Synthetic/Analytic/Paralysis

July 3, 2007

I often get paralyzed by thought. I find it very easy and acceptable to just think instead of acting, even when it becomes very important that I act. This even results in near-perpetual loops sometimes, as I go over covered ground, trying to find minutia I had skipped over. Needless, to say, this is really bad.

I did not understand the origins of this behavior well enough until I started going to talk therapy for depression. Here I realized a little bit about the different modes of thought I used, and misused. Talk therapy was very useful in regard to reacquainting myself with my own personal history/story. And through this self-viewing mechanism, understanding more about how I build my personal story and how I’d like to continue to do so in the future. The first thing I learned was about my two modes of thought, the synthetic and analytic (Mind you, these did not come from my therapists, but from a systems mode of understanding, applied to my own experience).

I have one mode of thought which is highly analytic, where I go about breaking things into sub-systems, trying to understand a model through its components. This is an inherently specialist activity because as I break the system into subsystems I am able to treat each subsystem as the new exclusive domain and pursue new subdivisioning.

The other mode is very synthetic, where I discard rules and inhibitions to put things together in new and interesting ways. This is the domain of creativity. Though I find synthesis more rewarding than analysis, I do if far less than I would like. I suppose one sensible explanation for this may be that breaking things down is a resource-cheap activity.

Progress is made through a balance between the two activities. However, I find that often I fall into an exclusively analytic mode when I’m trying to achieve something. This leads to paralysis because of two things.

The first problem is I try and take everything into account while making the task happen. Unless it is a virtual task that operates under high constraint, I will not be able to do the task while thinking analytically. This is probably why video games are so rewarding. I can maintain an analytic mindset while achieving a task.

The second problem is there are synergetic effects that occur while doing something. These are effects that are unpredictable from an analysis of parts. A line in isolation will never tell you that three of them form a triangle. An atom in isolation never tells you there is an attractive force between masses. Analysis breaks things into isolated systems and fails to reveal certain characteristics that are revealed through synthesis.

No amount of self-analysis is going to tell me how I’m going to interact with people, do in business, or create an artifact. What an analysis does do is optimize a story. By breaking things apart you can manipulate them in ways you could not as parts of a whole. From this point, you can reconfigure a personal story in such a way that the lens this story creates alters the way you look at things and therefore how you act. But you must always resynthesize and not bulk in perpetual analysis. Otherwise you get stuck with a stagnant system where nothing is discovered, only rediscovered.

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One Response to “Synthetic/Analytic/Paralysis”

  1. Jeff Lindsay Says:

    Classic paralysis by analysis. It reminds me, I recently wrote “Thinking is just way too easy. I don’t understand why more people don’t have a problem with doing it too much.”

    Anyway, as a related sidenote, you should watch this:
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6119231548215342323


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