Introduction and Overview of UTOK, the Unified Theory of Knowledge

Gregg Henriques
Unified Theory of Knowledge
11 min readApr 3, 2024

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On April 12–13, 2024, the UTOK team will host its second online Consilience Conference (see here to learn more and register).

Last year, we had over 45 presenters and 500 attendees, and explored visions for unifying knowledge and orienting toward wisdom (see here for the line-up for last year).

This year we have even more presenters, including four different symposia led by scholars from Brazil. (Thanks to Marcia Gralha for organizing this!) The theme for this year’s conference is UTOK itself. As such, I wanted to take this opportunity to provide a brief introduction and overview of UTOK, so that participants can have a shared understanding of the system.

To register, click here.

Unified Means Consilience

The word “unified” in UTOK means consilience. Consilience was made famous by E.O. Wilson in his 1998 book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. The term dates back to 1840, where William Whewell used it in his work, The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. To quote Wilson, consilience means “a ‘jumping together’ of knowledge by linking facts and fact-based theory across the disciplines to create a common ground of explanation” (p. 8).

UTOK is a new “common ground” of explanation and understanding that achieves a coherent picture of the natural sciences, the human psyche, and the collective wisdom traditions.

The Four Major Conceptual Problems Addressed by UTOK

As natural philosophy evolved into natural science — specifically physics and its mathematical mapping of the behaviors of material objects — a massive conceptual problem emerged. The Newtonian mechanical materialist version of reality did not mesh well at all with the mental world. This is the famous “mind-body problem” in modern science and philosophy. It gave rise to the dominant modern frames for understanding the relationship between matter and mind, which are: 1) materialism; 2) idealism, and 3) dualism.

None of these philosophical positions are up to the task, and what emerged was a profound gap in our understanding. UTOK calls this the Enlightenment Gap (EG). As framed by UTOK, the EG has an ontological element and an epistemological element. The ontological element refers to the fact that it became impossible to specify the nature of mind relative to matter and clarify how these two domains were effectively interrelated. The epistemological aspect of the EG refers to the fact that it was extremely difficult to integrate scientific ways of knowing with subjective and social ways of knowing.

The EG can be thought of as the problem of natural philosophy and it relates to how we coherently connect and align the natural sciences to human history as framed by the social sciences, the humanities, and our qualitative experience of being in the world.

UTOK has its origin in two big picture problems that are down stream of the EG. UTOK’s founder, Professor Gregg Henriques, started on the journey to construct UTOK as he was training to become a psychotherapist. To be a competent psychological doctor, he wanted a holistic conception of the human condition that was grounded in both science and human values. What he found as he entered the field was a complex amalgamation of different, competing schools of thought, and little cumulative knowledge. This is what UTOK calls the problem of psychotherapy.

Henriques had the intuition that psychotherapy should be grounded in the science of human psychology. He had been trained as a behavioral scientist, which means that he was trained in the empirical methods of science, but what he realized he needed to be a psychological doctor was a broad, coherent, scientifically grounded conceptualization of the human condition. This need ended up resulting in him turning to psychological science to provide this picture. When he did so, he saw psychological science in a new light.

Although psychological science had accumulated a number of fascinating findings and insights, it also was a complete chaotic mess, much like psychotherapy. Indeed, as he attempted to formulate a science of psychology based on a coherent conception of its subject matter, he realized that the history of the field was marked and marred by big picture confusion. Indeed, since its inception, psychology has struggled to define its proper subject matter. Historically, this was called the ‘crisis of psychology,’ and it dates all the way back to 1899!

UTOK renames this the problem of psychology. UTOK points out that the physical, chemical, and biological sciences are relatively consilient. However, that consilience breaks down fully when we transition into the science of psychology. UTOK highlights this problem and much of its architecture is devoted to solving it.

The final problem is the problem of the psyche. In UTOK, the psyche refers to the qualitative, idiographic experience of being a unique particular human subject in the world. The psyche is the way we each go about our lives, and yet, it does not mesh with the language of science.

UTOK calls these the “four P” problems: 1) the problem of (natural) philosophy (framed by UTOK as the EG); 2) the problem of psychology (formally called the crisis of psychology); 3) the problem of psychotherapy; and 4) the problem of the psyche.

The systems of understanding that emerged in the wake of the Enlightenment are completely overwhelmed by the complexity of these problems. Hence, we humans currently are far away from consilience, and we lack a shared, coherent understanding of the world and our place in it.

UTOK’s Three Philosophical Pillars

UTOK achieves consilience where other systems have failed because it affords us a new way to conceptualize natural science, the human psyche, and the processes by which humans socially construct knowledge. This becomes clear when we consider UTOK’s three philosophical pillars, which are the Tree of Knowledge System, the iQuad Coin, and the UTOK Garden. These are UTOK’s frameworks for understanding the world via objective science, the subjective psyche, and the intersubjective construction of knowledge.

A quote from the philosopher Donald Davidson can help set the stage for why UTOK consists of three distinct philosophical pillars:

I want, first of all, to stress the apparent oddity of the fact that we have three irreducibly different varieties of empirical knowledge [i.e., the subjective, the objective, and the intersubjective]. We need an overall picture which not only accommodates all three modes of knowing, but makes sense of their relations to one another. Without such a general picture we should be deeply puzzled that the same world is known to us in three such different ways.

In short, up until now, no system has been able to effectively interrelate these three vectors of knowing into a coherent picture. UTOK’s capacity to do so is what makes it a consilient theory of knowledge.

The objective vector can be understood by the way Galileo developed modern science. He framed science as the mathematical description of behaviors in the world that could be measured by an instrument that could then be interpreted by any trained observer. This process essentially removes the perspective of the unique, particular, qualitative subject and yields a generalizable, quantifiable description of the unfolding wave of behavioral change. UTOK’s ToK System, supported by the Periodic Table of Behavior, gives us a new way to map the picture of knowledge given to us by the natural sciences, including psychology.

UTOK maps the objective science vector of knowledge via the Tree of Knowledge System

We can characterize the subjective vector by first considering it as the perspective of each, unique, individual particular person. Thus, it is made up of the subjective conscious experience of every human being. In terms of more refined, modern knowledge, it is the vector of phenomenology, by which I mean a more refined, analytical analysis of subjectivity and experience and its relationship to the “exterior” world. UTOK’s iQuad Coin, supported by the Map of Mind and especially the domain of Mind2, frames the human psyche and the subjective vector of knowing.

UTOK frames the subjective psyche vector of knowing via the iQuad Coin

The intersubjective vector can be generally characterized as the shared beliefs and values that coordinate groups of people. It is made up of the justification systems that have been built by and then shaped human persons since we had propositional language and generated roles, rules, and worldviews that characterize what UTOK calls the Culture-Person plane of existence. In terms of more refined, modern knowledge, it is the vector of the social construction of knowledge, and it is framed by the sociology of knowledge and the post-structural turn in continental philosophy. UTOK’s Garden, supported by UTOK’s Justification Systems Theory, frames this vector.

UTOK frames the intersubjective cultural vector via the UTOK Garden

A core mantra in UTOK is: Marry the Coin to the Tree in the Garden under God. It refers to the process of placing your psyche (i.e., your unique, subjective experience of being in the world), as framed by the iQuad Coin, alongside the map of reality, as given by the ToK System.

This process enables you to see the world in a complementary way from both the “inside out” subjective vector and the “outside in” objective vector. Doing so enables us to clarify what is the case. The Garden represents UTOK’s “mythos” for wise living, and it resides under the concept of God, which represents the transcendent (for more on UTOK’s conception of God, see here).

As such, being in the Garden means being oriented toward loving truth, goodness, and beauty. And so when you marry the Coin to the Tree in the Garden under God, you are clarifying what is the case subjectively and objectively, and then placing yourself in an intersubjective cultural collective and orienting toward the cultivation of wisdom across time.

UTOK in Six Key Insights

As suggested by this overview, UTOK is a complex network of ideas that takes some time to learn. Indeed, UTOK, which when said aloud sounds close to “you talk,” can be thought of as a new language system, and learning it is very much like learning a new language.

Given that caveat, there are core insights that frame the system so that folks who are just learning about it can start to get a grip on it. We have already seen some of these core elements. UTOK diagnoses are current state by highlighting how the emergence of natural science fractured our knowledge systems and gave us the Enlightenment Gap and, by extension, the problem of psychology, the problem of psychotherapy, and the problem of the psyche. In addition, we have reviewed how UTOK frames human knowledge via different epistemological vectors and gives us the Tree of Knowledge System, the iQuad Coin, and the UTOK Garden to frame the objective-science, subjective-psyche, and intersubjective-cultural ways of knowing.

Here are six additional insights to help you grok what UTOK is fundamentally about:

1. We Need to Move from Matter versus Mind to the Energy, Matter, Life, Mind, Culture Wave mapped by Science.

The philosopher Lawrence Cahoone correctly noted that modern philosophy has a “bipolar disorder” in the way it divides the world into the mental versus the physical, giving us the inadequate philosophies of materialism (i.e., it is all matter), idealism (i.e., it is all mental) or dualism (i.e., some combination of two substances).

UTOK’s Tree of Knowledge System provides a fresh scientific view, representing the universe as a progression from Energy Information Implicate Order (see here) into Material Objects into Living Organisms into Minded Animals into Cultured Persons and the creation of science as a kind of justification system. This framework allows us to resolve the Enlightenment Gap and see ourselves, going from top to bottom, as cultured, self-conscious persons who are also minded primates who are also living organisms who are also material objects in an energy information field.

(For more on the ToK System, see here, and for more on how to align that with your psyche, see Dr. Baron Short’s UTIK blog series, which starts here).

2. We are minded primates.

According to UTOK, one of the greatest errors of modern philosophy has been to align “mind” with human consciousness and reasoning rather than the sensorimotor loop that emerges in the animal kingdom. UTOK frames mind as a set of brain-behavior relations, and animal behavior is properly described as minded behavior, which is the third plane of existence on the ToK System. The means that we are minded primates, and all of our powers of justification emerge first from that dimension of existence. (For more on the concept of mindedness, see here and here).

3. Processes of Justification Transformed Us From Primates into Self-Conscious Persons.

Human beings are primates who are also persons. Persons are self-conscious creatures who reside in systems of justification and who can justify their actions on the social stage.

UTOK gets started back in 1996 when Henriques stumbled on the idea that the evolution of language created the problem of justification, which is the problem of explaining what is right or legitimate and why in the social context. UTOK shows why this problem of “question-answer dynamics” emerged and resulted in the evolution of human self-consciousness and gave rise to the Culture-Person plane of existence. A key insight from UTOK is that we are justifying apes. (For more on UTOK’s Justification Systems Theory, see here).

4. Neurotic Loops are at the Root of Much Human Suffering.

The human justifying mind is both powerful and potentially disastrous, in part because it can come to grip the world in problematic ways through the mental models its creates and then reifies. UTOK identifies neurotic loops as emerging as negative/maladaptive reactions to negative situations that trigger negative feelings. These negative secondary reactions often involve problematic attempts to cope such as avoidance, blame, and engage in misguided attempts to control the future. (For more on neurotic loops, see here).

5. We can reverse neurotic loops with CALM-MO.

UTOK was born in the psychotherapy room, and includes the Unified Approach to Psychotherapy, which frames the common core of healing processes. UTOK organizes these principles and processes into an integrative framework for psychological mindfulness called CALM-MO. The MO stands for the meta-observer of a sage that cultivates the attitudes of Curiosity, Acceptance, Loving compassion, and Motivation toward valued states of being in the short and long term. (For more on CALM-MO, see here).

6. We live at a crucial time in Human Civilization called the “5th Joint Point”.

UTOK’s Tree of Knowledge shows a clear pattern. Life, Mind, and Culture all emerge because of novel information processing systems and communication networks. This is important because this is happening with our technology right now. We are merging with artificial intelligence systems in a way that will transform us. UTOK claims we need to collectively wake up and wisely frame this transition from the Culture-Person plane into the Digital Global plane. (For more on the 5th Joint Point, see here).

UTOK’s ToK System suggests a new dimension of information processing and communication networks is emerging and giving rise to a new plane of existence.

Conclusion

Collectively, we are drowning in confusion and bullshit, and the potential global consequences are horrific.

UTOK is a hopeful new vision that affords humanity a new operating system for the 21st Century. It solves the core philosophical problems that emerged in the wake of the scientific Enlightenment and affords us a consilient vision that coherently interrelates the natural sciences, the human psyche, and the cultural construction of knowledge.

Join us at the UTOK 2024 Consilience Conference, as we explore this powerful new system and its capacity to help us collectively orient toward wisdom.

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Gregg Henriques
Unified Theory of Knowledge

Professor Henriques is a scholar, clinician and theorist at James Madison University.