Conceptual Integration Techniques

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Kris Roose:

Integration often seems to be more a utopian ideal than a useful method. In this article, some helpful techniques for integration are discussed.


The process of integration, leading to the formulation of a new, more plausible hypothesis, is part of the induction process, which is still unconscious and inaccessible for conscious reasoning.

Because it is still largely unconscious, this process can not yet be described in detail, not yet operationalized, and not yet programmed for a computer. All computers are still deductive up to now, although when the number of possible inductions is limited, a pseudo-inductive routine can be elaborated.

But although we can't yet describe the process in detail, we can identify several aspects of it, making the theoretical challenge more realistic, and perhaps coming closer to the long expected discovery of an Inductive Logic. We also will offer some auxiliary tools to enhance this subconscious integrative process.

Spontaneous induction

Our brain enables us, and, in fact, stimulates us, to make spontaneous generalizations, i.e. formulating explanatory hypotheses generated from the observation of analogous or related phenomena. Why and how the brain does so is discussed elsewhere. But two factors are limiting the probability for spontaneous generalizations to be exact and scientifically true:

(1) our normal observations are mostly limited to a restricted number of applications

(2) in the field of alpha sciences ( = Arts and Philosophy, Law, Economics and Business Administration, Psychology and Educational Sciences, Political and Social Sciences) we still lack tools for exact measurement and the possibility to do experiments, two essential conditions for classical science.

Kuhn himself did not consider the concept of paradigm as appropriate for the social sciences. In his preface to "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" he states that the concept of paradigm precisely distinguishes the social from the natural sciences. He tries to show that there are no, nor can be, any paradigms in the social sciences. (Source:

In another article (Integration as Scientific Method) we’ll try to discuss more in detail this so called unscientific nature of alpha sciences.

We can expect that most of those spontaneously induced hypotheses are highly vague, incorrect, and indeed subjective (closely linked to our limited observation position).

This inability to observe details that could render the hypothesis more correct, yields hypotheses that, apart from a true (but unobservable) essence or kernel, consist of too generalized or too specific exaggerations. These superfluous aspects are called eductions.

Example. A teacher observes a pupil that is often absent-minded, and even plays during the course. He concludes that this pupil is not enough mature for this class, and should be helped by doing the year over. But should the teacher know that this pupil is highly gifted, he should better understand why he is so often absent-minded, and should rather be helped by jumping one year. In this example, the eduction consists in the assumption that this pupil will be absent-minded in all circumstances.

But if several observers perceive the same phenomena from different experiential observation points, we could expect that their eductions should be different, and that by a laborious work of comparison and reformulation, they could extract the kernel, the essence, thus developing a much more refined and plausible hypothesis.

Example. One of the teachers in the class is giving rather difficult lessons about a very demanding topic, and observes that the often absent-minded pupil becomes very interested and participating and excels in resolving difficult problems. He concludes, equally inexactly, that this a very excellent pupil, well adapted to the intellectual level of the teachings.

The integration technique tries intelligently to combine apparently irreconcilable hypotheses, by reformulating and adding nuances, decreasing the eductions (i.e. performing a retroduction), thus enabling the elaboration of a more plausible hypothesis.

Symbolic description

We can describe the integration procedure symbolically


Preparing integration


Succeeded integration

Let's consider two statements, A en B. They seem irreconcilable, and <> symbolizes this incongruence:

A <> B

But let's suppose that, most probably, both observers were sufficiently intelligent not to be completely wrong, and were observing different situations: different factors elicited different behaviors in the same object. So the different perceptions of the same object are in fact compatible, save for the exaggerate generalization (education), unconsciously made in the absence of correcting phenomena, thus making the statements unnecessarily incompatible.

The solution is that both observers retroduce their statements, by adding nuances or limiting conditions, making an integration possible.

Let's symbolize the kernel by #, and symbolize the retroducing process by Ψ

Ψ(A) = A# Ψ(B) = B#

Let's symbolize integration by Ω, than

Ω(A,B) = {A#B#}

The integration techniques

A practical description of tools to perform conceptual integrations.

Direct techniques

Ideally we should have an operationalized integration paradigm to our disposal, to perform direct integrations starting with conflicting hypotheses. Unfortunately, at this point in the development of science, such direct integrative tools are still lacking. Integration remains a procedure, performed by our Unconscious. Examples are the creation of Art, and inventions in general, even scientific. The traditional scientific tools are only able to check or to falsify proposed hypotheses, that were developed unconsciously. Science is the conscious control of hypotheses, developed by the unconscious.

Of course, afterwards we can try to reconstruct the way intellectual creations were made. E.g. we can make theories about the music of Bach, Mozart, and the way these musical styles developed, often from other sources and influences. Or the development of jazz, from Afro-American musical traditions and European classical music. But even that is usually very difficult. Even Einstein, making an integration of Newton's theories and recent observations conflicting with those theories, was unable to explain how he made his new theory.

Indirect techniques

The unavailability of direct techniques doesn't mean we are unable to forge integrations. We have a large number of methods to our disposal, that enhance the probability that our Unconscious will spontaneously develop new integrative hypotheses, and even applications based upon those unconscious hypotheses.

We will discuss here (A) some basic principles, and (B) some applied techniques

Basic Principles

Those principles can be grouped in at least two sections: (1) Mental attitudes, (2) Feeding inspiration

(1) Mental attitudes enhancing spontaneous integration

These are kind of beliefs, i.e. not yet proved (and hence easily refutable) convictions that new and better hypotheses can be developed, by us and by others. Of course, each conviction has to be formulated in a statistical way. These convictions don't necessarily ensure successful integrations, but maximize the probability to perform ones.

  • (Nearly) always, even here and now, better insights and inventions can be realized
  • I am (very often) able to perform such new insights
  • A hypothesis, made by someone else and apparently conflicting with mine, has (nearly always) a valuable and irrefutable kernel
  • Every conflict is a false conflict. An integration can (nearly) always be made (even if this consumes sometimes much effort and time)
  • Experience, age, hierarchical position, academic degree and formerly made inventions (nearly) never coincide with creative productivity.
  • Inspiration by observing other people performing creative work not only gives us new ideas, but boosts our mental attitudes

A number of psychological factors doubtlessly contribute to develop a creative, integrative attitude. Even the IQ doesn't seem the major factor, as illustrated by Emotional Intelligence.

Application. Statistically speaking younger, non-academic etc. people make more (integrative) inventions than people supposed to do so by their age, diploma, etc. Perhaps partly because these mental attitudes are part of their natural confidence.

(2) Feeding inspiration by contrasting experiences

Although most probably several inspiring factors contribute to the occurrence of integration and progress, one of the major factors seems to be the exposure to contrasting experiences. Explanations for this phenomenon include

  1. discovering the relativity of local traditions, considered as universal and eternal
  2. discovering the explanation for the limits of one's own system, by observing the possibilities of unexpected variants
  3. the invitation to combine "the best of two worlds"

Some traditional examples are

  • Hippocrates, who traveled years through the neighboring countries to study local medical treatments, before starting developing his own theories and practices
  • Antique Alexandria, a meeting point of Egyptian mysticism and Greek rationalism, Jewish confidence and Babylonian science, developing an impressive amount of progressive sciences, ranging form philosophy and mathematics to geometry and applied physics
  • The invention of jazz by a cultural crossing of Afro-American rhythm and improvisation, with European musical harmony

Some applied techniques

  • Brainstorming

The classical technique of Brainstorming is an excellent application of the above principles, on condition that is doesn't be limited to one session, and if the final aim is not to find the best idea, but a formulation with which everybody could agree.

  • Classification method

First as many elements, ideas, variants as possible are collected, and put into a list or document

One tries to make a logical classification of all elements, brainstorming about the name of new categories. In this logical classification, symmetry in subdivisions has to be pursued.

Each time a list with more than 3 items subsists, a new division has to be created and a regrouping of items has to be performed

With such logical schemes, several holes or empty categories might be discovered. These act as (creative) inspiration for new elements.

  • The Matrix method

This is a variation of the Classification method. But in stead of logical categories, dimensions are taken to classify. Elements that are difficult to classify with the present dimensions, suggest a new dimension yet to create. With few dimensions (e.g. two or three) a graphical schema (table) can be used.

Example. Looking for the ideal music we could try to classify existing musical styles e.g. Gregorian, jazz, baroque, country, classical. We could take two dimensions into account, e.g. riches of harmony, and riches of rhythm

Poor rhythm Medium rhythm Rich rhythm Rich harmony Classical Medium harmony Baroque Country Jazz Poor harmony Gregorian African

The empty boxes could inspire for creations.

  • A Corpus

A Corpus is a bigger logical scheme, a logical collection of structured texts, covering all important aspects. An encyclopedia is not a Corpus, because it's not a logical frame, but an alphabetical.

Such a corpus grows constantly, as new insights develop, but requires from the contributors (authors, editors) that every new contributor should fit in the existing corpus. If this is not possible, the corpus has to be elaborated. Conflicts to fit are rich inspiration sources for new insights.

The notion of Web 3.0 employs this corpus method as one of its essential techniques.

  • Analogies

The intuitive integration probably will be inspired by analogies, and especially by analogies with fundamental features of reality described by the Systems Theory, and assisted by inductive Logics.

Integrative Websites

I propose to call a website, or any imaginable collection of organized insights, that should use integration as the major elaborating tool: a ‘’’syngnosis’’’ (Greek for ‘’knowledge, developed by a group of cooperating thinkers’’.)

The syngnosis

An integrative website is a website where several participants constructively participate to the elaboration of integrative texts, which, moreover, are systematized into a Corpus, an essential aspect and condition of the integrative. The ultimate aim is to build, in internet, ‘’one’’ integrative Encyclopedia of all available knowledge, of course at several levels of detail and comprehension (e.g. amateur / professional / researcher). If it turns out that several wikis are necessary, then the structure of the Integrative Website isn’t enough integrative.

The big difference between Wikipedia-like sites, including Citizendium. and a syngnosis, is that in a really integrative website not only information is given, but that, moreover, it functions as working documents for a collaboration of creatively thinking people, who use the integration method as a scientific tool (see Integration as Scientifc Method). Where a digital encyclopedia is only a collection of interesting parcels of information, peer-to-peer, a digital syngnosis or noosphere is a peer-with-peer project. Peers cooperate to construct, together, a useful corpus of alpha sciences (psychosocial, phgilosophical, etc), which use and transcend, but are not restricted to the limits of the physical sciences, where exact measuring and experimental settings are necessary.

In fact Internet is the first global and easy tool in history, that enables such a construction. I also think that we can project, after Web 2.0 with Wikipedia as the most impressive instance, Web 3.0, where integration is the essential characteristic. Any wiki-like website (and why not this P2P-foundation website) can switch to the Web 3.0 level as soon as integration is required for its pages.

The P2P movement, peer governance etc. can perhaps be considered as spontaneous applications of intuitive integration processes. They are i.m.o. structural integrations, as opposed but complementary to conceptual integrations.

Integration in Syngnostic Websites

Two kinds of integration seem important:

1) External integration, within the Corpus

Each article should fit within an exhaustive Corpus, with a logical structure. In fact, the traditional wiki-like alphabetical listing is not sufficient. The internal referencing (and linking) has to comply with the logical structure of the Corpus. To be comply with the condition of maximal integration, each concept has to be logically linked to more general phenomena, and to more concrete applications.

2) Internal integration

To enhance the quality of integration and the probability of thinking on everything, it should be helpful to use some standard logical classification (e.g. Introduction, Definition, Examples. Functioning or Functional Types or Influencing Factors. Applications.)

Primitive forms of Integrative Thinking

Scientific research often gives us the impression that real science started at the end of the Medieval times, and that the so called Alpha Sciences (social and psychological sciences) still don't comply with scientific criteria, But how to explain the fact that pre-renaissance science yielded so many impressive scientific insights, including Greek mathematics and science, Egyptian and Assyrian geometry, architecture and astronomy, and... modern science itself?

Unconscious integration

One could perhaps consider that those "primitive", "unscientific" forms of thinking were in fact kinds of intuitive integrative thinking. The most important condition for integrative thinking, i.e. a general knowledge of multiple fields of human experience, was fulfilled. The ancient philosphers, unless nowadays scientists, appeared to be experienced in many diverse "sciences", ranging from mathematics to architecture and the art of war making, from music to medicine, passing through law, politics and astronomy, all in one person. The notion of homo universalis,[1] i.e. someone who knows "everything", was a high ranking qualification until the 17th and even the 18th century. Blaise Pascal (1623-62) is reknown as the "last" homo universalis, although I should tend to qualify Teilhard as a modern homo universalis.

This very general, universal intellectual development is a fertile source for integrative thinking. From such a diversified experience and knowledge, the philosopher-scientist tries to formulate for himself hypotheses that fit with his experiences. The control for the validity of such a hypothesis is his intuitive certitude that all important data are explained. The same phenomenon probably occurs with a successful artist: he "feels" intuitively that his creations are "right", i.e. an integration between a series of good separate ideas.

The step from such an intuition towards the honest conviction that one is enlightened by divine revelation, is not far. The thinking error is not that one conceives such intuitive integrations as plausible, but as absolutely true, because God can't lie.

The scientific method of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Alfred North Whitehead

(With thanks to Brian Cowan)

The notion of thought or consciousness moving along a continuum of ever increasing plausibility seems to be compatible with Teilhard de Chardin's view that thought or consciousness gropes its way forward from one approximate conception of reality to another with, on average, later cognitional approximations being more accurate that earlier ones. In this regard, the French Jesuit writes: 'Consciousness, we know, does no more than grope its way forward, one approximation following upon another.' [2] And elsewhere, in a not dissimilar vein, he remarks that 'the history of the living world can be summarized as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always something more to be seen.' [3] Whether these eyes are those of the body or of the mind, their function is always 'to try to see more and better' [4]. So, Teilhard, here, does seem to be, at least in part, talking about consciousness at the thinking level, ever groping it's way, by means of increasingly plausible cognitions, away from falsity towards truth.

Hence I believe that Teilhard was, in large measure, an integrative thinker and theorizer. In this connection, in an essay of his, we read:

'What I wish to offer here is the outcome of my own thinking, expressed in a simple and clarified form so that everyone may be able to understand it without ambiguity, and may criticize and (this is my great hope) correct and amplify it.' [5]

So, to all appearances, the French Jesuit was open to having his outlook, on an ongoing basis, criticized, corrected and amplified with a view to having it continuously nudged forward along the plausibility continuum in the hope that it would ever move closer and closer to the truth.


[1] Beckers, Danny, Pieter Nieuwland (1764-1794): natural philosopher, mathematician, and poet; mathematical societies in the Netherlands and the ideal of the Homo Universalis, De Achttiende Eeuw, 33, 1 (2001): 3-20

[2] P. Teilhard de Chardin, 'The Evolution of Chastity', in 'Toward the Future' (Harvest Book, 1975), p. 60.

[3] P. Teilhard de Chardin, 'The Phenomenon of Man' (Fountain Books, 1977), p. 35.

[4] P. Teilhard de Chardin, 'Phenomenon', p. 35.

[5] P. Teilhard de Chardin, 'The New Spirit', in 'The Future of Man' (Harper & Row, 1969), p. 85