I’ve been applying to law school, and thinking weird mangled thoughts lying somewhere in between law and cognitive science. Here are some oversimplified thoughts that I’ve found useful to think with.
Analysis is a way of thinking that takes an idea and breaks it into parts. For instance, “A car includes a chassis, an engine, a transmission, wheels, …, (and optionally a driver, a paintjob, …)”
Synthesis is a way of thinking that describes two or more ideas as members of a category. For example, “red and violent are both colors of the rainbow.” In linguistics, the process of making a syntactic unit out of individual words is called Merge, and Merge is an example of synthesis. An example of a Merge is the process by which our brains create the noun phrase “red pepper” out of the adjective “red” and the noun “pepper.”
So far, so boring. The clincher is – my LSAT studying and my legal internship have made my thoughts more analytic. Most of the of legal thinking I’ve been doing has been breaking down a problem into parts. This is a fine way to solve a problem, but analysis and synthesis should be complementary. You can’t have one without the other. And furthermore, though I like both ways of thinking, I prefer synthesis.
Why do I like synthesis? My most creative and insightful thoughts are synthetic. The more improbable the induction, the more diverse the components, the better the thought (the more it changes my theories about the world). Of course, my preference for synthesis extends only to useful categories. When the heading under which concepts are synthesized becomes too abstract (for example, categorizing “making nouns out of verbs” and “making verbs out of nouns” under the way-too-abstract heading of “ambiguitization”), this heading ceases to refer to definite things like “shoe” or “lizard” and instead becomes a mental chameleon that can be whatever you want it to be.
I am uncomfortable with legal thinking so far as it does not balance analysis and synthesis. That said, I have too little experience to trust my characterization of legal thinking. The analyst in me says legal thinking is not one, but many, processes.
So I will put my discomfort on hold for now. My ongoing project is figuring out how to maintain creativity and spark within legal thinking, within the legal profession, — if that is what I want to do — and within my life.