Today I'm pondering scientific synthesis, in particular the cross-pollination of various disciplines. What brings this on? Mostly thinking about linguistics and physics. It seems that the shift from rules-based to constraints-based language transformation could be illuminated by comparing it to the contrast between the traditional formulations in physics and that of the Principal of Least Action. And Optimality Theory appears to be a method that draws a lot on ideas from neural networks. (We'll not even get in to the various influences of fads in computer science on mental models, or thermodynamics on theories of mind.)
So what I want to know is: What's the history of the great scientific synthesis? Has it ever been formalised, or even recognised? Is there a model for extracting patterns from theories and applying them to different disciplines?