A widely and well read individual is one who understands the dynamics ofall sides ofa topic, perceives broadly, and draws his or her own conclusions. As Shakespeare said, "Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment...this above all: to thine own self be true."
Syntopic reading ensures that your ideas, thoughts, and opinions are based on your own truth. By analyzing various author's ideas and ultimately choosing one that rings the truest for you, your truth is notjust the last book you read. Your truth is the culmination of perspective, wisdom, and knowledge.
Syntopic reading is defined as the reading of two or more books on the same subj ect. Syntopic reading allows you to discover, through the comparison of different authors' viewpoints, a deeper understanding of the subject.
The concept of syntopic reading began with Mortimer Adler in his classic text, How to Read a Book. Adler considered the thinking skills used in syntopic reading to be the ultimate goal of a well read individual.
When Adler wrote his book in 1940, he was missing the "whole mind" approach to reading and learning, which includes PhotoReading, mind mapping, and the theory of multiple intelligences. By adding the PhotoReading whole mind system to syntopic reading, you have the ability to process and synthesize information at rates far beyond what were once considered normal.
Beyond the possibility of high speed information processing, whole mind syntopic reading also offers you the opportunity to synthesize original ideas. Consider this: since you choose the unique combination of authors, you may discover a unique point of view.
PhotoReading graduates report that when they use whole mind syntopic reading something exciting happens inside that connects intimately with their own intellectual power. As a result, they reach anew level of passion for learning that generates a lifelong, joyful relationship with the books they read.
"Unless you know what books to read, you cannot read syntopically, but unless you can read syntopically, you do not know what books to read," said Adler.
Knowing that more than one book is relevant to a subject is the first requirement, but knowing which books to read is the second requirement. This latter can be harder to satisfy.
For example, let us say you want to understand the meaning of various concepts of human love. With syntopic reading you could consider the ways love manifests. Is the love between a man and a woman when they are courting the same as it is when they marry? What about the love of a child for a pet? Or the love of a parent for a child? The questions can go on and on.
To choose between these questions, you might have to read many works before you decide upon your focus. And then, even after you have read numerous books, you may conclude that many of the books have nothing to do with what you wanted to pursue in the first place.
That is the paradox: you do not know where you are going until you go there.
Starting with Syntopic Reading
1) Establish a purpose:
The first active step of syntopic reading is to formulate an initial statement of purpose that includes a reference to something meaningful in your life. This evolves into something even more meaningful as you progress through the steps of the syntopic reading process.
Purpose drives activity. Activity is the essence of good reading. Increasing how active your reading is improves your reading effectiveness. Establishing a clear purpose generates effective reading. When you make a statement of purpose, help it become more meaningful by adding the words, "...so that I can "
For example, let us say your purpose is to learn various techniques in the game of golf. Which statement of purpose seems to have more punch? "I want to learn more about golf," or, "I want to learn golf techniques so that I can win the league championship."
Why does the second statement have more emotional power? Because, it has a purpose with personal meaning in your life. Meaning or relevance increases long term retention.
2) Create a bibliography:
Lightly preview your books to determine if the books you have chosen fit your purpose.
3) PhotoRead all the books at least 24 hours in advance of activation:
PhotoRead your chosen books to lay the foundation for easy synthesis of the information you desire.
The mind needs incubation time to create connections. PhotoReading 24 hours in advance can make a difference in your ability to process at high speeds. During sleep your brain finds ways to categorize information it has received during the day.
If you fail to prepare the brain adequately, you will find your ability to process thoughts and ideas significantly slower. Test this for yourself. Try syntopic reading without PhotoReading and decide if there is a difference in your ability to make intuitive leaps.
The Steps of Syntopic Reading Activation
4) Create a giant mind map:
You need a large sheet of paper, your books, and some colored markers. Throughout the process of syntopic reading, you may find it useful to keep notes in the form of a mind map to free your short term memory.
Place your books in front of you, and in the center of the page, in a small bubble, write your initial statement of purpose. Save enough room in the bubble to make modifications in your purpose statement as you desire.
5) Find relevant passages:
Super read and dip to find two or more passages from each book that you deem relevant to your purpose.
In this step your purpose reigns supreme over the purpose of the authors. The reason for holding your purpose as the guiding light is to pull out the otherwise hidden phrases that can serve your purpose.
Control your desire to read too much detail at this point. You run the risk of getting sucked into only one author's viewpoint and getting away from syntopic reading. Self-restraint is important. It is essential to use light dipping throughout the books and to restrict your reading to reveal selected passages relevant to your purpose.
You will gather clues to further serve your understanding of each book.
Be aware that if you spend too much time reading in the old manner, you are no longer syntopic reading. Keep teasing your mind so it will behungry to respond to your later requests.
You will refine your purpose statement as the complexities of the topic become clearer.
6) Summarize in your own words:
If you step back and look at your mind map, you will notice a number of important concepts being addressed. Briefly summarize what you think about the subject so far.
It helps to create neutral terminology that removesjargon from ideas presented. Authors may have different words for saying the same thing, and it is your task to create neutral terms of your own. Write your words around the outer edges of your mind map.
7) Discover themes:
Explore the books and your mind map for similarities and differences among the various authors viewpoints. You will notice questions that all or most of the authors address in their works—themes that they all seem to be presenting. It is easy to get off track and start asking questions instead of finding the questions the "experts" answer, so keep referring to your map and the books.
The main benefit of discovering themes is that you more easily maintain an open mind during your search. It reduces the chance of prejudice, which might prevent you from noticing the points the authors find important. The result is increased understanding of your topic.
It could be possible that your own interests and questions about the topic have never been considered by anyone else. You could tap the genius of your own creativity and contribute something new to the world that the authors did not address.
8) Define the issues:
The next step is to explore opposing viewpoints between authors. These differences are points of contention or issues.
Go quickly from one book to another, finding key points on the various issues. If you imagine yourself in a room with your authors, be an investigative reporter and ask each author to illuminate you on the various themes or questions as he or she sees fit.
Jot a note on your mind map about the key points you find. As soon as you find an answer in one book, leave that book and start flipping through the next one.
If all of your authors agree and effectively answer every single question the same way, one of two things is going on: either you have not found enough questions to ask, or you need to find more authors to read.
9) Formulate your own view:
In your discovery of the issues, you can formulate your own sense of the truth. The syntopic reader looks at all sides and takes no sides.
Make a deliberate effort to balance authors' perspectives. Forego comments that might be prejudicial, and check any tendency toward overemphasis or under-emphasis. Only you can decide if you are being partial in your argument.
After gathering enough information, create your own position based on your research.
Apply what you have learned in ways that serve you. Most business people and students have fulfilled their needs by the end of the previous step. When you syntopically read three to five books, you may find one book worth further study. Use steps of the PhotoReading whole mind system— especially rapid reading—to accomplish your goals.
If you need to write about your research, be specific in creating any argument for your position and always accompany an interpretation of an author's view with an actual quotation from the text.
Was this article helpful?