(Assimilation - Evaluation - Synthesis)

     As with my missive on lasers, you just won't quite get this from Wikipedia, and, in this case, nothing at all about it, so don't bother. I only know it because one of the guys whose articles I try to keep up with is an Epistemologist (yes, they exist) and once wrote a lengthy article about a rather controversial theory that's both widely accepted, and yet widely debated in his field.
     As a brief aside ... Why can't you look this stuff up? Because, like Doctors, Lawyers, and real scientists, the information they're taught is only to be had by attending very expensive schools. And, having paid sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for this information, you can bet it's not going to end up on some web-site. You're going to have to pay them to advise you. And even then, you'll only get as much information as necessary to complete the transaction.
     Hey. They don't resort to Greek, Latin, and German so you can follow easier. It's a deliberate exercise in obfuscation.
     Also, information no one yet feels fully confident in tends to remain completely out of the 'science' magazines, too. You'll find certain pro-evolution efforts and arguments under this rubric, as well as entire subjects as the current, global dendrochronology project (, currently main-stream science's last hope, all other dating methods having recently been utterly debased, to establish a global time-map against which to arrange our entire history, both that written by the hand of man, and that written only by the hand of God in the form of tree rings, and sedimentary and ice layers.
     Anyway ...
     What is Epistemology?
     Essentially, it's the science of science, the study of how we not only learn things, but about the very nature of knowledge itself.
     How's that for a mind-bender?
     On the 'how we learn' side of the coin, we find a principle known as AES: Assimilation, Evaluation, Synthesis.
     What are they?
     In Short, these are the stages in which we learn.
     A child begins life, seeing large beings moving about it, making noises, touching it, feeding it. This is assimilation. The child is doing pure research, allowing facts, evidence, information, or, as the 'intelligence' community calls it, ... well ... intelligence, raw, unprocessed, unbiased information to pour unimpeded into its mind. (And this relates to my article on the evolution of spoken, and written human language, and how many ancient records speak of mankind having been taught language by God, and writing by the finger of God.)
     Slowly, the child begins to notice that these large entities' movements and sounds seem to be related. One makes a sound, and the other moves, or makes a sound in response. The other moves or makes a sound, and the first one responds somehow. "AHA!", thinks the child, "Sound and motion are related!"
     This is evaluation, the comparison of the data at hand, the analysis of available facts, in order to categorize them, in order to recall them later. (Is it any wonder that all our filing systems, including modern computers, are really all about storage and retrieval of information? But it's we who must make sense of that information, evaluate it.)
     Now, here's where some of the controversy among Epistemologists arises. Is the next step, synthesis, when the child retrieves that information to use itself, like repeating a word or phrase it heard its parents use? Or is it the mixing and matching of previously heard phrases, recombining them into new arrangements?
     Truly, we see this all around us every time we see, usually the less experienced and/or educated struggling for words to express concepts for which words surely already exist, but which they are not familiar with. It's common. It's practically cliché. It's NOT synthesis. It's just more evaluation, and evaluation based on insufficient assimilation no less.

... or ...

     Is synthesis the point where Shakespeare is inventing entirely new words? never before used turns of phrase? wholly new stories?

... or ...

     Is synthesis the point where the child, with no prompting, no schooling, no hint, no clue whatsoever, spontaneously makes the leap from crude spoken words to the accompanying coloration of posture, gesture, and tone? And, not only recognizes its presence, but perceives its meaning, and replies using the same 'body language'.
     Aye, there's the rub.
     But isn't this an awfully petty point?
     Well, no. First because understanding how we learn, and, by inference, how to teach, is fundamental to all other pursuits. And every pursuit requires the 3 legs of terminology, concepts, and practice. (More on that another day.) So, without clarity in our terminology, we'll only descend into the sort of global squabbles we see in religion, economics, and politics.
     Second, because our entire education system is based on this principle. What?! You never heard of a Bachelor's 'degree', Master's degree, or a Doctor of Philosophy? You know what the word, philosophy, means, right? The love of knowledge? NO! It means the creation or nurturing of knowledge! Synthesis. Because love isn't about liking or wanting; Love is about growing, building, expanding. And, by that definition, the efforts of toddlers and teenagers to hone their parroting, or even recombination of phrases into functioning conversation can hardly be called synthesis.
     It's body-language or nothing.
     But that presents another HUGE problem, one that even the Boy Scouts are having to wrestle with.
     Where Eagle Scouts once had to conceive of, plan, and execute some novel community-improvement project, or other impressive feat of civic contribution, modern Eagle Scouts are deprived of this display of excellence by having been reduced to pulling off the shelf what have come to be known as 'just add water' Eagle projects. Thus we see, today, a parade of blood-drives, food-drives, and playground overhauls. What prospective Eagle has thought, for example, of creating a computer fundamentals class for the elderly? Or learning, and then teaching, first AND second aid classes to an entire school or church? Or perhaps organizing a marathon in their town, and seeing it through 2 years in a row, and then finding and training their own successor to see that the marathon continues once they've gone off to college? And which of their parents has even considered widening their own scope so far?
     And, trust me, it's no better in universities. I've helped more than one grad student with their thesis, and all I can say is that, if that's what gets one a PhD these days, I should have several by now.
     But, you know me: I'm not writing about scouts.
     I'm not even writing about students or Epistemology.
     I'm writing about prophets.
     Things always come in threes. That seems to be one of the clues, one of eternal 'paradigms' substantiating the truth of anything. And what do our scriptures tell us is the definition of truth? That which was, is, and will be. Three. Past, present, and future. Three. By the way, this is also the explanation behind the THREE-fold mission of the church: To redeem the dead, perfect the (current) saints, and proclaim the gospel (to future saints). Past, present, and future. Terminology, Concepts, and Practice Assimilation, Evaluation, Synthesis. BS, MS, PhD. Celestial, Terrestrial, Telestial. Father, Son, Spirit. Proton, Neutron, Electron. Aaronic, Melchizedek, Patriarchal. (Got ya!) (We'll talk about that another time, too.)
     Isn't it interesting that Nikola Tesla (someone everyone would do well to learn much about) was obsessed with ensuring that everything he did worked out to threes?
     But Tesla, while he didn't create new knowledge, did find new knowledge, knowledge so far removed from the direction of others, that he left everyone stammering in disbelief at his understanding. J. Edgar Hoover's FBI even waited for the man to die, and then seized all of his work, so great was their respect for, and fear of this man. (Not to mention a very Socialist nephew who was also trying to beat them to it.)
     Surely this man achieved synthesis. Maybe.
     Just contrast this with someone like Hugh Nibley, whose legacy still overshadows BYU's religion department, indeed the whole of theological academia, like a cloud. And yet, while Hugh found a lot of great things, and cross-referenced and compiled amazing things, he never, to my knowledge, ever learned NEW things. He poured over ancient writings, learning their languages, and even their nuances. He studied their histories and their fictions. He traveled the world, and devoured entire libraries. But all he could give us is what he learned there from what others wrote, or learned from those writings. All he could expound on was the comparisons, the similarities, the differences, perhaps even the deductions. But inductions? No.
     This man achieved evaluation.
     But don't sniff at it. This level of epistemology, and this level of evaluation, were enough to qualify Hugh Nibley as the smartest man anyone who met him had ever met.
     And if you're curious about the differences, just consider another Mormon: Kim Peek. Kim was the inspiration for the movie, Rain Man. And, yes, Kim was pretty much like that. One of his favorite things to do was to just sit down with a good phone book, and read it. All of it. He could even tell you everything in it. No. Really. Everything his eye fell on stayed with him. He could read Shakespeare, and memorize every word of every book. He could read Twain, and remember every detail forever. What he could not do was give you any meaningful comparison of the two authors' works. And he certainly couldn't derive any insights from them unless he read that in a book somewhere, too. And even then, he wouldn't really know it or understand it. He couldn't agree or disagree. He would just be repeating someone else's thoughts, perhaps even their exact words.
     This man achieved assimilation.
     And how! Kim was known for lacking much of what we feel makes us smart, and yet he could perform inhuman feats of memorization and recollection. Perhaps this was precisely because of what he lacked.
     Likewise Nibley was able to perform astounding feats of not only assimilation and recollection, but also interpretation and analysis. Perhaps this, too, was due to what he lacked. And I can tell you that he did lack something. Every time he attempted to press his learning into inductions on society and politics, the only directions he ever seemed to reach out into besides history, language, and theology, he went obviously, painfully off course. Hugh knew more about more things than most of us will ever know about anything, and yet, he lacked synthesis.
     And wrote practically an entire library.
     Now, it has to be mentioned at this point that, yes, of course, there must be, and there are shades and degrees within each of these stages, but, not only hasn't it much served my purpose here to delve into these, but we also lack solid terminology with which to discuss those points. I would like to tell you that the Epistemologists have defined everything in their field, but, as far as I know, they have not, so we are left to our own understanding at this point. And, lest you think this remarkable or telling, just consider the still raging debates over the definitions of literally every political, economic, and religious system on earth.
     One word that we do clearly have, though, is wisdom. You may find this useful in discussions with others because this is one of those words, like love, that far too many wield carelessly, thoughtlessly, usually relying upon their own, personal perceptions of the words' meanings, which are, in turn, based on the apparently intended meanings of others who've used those words in the past, rather than turning to dictionaries.
     The blind are leading the blind.
     So, now, you may find my assertion that we do have at least one word that we can rely on to conflict with my assertion that no one really knows what such words mean, but, recall, as I've noted before in my articles on the definitions of words, that, while we must always turn to dictionaries and encyclopedias for at least a starting-point, we must also never forget that these authorities are broken ladders. They need steadying. They're prone to adjusting their definitions to reflect current usage rather than assuming their presumed mantles of standard-bearers, the yardsticks by which the vernacular is to be gauged. They are flags which wave whichever way the wind blows, whereas scripture is not only (supposed to be) written in stone, preserving the language, so are its definitions, many of which it takes great care to give us along the way. Recall, for example, Paul's explanation of the meaning of charity (which, by the way, he defines largely through opposites, telling us what it isn't because he assumes his audience already understands what love is).
     So what, then, is wisdom? In short, wisdom is nothing more or less than pattern-matching, connecting the dots, filling in the blanks, the highest level of evaluation, and the beginning of synthesis, presenting us some of that transitional gradation I mentioned earlier.
     And we should delve into this a bit because, for instance, the most famous game shows on earth are based directly upon this ability: I__ li_e _o _uy a vowel, Va__a! We are all familiar with this, but how many have noticed that pattern? As it turns out, human beings are particularly adept at this pattern-matching thing, which is why we create and indulge in crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, Sherlock Holmes reboots, game shows, and brain-teasers. It's also why so many of us enjoy complex music, composed simultaneously of both chords and melodies. (Yes, I'm misusing the term, melody, here, but you see my point.) When we sing our parts (bass, tenor, alto, or soprano) of a hymn, we sing it (hopefully) in harmony with the other parts, making for both a latitudinal and longitudinal complexity that is somehow pleasing to our sense of patterns. Some music aficionados attain a particular thrill, a nirvana from the complex mixing not only of chords and melodies, but tempos and beats, as well. This is why Jazz has sometimes been described as three different guys doing three different things on the same stages at the same time in a sublime cacophony. And that's why they love it. They find in this complex blend of rhythms, tempos, and notes something that strikes a chord in sympathy deep in their souls. And who's to fault them for this? If there's anything which separates man from beast, I think it can be argued that this talent for pattern-recognition has to be at the root of it.
     But only the root.
     Music provides a familiar analog to aid comprehension. After all, not everyone reading this may have reached this point of their development. But perhaps reading this will help them. In fact, it is this very skill, pattern-matching, which IQ tests really aim to measure. Reasoning skills are a form of pattern-recognition and analysis. And the test-makers are achieving uncanny success, having recognized certain patterns themselves, in gauging intelligence this way. Although they will be first to admit that this is not all there is to the story. You see, it is not only a matter of shades and degrees, but of paths and parts, like the parts of a song. Where Kim Peeks makes an excellent example of one who has achieved assimilation down a certain path, a path we can clearly recognize, clearly define, there are other paths. Where Hugh Nibley exemplifies evaluation, all the way to the top of pattern-matching, his was a mental acuity of a particular stripe, a particular thread in the tapestry of the human soul. There are others. A pattern-matching ability is, undeniably, a good starting-point for delineating the human spirit from that of beasts, but there is something more, something which no one has yet successfully measured or predicted, something which separates even one human from another. And that is synthesis.
     So what, then, is synthesis, really?
     I'm becoming convinced that there's a better word that should be used instead:
     As I read the prophets, Isaiah, Zechariah, Daniel (and I have a real problem with Daniel being called a 'minor' prophet), Ezekiel, and Joseph Smith, ... And knowing what books they read, what traditions surrounded them, what influences permeated their environment, even a bit of the learning they were trained in ... All I can say is that these men were not just prophets, but miracles in their own rights. The leaps they made from struggling to understand to suddenly having a data-dump into their brains, an epiphany, was nothing short of, well, divine. You can even read it in Ezekiel. He's walking along, thinking about these things, and, suddenly, he's somewhere else. Daniel, too, writes that he was clearly very troubled about something. And, given his traumatic history with various kings' lieutenants, it shouldn't be too surprising to hear that he was troubled by something. But, this time, like Ezekiel, suddenly, he's somewhere else.
     Joseph Smith, too.
     Have you ever wondered about the grove? The hill Cumorah? He was suddenly somewhere else. A 'grove' is a big clue. So is a 'hill'. Just as many other prophets have reported. And yet, none of those places has ever been found. Moses' mount Zion has a 'traditional' location, but no one really knows where it is. Likewise the 'mountains' of Ararat where Noah's ark is said to have landed. Likewise the mountain that came to Mohammed because he did not go to it soon enough. These are symbolic locations whose presence is as much a signal to their peers of the validity of their experience as it is to us a wink and a nod that there's more to the story than they are telling, something sheer celestial in scope.
     Joseph Smith once said that one would learn more from five minutes of gazing into the heavens than from reading every word ever written about it. And I agree entirely. So many times, I've tried to learn something by reading what others wrote about it, only to find myself not a bit wiser until I did it myself, sometimes needing to hire an instructor to show me. And that's the point here. Joseph could learn more about the heavens in 5 minutes gazing into them, but we probably could not. We would need a Joseph Smith to explain things to us. Joseph had something we just don't have.
     Joseph Smith achieved inspiration, direct inspiration from God almighty through the medium of the Holy Ghost.
     I live in awe of this man. Whenever anyone asks me to name a great hero, I name Joseph Smith.
     Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.
     There's that 3 again.
     We're told that a seer is greater than a prophet because, while a prophet can see the future, a seer can see the present and the past, which is how they can translate ancient records.
     What's never mentioned is that a revelator is greater than them both, and that because a revelator 'reveals' Christ to us, as in the Book of Revelation. This is why the spirit of prophecy *is* the testimony of Jesus Christ. To prophesy is to have Christ revealed to you, by a revelator. And it's the revelator who writes the record that the seer translates.
     Joseph Smith is a revelator.
     Ready for a revelation?
     I'm going to give you one.
     Joseph Smith is one of the seven holy angels, the angels that are ever before the throne of God, the seven angels of the (seven ages of the) church, the seven angels who break the seals revealed in Revelation. And, no, the seven churches are not seven different locations at the time, but the one church in each of the seven dispensations, as founded by each 'dispensatory' prophet. That's who Joseph Smith is, one of them.
     In quelling a squabble among the brethren once, Joseph chided them that (and I'm paraphrasing a bit here) if they knew who they all were in the pre-existence, they would all fall on their faces in reverence to one another. I don't think Joseph expected any of them to so quickly put 2 and 2 together, and ask the next question:
     "Well, then, Joseph, who were you?"
     That pulled Joseph up short. He replied only with a very cryptic, "Oh, brethren! I'm not allowed to test your faith that much."
     Wait, what?!
     He's allowed to test us, too?!
     But he's limited?!
     And this knowledge would shake us?!
     Joseph didn't let himself get caught flat-footed like this again. The next time someone asked him who he was, he had an answer ready:
     "Noah came before the flood. I have come before the fire."
     Joseph received prophecies of our future, translated ancient records, and, more importantly, revealed Christ to us in more detail than anyone else in this world ever had, save Christ himself.
     Assimilation, Evaluation, Synthesis.
     Prophet, Seer, Revelator.
     Now it's time to reveal Joseph Smith.
     Ready for more?
     Those seven candlesticks? They're the churches AND the angels. AND STARS!
     Real, up-in-the-sky, over-your-head stars.
     Go to Salt Lake City.
     Go to Temple Square.
     Walk around to the west side of the temple.
     Look east.
     High up on the west wall of the tower.
     What do you see?
     The Big Dipper.
     Seven stars.
     Putting 2 and 2 together yet? Remember what Joseph said about gazing into the heavens for 5 minutes?
     Now stew on that a while.
     Maybe something will come to you.
     Like a revelation.

~~ Marcus Aurelius ~~