In the discussion on induction, I pointed out that one way of making a generalization more reliable is to compare it to other knowledge you have. If they support each other, it can give you more assurance that you've correctly generalized.
Integration is the method by which you take new ideas or facts and fit them in with the rest of your knowledge. It means more than just accepting something as true. You actually have to tie it in with the rest of your knowledge. The more you do so, the better integrated it is.
Integration mean connecting the different pieces of information you have. There are a lot of kinds of integration, but the goal is simply to connect them into a large framework. A person with an un-integrated mind would have a million different ideas, and be unable to see the connections between them. That kind of mind would be scattered and fractured.
Let's take a simple example. You meet a girl. She talks to you about a variety of topics, but seems to know quite a bit about medicine. She seems to be fairly wealthy. She gets called into work fairly often. At this point you have a bunch of un-integrated facts about her. Now either you can try to connect these thoughts yourself, or you wait until she gives you one final piece, which is that she's a doctor. At that point, you don't continue to have isolated facts. You put them all together. Doctors get paid well, and she's a doctor, so that explains her money. Doctors are generally well-educated, and very educated in medicine. Two more facts that are put together. Doctors are often on call in cases of emergency, so that explains the last fact. By seeing these connections, and remembering them as connected, you've managed to integrate a bit of information. You can continue to integrate, depending on what else you know.
There's other kinds of integration as well. You can integrate facts into principles or concepts. The discussion of induction showed how to do this. But what wasn't mentioned at the time is that the new general principles is an integration of the specific data used. You're tying all of the information together.
Deduction is another method of integration. By taking general principles, you can show the connection between different facts. By knowing that better fed children generally grow taller, you can connect the fact that many countries with food problems also have a shorter population.
One benefit to the process of integration is that it's easier to determine if there are contradictions between what you already knew, and what you've just discovered. For instance, you might hear on the TV that the US is rich because we have so much of the world's natural resources. The person on the TV may be considered an expert, so you might think you have some reason to at least tentatively accept the theory. But if you integrate it with other facts, it might not fit in very well. For instance, if you know that the wealthiest countries also tend to be the freest, you might realize that one of these factors must be more important than the other. If you notice that Hong Kong is wealthy but has no natural resources, you might see a contradiction. If you know that Africa is covered with resources and has fertile land as well, then you'll really start thinking something is up.
So integration can be used to detect contradictions. But it can also help once you suspect there is a contradiction. In this last example, you may believe you've found a contradiction between the two theories, but you don't know which is right. If you haven't integrated facts in with your theory of the US being a free nation as the source of its wealth, then when the TV personality gives you some evidence for his theory, you may believe him. If the freedom theory is left unintegrated in your mind with the rest of the data, it's ready to be pushed aside with ease. The more of your mind that exists in the un-integrated state, the less defensible your position will be. You'll be pushed around by every new theory, every new conversation, and every new person you meet.
Another benefit to integration is that by connecting your knowledge, you have an easier time knowing when it's useful information. If you leave it unconnected, a new idea that should make you think about the principle might not. If you have a million things going on in your head, it's less likely that you'll realize that you need that information. But by having well integrated knowledge, it's much easier to find the relevant thought. Whatever thought the new idea triggers will be connected with the important idea. So you may already know that in theory a free market leads to prosperity. But when you hear about the natural resource theory of wealth, it may not make you think of it. You may think of particularly wealthy countries, and notice that they do have natural resources. But if you haven't connected their wealth with freedom in the past, you might not stop to think along those lines.
Another benefit to integration is that by connecting the pieces of information, you're able to discover principles you wouldn't ordinarily see. We've already seen how induction works. It makes sense that if you're trying to look for connections between your knowledge, you're more likely to go through the inductive process. If you memorize facts about how rich each country is, leaving them unintegrated by not comparing or contrasting them, you may miss any correlation between their wealth and their level of freedom. If you intentionally look to see if there are any similarities, you're more likely to see this kind of connection. So integration not only puts your knowledge into perspective, but it also increases your knowledge. Very useful tool.
We've discussed how philosophy can be though of as a world view. When you discover new principles of philosophy, it's important to try to integrate them into your own view of the world. And that means connecting them to knowledge you already have, and analyzing any problems you run into. These principles are wide-reaching, and are most useful to you if you apply them to everything you can. You can't do it automatically or all at once, but you can make a habit out of the process of integrating topics with the rest of what you know.