Seeking Synthesis?

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was one of those philosophers that nobody seemed to really understand in Philosophy 101. He appeared soon after Immanual Kant on the syllabus and perhaps mental fatigue had set in. One of Hegel’s idea I appreciated was the triad, thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. It’s disappointing to now learn from professor Wikipedia that some experts discredit Hegel as its author. So much for idealism? Nevertheless according to professor Wikipedia the triad is described as follows:

  • “The thesis is an intellectual proposition.
  • The antithesis is the negation of the thesis, a reaction to the proposition.
  • The synthesis solves the conflict between the thesis and antithesis by reconciling their common truths and forming a new thesis, starting the process over.”

This idea of truth being iterative, a revolving cycle of idea, counter idea, and synthesis of them, strikes me as very appealing and sadly uncommon.

Medicine is full of theses and antitheses. This state of affairs is even truer today than 10 years ago. The problem I often encounter is there isn’t much synthesis. In this sense I’d say there is possibly less of this than 10 years ago. Error is regarded with such fear that instead of respecting and learning from it – the effect of synthesis when allowed to happen – everyone upholds their respective thesis or antithesis in their respective corners and respecting each is regarded as “tolerance.” To seek synthesis, to debate openly with passion, is the epitome of poor taste.

Thomas Jefferson in writing from his Alma Mater, no not The University of Virginia but The College of William Mary, penned, “For here we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” I think Jefferson might have appreciated the triad. Error shouldn’t be tolerated but it ought be respected insofar as it can perhaps best identify where the truth may lead. Today physicians, hospital administrators, patients, everyone fears error and truth suffers. If our present care systems have rendered a poor product – high cost, mediocre outcomes – we have to set off in a new direction and to do that we must not be afraid of truth; we need to confess, respect and synthesize from error. Seeking synthesis will appear to some as brutishness. Truth seeking is not for the timid.

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