The 12 Floors of Science:

Mapping Science with the Periodic Table of Behavior

What is science? In A Scientific Method in Brief, Hugh Gauch offers what might be called the “standard modernist view” of science. This is the notion that the enterprise of science is defined by a set of assumptions and presuppositions that include frames such as scientific objectivity, the correspondence theory of truth, the legitimacy of reason, and realism. With these frames in hand, scientists use empirical methods to gather data and test models. Truth claims are never final, but the method allows us increasing degrees of confidence that the maps or models are accurate in the degree they likely correspond to reality.

Gauch pointed out that although different scientists appropriately advocate for various worldviews, the debates about issues such as emergence and reductionism, the nature of the mind and consciousness, and the relationship between scientific knowledge and social knowledge is such that there is no consensually agreed upon “scientific worldview”.

From a Unified Theory of Knowledge vantage point, this void makes sense because traditional “MENS” knowledge carried with it the Enlightenment Gap and its most obvious consequence, the problem of psychology. The UTOK solves the problem of psychology and effectively fills in the Enlightenment Gap and does so in a way that generates a scientific worldview that orients us toward the cultivation of wisdom.

The ToK System, the first key idea in the larger UTOK framework, is a theory of both reality and a theory of how scientific knowledge that maps that reality. Specifically, the ToK System posits that we can divide the ontic reality across time and scale into four planes of existence (Matter, Life, Mind, and Culture) and that these dimensions correspond to four different domains of science (the Physical, Biological, Basic Psychological, and Social domains).

The concept of behavior plays a central role in the ToK System’s theory of scientific knowledge. It makes three core claims in this regard. First, it posits that behavior is an overlooked concept that is present across all the basic sciences. Second, it posits that behavior is central to scientific epistemology (i.e., how we know things scientifically). Third, it claims behavior is central to scientific ontology (i.e., scientific statements about what is real). We can elaborate on each of these claims.

To see how behavior is central in all of science, consider that the Lexico-Oxford dictionary defines science as “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” If we agree that behavior can be defined as changes in entities and their relations across time, then the concept of behavior would include the structure of those entities, although the reverse is not true, as structure does not include behavior. This means we can fold structure into behavior and say that the dictionary definition of modern science is the systematic study of the behavior of the natural world via observation and experimentation. We can gain confidence in this assertion by noting that physics is frequently defined as the science of “the behavior of matter and energy” or the science that “explains how the universe behaves at every scale.” Moreover, it is perfectly natural to speak of particle physicists studying the behavior of the very small (e.g., subatomic particles like electrons) and cosmologists studying the behavior of very large (e.g., galaxies). An implication of this insight is that it is obviously foolish to define psychology as the science of behavior, although some modern textbooks still take this route.

The second claim is that behavior frames scientific epistemology. That is, scientists use an exterior, third person epistemological stance based on observation and measurement of objects, fields, and change to justify their knowledge claims. A clear way to see this is by considering Ken Wilber’s epistemological quadrants, and note that the exterior view is the scientific view of the behavior of entities and the systems in which they reside. Wilber’s quadrants are also helpful in framing why science struggles in addressing the first-person view that includes the unique, subjective experience of being-in-the-world.

The third claim is the ontological claim, which is that there are different kinds of behaviors in nature. Specifically, this is the argument that behavioral patterns exist across different levels and dimensions of complexity in nature. This diagram represents the three claims about behavior and science.

Not represented in the above diagram is the concept of emergence across time. This is filled in by the ToK System, which posits that there are (at least) two different kinds of emergence in nature. One type, let’s call it “weak emergence,” exists within the planes of existence. For example, this is the difference between hydrogen and oxygen molecules and the emergent properties of water that arise as a function of their combination and grouping. A second type of emergence exists between the planes of existence on the ToK System. This is the difference between a water molecule and a living cell. Because there are qualitative differences in the latter that result as a function of information processing and communication, we can refer to the jumps between the dimensions of behavioral complexity as representing a kind of “strong emergence”.

The ToK theory of reality and science further posits that there are primary units of behavior within each dimension and that these primary units can be divided into three levels of behavioral analysis, namely: 1) parts; 2) wholes; and 3) groups.

When this insight is combined with the claim that there are four separable planes of existence, the consequence is a 3 x 4 Periodic Table of Behavior.

The PTB suggests that we can trace the emergence of behavioral complexity through these four levels, starting with what we might call a “pure energy singularity” and ending at the level of global society. The arrows on the PTB below trace this process.

The 12 Floors of Science

This interlocking network of claims makes a clear prediction. Namely, we should be able to see the organization of scientific knowledge represented in this classification of behavioral patterns/frequencies. That is, given the 3 x 4 dimensions of the PTB, we can see that there are what we might call 12 “floors” of science. Each floor represents the behavioral frequencies found that the particular intersection between the level (i.e., part, whole, group) and dimension (Matter, Life, Mind, and Culture).

The first overall dimension is Matter, which ranges in scale from the quantum to the universe as a whole.

The 1st “floor” on the PTB is particle physics and related foundational concepts, such as space, time, particles, waves, and matter and energy.

The 2nd floor is the atomic level of organization, mapped by the Periodic Table of the Elements and atomic physics.

The 3rd floor is chemistry, the science of molecular behavior (groups of atoms behaving as whole units).

We then move into, the second dimension of behavioral complexity, Life. Living behavior is qualitatively different than Matter. Matter is complicated, but Life consists of complex adaptive systems that are coordinated by information processing and communication systems.

The 4th floor is genetics grounded in molecular biology, which is the base informational unit of living processes.

The 5th floor is cytology, the science of the basic whole unit of life, the cell.

The 6th floor is the science of multi-celled organisms (botany, mycology).

We then move into “Mind”, which on the ToK refers to the set of animal-mental behaviors mediated by the brain/nervous system, and is the domain of basic psychology (as opposed to human psychology).

The 7th floor is neuroscience.

The 8th floor can be called either “basic psychology” or “ethology” or “the cognitive behavioral neurosciences”. It includes both natural and experimental animal behavioral science. This domain of behavior is confused because of the Enlightenment Gap and its failure to generate a clear picture of the science of mind.

The 9th floor is sociobiology or social ethology or group-level behavioral ecology.

We then move into the “Culture-Person” plane. This is a qualitatively different plane of behavior because of language, justification, self-consciousness and the evolution of Cultural ideologies.

The 10th floor is human cognitive science.

The 11th floor is human psychology, including developmental, personality, and social psychology.

The 12th floor is the social sciences, including anthropology, political science, economics and sociology.

The 12 floors highlighted by the Periodic Table of Behavior confirms the utility of the ToK System in its capacity to organize scientific knowledge and show how scientific knowledge maps the ontic reality, and does so in a way that affords the proper relations between matter and mind.

Finally, with this grounding, we can now start to wonder about the 13th floor and the search for transcendence and the cultivation of wisdom.



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Gregg Henriques

Gregg Henriques


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