In a scientific discipline, it is common to deal with a system that consists of many elements or subsystems. Most of us engage in the study of system components and their elements by dividing and subdividing them, leading to the trend of infinite specialization. However, at a certain point during the course of the development of a scientific discipline, a grand synthesis enables the distillation and coalescence of disparate results into a coherent understanding of the system as a whole.
Synthesis also allows us to test and validate hypotheses, understand key processes, and better design future research efforts. Indeed, when a discipline succeeds in synthesis, it can make distinct, often epoch-making progress, leading the discipline to higher levels of understanding of the system being studied. The concept of plate tectonics is an outstanding example of synthesis in the geosciences [Stewart, 1990].