Now UTOKing: The Meta-Crisis & the 5th Joint Point

Gregg Henriques
Unified Theory of Knowledge
7 min readMay 13, 2024

--

In this blog and video series, we present you with a curated set of definitions to better understand our place in today’s world through the lens of the UTOK system. In the previous post, we explored UTOK’s conception of metamodernism and of how the system aligns with the movement. Here, we explore the idea of the global meta-crisis and elucidate UTOK’s contribution with the concept of the 5th Joint Point. This blog/video is the last concept we will cover in the series.

It is widely acknowledged that we stand at a critical juncture in the history of human civilization. How can we navigate these complexities and steer global society toward a wiser path? How do we make decisions that lead us to a more sustainable future as we enter the latter half of the 21st century, without depleting our planet’s resources or compromising our mental health?

These questions are complex and, of course, lack straightforward answers. The magnitude of the multiple crises we face seems to have spurred various movements in the digital sphere over the past decade, with a notable example being the liminal web, or this “corner of the internet”. Amidst the many podcasts, essays, online communities, and retreats, there is a recurrent, prevailing concern with questions concerning the meta-crisis and how to address it effectively. Efforts to consolidate the rich amount of information available on the meta-crisis have been made, such as Kyle Kowalski’s meta-crisis meta-resource directory and his Metacrisis 101 page. This conversation between Daniel Smachtenberger, John Vervaeke, and Ian McGilchrist also exemplify the relevance of this conversation.

What is the Meta-crisis?

The term “meta-crisis” has been used with a multitude of distinct but related meanings. Some define it as a combination of multiple global crises, while others view it as a singular phenomenon that, much like a complex system, is not reducible to its component crises. Moreover, different thinkers will focus on different aspects. For instance, Zak Stein from The Consilience Project emphasizes “education” as being at the root, by which he means structures and processes for effectively transmitting knowledge and building character across the generations. In this excellent essay, Jonathan Rowson explores ten key aspects of the meta-crisis (see also here).

Taking a bird’s eye view, we can summarize the meta-crisis as a critical phase for humanity, where we are approaching multiple tipping points of collapse in societal functioning in this planet. It manifests as a complex set of interrelated crises across different domains of society, encompassing technology, knowledge production, ecosystems, social justice, and more.

The pluralism of critical events can be seen for what it represents in its sociohistorical context: the risk of societal collapse, either by the breakdown of our institutional structures and ecological systems, or by the implementation of totalitarian control to maintain some societal functionality at the expense of our collective well-being and autonomy.

UTOK’s Contribution in Framing the Meta-crisis

UTOK, the Unified Theory of Knowledge, aims to organize and interrelate pluralistic conceptions to achieve a coherent, integrated understanding of the world. By framing the meta-crisis as a “digital identity problem,”, UTOK highlights two broad aspects: 1) its embedding in the digital era in the context of our impact on the planet; and 2) the nature of the flux and chaotic knowledge systems on our sense of identity and health at a societal level. Each of these two broad domains can be further divided, giving us four major aspects.

The Four Domains of the Meta-Crisis

1. Techno-Environmental Crisis: The industrial revolution has enabled humanity to manipulate nature on a grand scale, increasingly placing demands and pressures on the planet’s resources. As our population has grown exponentially, our ability to exploit natural resources has followed, as well as our dependence on such mechanisms of exploitation to sustain economic growth and consumption. Issues such as climate change, resource depletion, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction pose significant threats to our environment and the future of humanity.

2. Digital Globalization Crisis: Advancements in technology, particularly in computing, the internet, and artificial intelligence, have interconnected the world and changed our institutional infrastructures in unforeseen ways, in a magnitude qualitatively different than that of the advent of writing. Timely examples are social media’s reactions around Apple’s new 3D Vision Pro device and the last passage of the New Year in Paris, with comments drawing comparisons with the ominous sci-fi show Black Mirror. While digital globalization has evident affordances, it also challenges traditional structures and raises concerns about their potential collapse.

3. Meaning Crisis: The cultural sensibility of modernism alongside its critique by postmodernism has left our knowledge systems fragmented, leading to a chaotic pluralism of understanding of the world and our place within it. In other words, the West lacks a coherent understanding of the relationship between our major systems of knowledge and our different ways of knowing, namely our objective knowledge, primarily derived from modern empirical natural science, our subjective ways of knowing, as well as the social construction of reality.

UTOK identifies this problem as the Enlightenment Gap: a failure of the knowledge systems advanced in the European Enlightenment to form a coherent worldview that effectively integrates a matter-in-motion ontology with a proper understanding of subjective and intersubjective epistemology, especially as it concerns human phenomenology. This fragmentation hinders our ability to coordinate knowledge and comprehend our position in the world, limiting our capacity to orient our actions toward shared valued states of being in this critical juncture of history. A significant consequence of this fragmentation is what cognitive scientist John Vervaeke terms the meaning crisis. The meaning crisis manifests as a pervasive decoupling between individuals and ways of connecting to reality. People increasingly report a diminished sense of belonging, greater alienation from others and the world, loneliness, nihilism, narcissism, and a lacking sense of meaning in life.

4. Mental Health Crisis: The mental health crisis may be closely linked to the meaning crisis. Despite humanity’s remarkable power and control over the environment, we see a persistent rise in our mental health problems. This surge is arguably fueled by our dwindling sense of meaning in life, which poses significant obstacles to two fundamental aspects of human well-being: the development of coherent worldview and values and the sense of being connected to reality and “mattering” to that larger whole in a way that can bring subjective fulfillment. Evidence suggests an increase in mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, particularly among youth. With a diminished sense of meaning, many individuals feel alienated and nihilistic, making them vulnerable to developing entrenched maladaptive patterns of feeling, thinking, and acting that can lead to neurotic conditions.

The 5th Joint Point and Cultivating the Digital Identity Solution

UTOK is a metamodern knowledge system with a philosophical grounding that aims to bridge the objective natural scientific knowledge with subjectivity to guide intersubjective, cultural collective knowledge toward wisdom. UTOK addresses this issue with its Tree of Knowledge (ToK) System and its adjacent ideas.

The Tree of Knowledge (ToK) System.

Following the ToK System’s vision logic, we can trace joint points all the way from the Energy Information Singularity at the Big Bang through the Matter-Object plane into the Life-Organism plane into the Mind-Animal Plane into the Culture-Person plane.

The tremendous value in this diagram for the present moment is that it frames the current time as the time of the 5th joint point. Why? Because the Life, Mind, and Culture planes all emerge as a function of novel information processing systems and communication networks. So, the logic is that so will the next plane. And indeed, that is what we are seeing; the Gigital-Global plane is emerging. This is UTOK’s 5th Joint Point and here is a fuller articulation of it.

A pertinent question arises when we zoom out to view the long line of complexification that has brought us here: What lies ahead? What will be the novel complexity-building feedback loop, or joint point, that will give rise to a novel dimension of existence amidst the meta-crisis? What will that look like?

We find ourselves in a Digital Era marked by rapidly evolving technologies that impacts not only how information is processed, but how it is communicated. The advent of things like AI, virtual reality, quantum computers, and the sociohistorical impact of social media exemplify that the shift in our ways of living is qualitative. The 5th joint point is evolving, and the result of the convergence of extremely advanced technology and human Culture is yet to be seen. Collective existential dread coupled to a desire for intentional responses is not uncommon, as illustrated by the open letter to halt AI experimenting.

UTOK is oriented to be part of a third attractor that is up to the task of steering us away from global civilization collapse or totalitarianism. It positions itself in relationship to the meta-crisis with the function of addressing the deep conceptual confusions that fragmented our shared understanding of reality and our place in cosmological history.

By bridging the Enlightenment Gap, cohering our fragmented knowledge of psychology, and identifying the common core of adaptive character development, wellbeing, and psychological mindfulness, UTOK orients us toward the processes and principles associated with a coherent shared sense of meaning, better mental health, and collective wise living.

These threads should connect with other broad solutions to address the digital-globalization and techno-environmental aspects of the meta-crisis. If we succeed, the 5th joint point may evolve as a new dimension of existence that is more sustainable and oriented toward wellbeing.

This blog was authored by Marcia Gralha, MA.

--

--

Gregg Henriques
Unified Theory of Knowledge

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