Syntopical Reading
...intelligent dialog
Mortimor Adler developed the term and method called Syntopical Reading in How To Read A Book [rbtfBook].
The idea is to read many books at the same time - on a given subject - and aggressively dialoging with the authors. First, you see things this way that otherwise would not be revealed. In addition, it is possible to read a set of books, that together, bring information and insight to a subject that none of them, singularly, cover.
This, of course, involves a very different mental state on the part of the reader than exercised by a typical passive reader. This is active reading at its highest level.
We have developed this technique further including building several DesignShop Modules around it. Gail and I - and many of those in the Enterprise - have employed it, personally [link], for years.
Alder’s book could very well be titled “How To Think.” He points out that different kinds of readings (technical, poetry, novel, philosophical, etc.) have to approached in different ways with different judgment criteria. He establishes powerful rules for how to approach reading a book and what being “done” with it requires. The rules are not only practicable they are ethical in nature and can be effectively applied, and should, when in discourse with anyone. It is his description of the “insight/synthesis” process that is the most valuable. It is possible to bring the 5 Es to reading activities in a way that creates a vivid, powerful, “strong” memory. When this is done, in a larger collaborative process, with many designer/peers, in an open “commons” - the results can be astounding.
I took Adler’s “Great Books” concept and developed a list of 500 books “for the 21st Century” as part of my ReDesigning the Future Course [link]. These books became the basis of the Renascense [link] Library project in Kansas City.
[Insert Kansas City Star Article - 1975 - here]
Over the years Gail and I have compiled many libraries for various Management and NavCenters, Work Shops and, of course, the KnOwhere Stores. We have sorted these by various strategies. Most often by the 7 Domains Model and the Curriculum for the 21st Century. It is possible, using Ader’s method to read these 500 books within a two year period while living a normally active life. Done properly, this will have a profound effect on anyone. First the disciple required to effectively fit this in and accomplish it - in the allocated time frame - will itself make a profound impact on you. Next, the organizing principle provided by the 21 Century Curriculum and 7 Domains structure/process will provide an “applications” environment that integrates thinking/doing in a provocative way. And, doing this with a peer-group provides the opportunity for dialog along the way - this is necessary for integration and a fuller understanding.
Yes, I am serious about this. Two Years - even one if you want to work on it.
doit again_sam

The Kansas City article said that I believe that these 500 books covered the minimum information for understanding the “future.” I still believe this. The KnowledgeBase of most individuals - because of our educational methods and the overspecialization of the workplace - is too small for the task ahead of them. One can be intelligent and still ignorant. However, it is not intelligent to remain ignorant. “Know the state-of-the-art” is the first rule [link] of creativity. There is a basic critical mass of information you have to be aware of at the beginning of any design process if you are to succeed. Detailed information and knowledge can be developed in the process. However, the initial navigational set will be determined from the outset. We, as a society, are designing our future by default. If we want a different outcome from where we are headed, we have to “start” from a different “place.” The 10 Step Process [link] has to be applied [link].

When Adler organized the “Great Books of the Western World” he used a selection criteria based on the “perennial” dialog. He wanted classics that addressed fundamental issues that Humankind will be concerned with in all ages. He wanted books that had stood the test of time. My 500 book reading list does not follow this criteria. The best books that can be found on essential subjects are selected, of course. However, the “test of time” measure is turned on its head. The selection is based on the judgment that the book can help us understand the time that is coming. Some of this, of course, involves broad philosophical viewpoints. Just as important are critical topical subjects that may remain so only for a few years - or months. However, it is necessary to include some classics. Classics in the traditional sense and new “classics” that capture the birth of a new idea or technology. Nobert Weiner’s The Human Use of Human Beings, [rbtfBook] as example, does not have the latest in Cybernetic theory and application but it does describe the birth of that field. Nothing can replace the energy of the originator and the first thoughts of a new art, science, business or social movement. These first books on an art, craft, science or movement tend to provide insight for years while the more “practical and accurate” followers tend to go out of style very fast.
I intend to repeat my 1974 [link] exercise and re-conceive the next 25 years. This will involve a recreation of the 500 book list and a new version of the ReBuilding the Future Course. For those of you who wish to take this journey with me contact me at: [link].
Below are a number of links to reading lists and quotes relevant to the MG Taylor Methods, Authentic Architecture, Weak Signal Research and the ReBuilding the Future Course. Each of these, in themselves, make for an interesting syntopical dialog, and altogether, establish a basis for thinking about the time we live in. It is necessary to engage the authors in an active dialog as Adler describes. The answers are not in the books. The answers are what emerges [link] from the process of your experience, ability to live with ambiguity [link], the thinking that you do about it all and the feedback [link] you get from the actions you take.
These authors, of course, are ones whose “voice” have been important to me. And, they represent a fraction of the books I have read over a lifetime. These are the short lists - and the currant ones.
You would do well to make you own list and share it with others. A personal viewpoint is very subtle - and totally unique [link]. It is not easy to bring to consciousness [rbtfBook] to the design of a life, nor to describe it, yet this necessary to the making of a creative life. Finding oneself is the primary creative act [link]. This is why art is so important to each of us as it is able to express, in a single gestalt, what cannot be shown any other way [link]. The act of building a personal library, going back to those works time and again as experience allows new vantage points and insights, marking in them, keeping a journal [link], sharing them with others via vigorous dialogs - and then, starting all over - is a major step in the path to becoming human.
Return to INDEX
Return to rbtf Reading Index
ReBuilding - Syntopical Dialogs INDEX
ReBuilding - Syntopical Reading 500 #1
Return of the post Usonian - Reading List
Syntopical Reading - “and I quote
ValueWeb Architecture
Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
Easter Sunday 1999

SolutionBox voice of this document:


posted April 4, 1999

revised July 4, 2004
• •

(note: this document is about 5% finished)

Copyright© Matt Taylor 2004






posted April 4, 1999

revised April 11, 1999

 note: this document is about 10% finished

Copyright© Matt Taylor 1999, 2004

DesignShop and NavCenter are Trademarks of iterations and licensed to MG Taylor Corporation.


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