis. Synthesis occurs when we combine existing knowledge to create new knowledge. Synthesis includes analysis. Analysis is the act of discovering what existing knowledge we have about a particular object or problem. Synthesis combines this analytic knowledge with other knowledge we possess to form new knowledge.

One could argue that analysis by itself is a source of new knowledge. I would call it discovery, but in this case, it is not worth disagreeing over the point. You may be more comfortable thinking analysis creates new knowledge distinct from discovery. The point of the discussion is innovation and, for this purpose, I am including analysis as part of synthesis, because synthesis is where the solution to a problem is created.

The fact that we all synthesize and we do it often is perhaps the most interesting thing.

The process for making charcoal briquettes was invented by Henry Ford



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