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Old 11-24-2015, 10:18 PM   #1
Prince Charon
 
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Default [Space] Creating Synthesist characters

On a website called Atomic Rockets, the section on the crews of spacecraft includes an interesting job title: Synthesists. These are people whose job it is to know everything they possibly can, and correlate the facts in ways that a computing machine could not... unless it's a sapient AI, which was often not an option in the Golden Age of science fiction (and for all we know, may never be an option). In Transhuman Space, it's not a problem, but if you're doing Tales of the Solar Patrol, or otherwise have a space-exploration or science fiction game that lacks creative SAI, you have to get a biological crewmember to do it, whether a PC or an NPC.

Due to the character limit, I'm going to quote the second-shortest description the site offers, from Stand On Zanzibar, by John Brunner:

Quote:
There was one talent Donald Hogan did possess which the majority of people didn't: the gift of making right guesses. Some mechanism at the back of his mind seemed ceaselessly to be shifting around factors from the surrounding world, hunting for patterns in them, and when such a pattern arose a silent bell would ring inside his skull.

Factors: Washington, the absence of the Dean, the offer of a salary competitive with what he could hope to earn in industry, but for studying, not for working ... There were people, extremely top people, whom specialists tended to refer to disparagingly as dilettanti but who dignified themselves with the title "synthesist", and who spent their entire working lives doing nothing but making cross-references from one enclosed corner of research to another. It seemed like too much to hope for, coming on top of his expectation, moments back, that his grant was to be discontinued. He had to put his hands together to stop them trembling.

"You're talking about synthesis, aren't you?"

"Yes, I'm from the Dilettante Dept—or more officially, from the Office of Research Co-ordination. But I doubt if you have in mind exactly what I'm going to propose. I've seen the graphs of your scholastic career, and I get the impression that you could make yourself into a synthesist if you wanted to badly enough, with or without a doctorate." Dr. Foden leaned back in her chair.

"So the fact that you're still here—griping, but putting up with things—makes me suspect you don't want to badly enough. It'll take a good fat bribe to make you opt for it I think nonetheless you may be honest enough to stay bribed. Tell me, given the chance, what would you do to round out your education?"

Donald stammered over his answer, turning crimson at his own inability to utter crisp, decisive plans. "Well—uh—I guess ... History, particularly recent history; nobody's taught me about anything nearer to home than World War II without loading it full of biased dreck. All the fields which touch on my own, like crystallography and ecology. Not omitting human ecology. And to document that I'd like to delve into the written record of our species, which is now about eight thousand years deep. I ought to learn at least one non-Indo-European language. Then—"

"Stop. You've defined an area of knowledge greater than an individual can cover in a lifetime."

"Not true!" Donald was gathering confidence by the moment. "Of course you can't if you've been taught the way I have, on the basis of memorising facts, but what one ought to learn is how to extract patterns! You don't bother to memorise the literature—you learn to read and keep a shelf of books. You don't memorise log and sine tables; you buy a slide-rule or learn to punch a public computer!" A helpless gesture. "You don't have to know everything. You simply need to know where to find it when necessary.''

Dr. Foden was nodding. "You seem to have the right basic attitude," she acknowledged. "However, I must put on my Mephistopheles hat at this point and explain the conditions that attach to the offer I'm making. First, you'd be required to read and write fluent Yatakangi."

Donald blanched slightly. A friend of his had once started on that language and switched to Mandarin Chinese as an easier alternative. However ...

He shrugged. "I'd be willing to shoot for that," he said.

"And the rest of it I can't tell you until you've been to Washington with me."

Where a man called Colonel—Donald was not told if he had a name of his own—said, "Raise your right hand and repeat after me: 'I Donald Orville Hogan ... do solemnly declare and attest...'"

Donald sighed. Back then, it had seemed like the fulfilment of his wildest dreams. Five mornings a week doing nothing but read, under no compulsion to produce any kind of results—merely requested to mention by mail any association or connection he spotted which he had reason to believe might prove helpful to somebody: advise an astronomer that a market research organisation had a new statistical sampling technique, for instance, or suggest that an entomologist be informed about a new air-pollution problem. It sounded like paradise, especially since his employers not only did not care what he did with the rest of his time but suggested he make his experience as varied as possible to keep himself alert.
So, what does a synthesist need, exactly? Eidetic Memory, or preferably Photographic; a high IQ, one or more Talents, and a whole lot of skills (especially Research), are what jumps out at me. Probably Expert Skill (Synthesis), as well (if the GM allows it).

Thoughts?
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Old 11-24-2015, 11:03 PM   #2
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Default Re: [Space] Creating Synthesist characters

Robert Heinlein had a society run by them in his early novel Beyond This Horizon. A.E. Van Vogt's The Voyage of the Space Beagle inserted one into a series of stories that got woven together into a novel, under the label "nexialists." So they go back a ways before Brunner. . . .

Heinlein, at least, gave them all eidetic memory, though he somewhat overestimated the utility of eidetic memory, I think.
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Old 11-25-2015, 01:08 AM   #3
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Default Re: [Space] Creating Synthesist characters

It seems to me that if any non-military character has Intelligence Analysis a synthesist does. Really they might even have an IQ/VH version of it with expanded powers over all fields of knowledge, or maybe even a variant on Oracle (Digital).

Every Current Affairs speciality, in spades. A whole host of Expert Skills. Versatile. Jack Of All Trades is a good representation of some "immensely broad but shallow" knowledge. High raw IQ, of course. Probably other stuff.
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Old 11-25-2015, 01:17 AM   #4
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Default Re: [Space] Creating Synthesist characters

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
Robert Heinlein had a society run by them in his early novel Beyond This Horizon. A.E. Van Vogt's The Voyage of the Space Beagle inserted one into a series of stories that got woven together into a novel, under the label "nexialists." So they go back a ways before Brunner. . . .

Heinlein, at least, gave them all eidetic memory, though he somewhat overestimated the utility of eidetic memory, I think.
I'm well aware of how far back it goes, I just picked Brunner because it looked shorter than the Asimov section from 1954, but more detailed & developed than the Smith section from 1949.
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Old 11-25-2015, 10:57 AM   #5
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Default Re: [Space] Creating Synthesist characters

I'm a little surprised no one has mentioned Intuition yet. I could imagine a Wild Talent for knowledge skills, letting him make a brilliant guess on something wildly out of his field because he has amassed a lot of latent knowledge.
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Old 11-25-2015, 12:01 PM   #6
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Default Re: [Space] Creating Synthesist characters

It's almost my favourite limitation, as I mention it in any thread of this nature, but Hypersensory from Psychometry (Powers p69) on the Intuition or Oracle would be a good build. It basically means that you're limited to results that could be explained from mundane information channels, instead of something psychic or supernatural.
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Old 11-25-2015, 01:47 PM   #7
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Default Re: [Space] Creating Synthesist characters

Would this be something like the Mentats from Dune?
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Old 11-25-2015, 02:19 PM   #8
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Default Re: [Space] Creating Synthesist characters

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Originally Posted by Daigoro View Post
It's almost my favourite limitation, as I mention it in any thread of this nature, but Hypersensory from Psychometry (Powers p69) on the Intuition or Oracle would be a good build. It basically means that you're limited to results that could be explained from mundane information channels, instead of something psychic or supernatural.
That's what Oracle (Digital) already is. See Powers, p. 65.
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Old 11-25-2015, 02:30 PM   #9
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Default Re: [Space] Creating Synthesist characters

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Would this be something like the Mentats from Dune?
Not quite. Mentats in Dune have minds like computers (which are forbidden in the setting).So the big items are Photograhic Memory and Intuitive Mathematician. Possibly even the Enhanced Time Sense variant from Powers: Enhanced Senses.
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Old 11-25-2015, 05:06 PM   #10
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Default Re: [Space] Creating Synthesist characters

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Originally Posted by Fred Brackin View Post
Not quite. Mentats in Dune have minds like computers (which are forbidden in the setting).So the big items are Photograhic Memory and Intuitive Mathematician. Possibly even the Enhanced Time Sense variant from Powers: Enhanced Senses.
This still sounds like using humans for what we design computers for now; correlating and cross referencing vast quantities of data.
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