The iQuad Coin (Part III):

Extending the Human Identity Function into the World

This is Part III in a blog series devoted to delineating the conceptual architecture of the iQuad Coin. Part I explained how the iQuad Symbol represented and linked the “Human Identity Function” and the complex unit circle. Part II centered on the core of the Human Identity Function, which is called the Human Identification Matrix. The Human Identification Matrix was framed as putting on one’s iQuad glasses and seeing the “self-world identification patterns” that allow one to participate in the world. These glasses were then divided into four different lenses, which were described as: 1) Egoic Self; 2) Pure Awareness; 3) Ontic-Epistemic Reality; and 4) Science as framed by the naturalistic ontology given by the ToK System and Periodic Table of Behavior. This blog extends the connection between the Human Identity Function and UTOK by delineating four general human identity functions that situate the person in the world. These are: 1) the Primate-Person Dialectic; 2) the Human-Humanity Dialectic; 3) the One-Many Dialectic; and 4) the Digital Identity Problem and a Vision for Its Solution.

The iQuad Coin, along with the Tree of Knowledge System and the Garden, provides a key aspect of UTOK. The Coin functions to provide a way to frame the unique particular subjective human knower and their experience of being in the world. This blog series lays out the conceptual architecture of the Coin. The first four parts of the series are structured to lay out the meaning of the iQuad symbol, after which we will transition into what is called “the iQuad path” and then show how to “flip the Coin” to orient toward wisdom. Part I gave the basic description of the Human Identity Function and the complex unit circle and their loose association regarding the concepts of real, imaginary/imaginal, and complex. Part II delineated the Human Identification Matrix and differentiated it into four different lenses. This blog delineates the four generalized identities. The next (Part IV) will delineate the four “Core Sub-Functions.” Here is a visual depiction of the structure of the iQuad Symbol that is being developed:

As shown in III, there are four “general identity functions.” The first general function involves seeing one’s humanness as consisting of two related dimensions, one of which is the “mental primate” dimension and the second is the “cultured person” dimension. The second general function is the Human-Humanity relation, and the third is the One-Many dialectic. The fourth general identity explicitly links the iQuad Coin to the ToK System and the current global context by framing the world’s meta-crises in terms of the Digital Identity Problem and positing that the Coin could be a part of the solution.

Humans as Primates and Persons

In his introduction to psychology textbooks, David Myers argues that the central question for psychology is the “nature versus nurture” question. I disagree, and find this frame both deeply convoluted and definitely not the central question of psychology from the vantage point of UTOK. Nonetheless, I think we can reframe this dialectic and develop a much better way to think about what Myers is pointing to with the terms “nature” and “nurture.” Specifically, according to UTOK, the key division is found in recognizing that humans are both “natural primates” and “nurtured/cultured persons.” This division frames the first generalized human identity function given by the iQuad Coin, which is to understand humans as both primates and persons, and to see how these two domains of our existence are interrelated.

The ToK System coupled to John Vervaeke’s 4 Ps of knowing can help clarify the distinction between our primate nature and our existence as socialized persons. The primate portion of our being corresponds to the Animal-Mental dimension of existence. More specifically, as a member of homo sapiens, you are a kind of great ape, of which there are four other kinds still alive today (i.e., chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans). Your primate being embodies you in the world, and it orients you to all the “animalistic” things that humans care about relating to the body, like food, safety, pleasure-pain and fight or flight. It also relates to what I like to call your “heart.” As a deeply social primate, you have needs for attachment, social influence, relational value, status, and belonging. UTOK maps the primary dimensions of the heart via the Influence Matrix. The primate portion of your being can also be expanded “down” into the domain of Life. This dimension of existence is where all the physiological processes occur. It is the domain of biological health and disease.

In addition to being a primate, you are also a socialized person. A person is not a specific kind of biological entity, but rather it represents a specific kind of capacity. As Peter Ossario frames it in The Behavior of Persons, a person is an entity that can self-reflect and justify their actions on the social stage. Ossario makes the crucial point that personhood is a capacity rather than a biological or psychological essence. We can see this when we consider the fact that we can image other nonhuman beings that we would consider to be persons. For example, Jabba the Hut from Star Wars was a person in this sense. Humans just happen to be the only kind of being that we know can develop into persons in the way defined here.

Michael Tomasello describe this process in the concluding chapter of his excellent book, Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny:

The outcome of these [processes of development in social relating and language] is the child of six or seven of age, who operates in her culture as a nascent person based on reason and responsibility. Reason and responsibility are normative notions: they involve standards one “ought” to meet. In our view, the origin of normative force lies in the individual agent’s sense of instrumental pressure — the sense that I ought to do x in order to obtain y — as a self-regulatory process. Then, in first entering into a joint agency, the young child transforms this individual self-regulation into social self-regulation, in which “we” self-regulate “me” and “you” interchangeably. So now the question is what “I” and “you” as a part of “we” ought to do. Then by six or seven years of age, the child starts to identify in addition with a cultural “we,” which, upon internalization, executively self-regulates her and her compatriots’ beliefs and actions normatively in the direction of collectively accepted group standards of rationality (reason) and morality (responsibility). From this point on, reason and responsibility represent the regulative ideals governing virtually all of the children’s behavioral decision making, as they gradually become fully fledged persons in a culture.

As this makes clear, you are born a primate and become a person. This involves learning how to engage in reason-giving, question-answer dialogue, and giving accounts and taking social responsibility for your actions on the social stage. In the metaphysics of UTOK, participating in such processes places you on the Culture-Person plane of existence.

To more clearly understand the primate versus person distinction, we can draw on John Vervaeke’s “4 Ps of knowing” (see here for a more detailed descriptions). These domains are: 1) procedural knowing (i.e., habits and learned skills and recipe knowledge for carrying out specified steps to produce an outcome); 2) perspectival knowing (i.e., surveying the landscape via a point of view and obtaining a clear model or representation of it); 3) participatory knowing (i.e., understanding the functional identity between agent and arena, which was the primary kind of knowing emphasized in the description of the Identification Matrix in the prior blog); and 4) propositional knowing (i.e., explicitly knowing that something is true via language and justification).

I draw your attention to this taxonomy because it helps with the primate versus person distinction. The reason is that the first three p’s of knowing are shared with other great apes. That is, other great apes have perspectival, procedural, and participatory knowing capacities. However, propositional knowing is qualitatively more advanced in humans and has evolved dramatically in the past 50,000 years. Indeed, the networks of propositions that form “large-scale justification systems” are the glue that ties together the Culture-Person plane of existence.

The Human-Humanity Dialectic

As primates who are also persons, humans are unique creatures. And, although UTOK embraces a loving attitude toward all beings, it is a value system that frames humans as unique creatures relative to the rest of the animal kingdom, in large part because they are or can become persons. As such, they ought to be conferred unique valued status in the living world. This blog justifies why.

This value statement sets the stage for the second general human identity function, which is the Human-Humanity dialectic. How this is encoded symbolically on the Coin is shown below. The Human-Humanity dialectic represented by seeing the H on the Coin as standing for both the individual human and humanity as a whole. As such, it symbolizes both a sense of unity with humanity as a whole, and that all humans are worthy of value and respect and the ethical obligation of conferring dignity and cultivating well-being. It signifies this both in the present and across time. The latter can be framed as the orientation of living ones life so as to someone who is “being a good ancestor.”

In terms of the function of the Human-Humanity dialectic, it can be thought of as serving a reminder to shift perspective across many different levels of analysis. As humans, it is all too easy for us to get lost in our own point of view, our own selfish concerns, our own particular beliefs and values. By activating the Human-Humanity dialectic, one shifts perspectives, first into others one knows and then that expands into humanity writ large.

We can see the Human-Humanity as a spiritual move, one that has been highlighted in many philosophical and theological traditions. It closely corresponds to the Christian commandment to love thy neighbor as thy self. It also aligns with Ubuntu, which is an African philosophy that means “humanity” or “toward Humanity.” The African Journal of Social Work defines Ubuntu as:

A collection of values and practices that people of Africa or of African origin view as making people authentic human beings. While the nuances of these values and practices vary across different ethnic groups, they all point to one thing — an authentic individual human being is part of a larger and more significant relational, communal, societal, environmental and spiritual world.

The Human-Humanity dialectic is also consistent with Confucian philosophy. For example, Wang, Wang and Wang (2019) developed the Taiji Model of the Self based on combining Western and Chinese Confucian models. They generated the following representation that highlights positive self-development in terms of expanding from the individual, small self into a frame that is increasingly inclusive to humanity as a whole.

In sum, the Human-Humanity dialectic is the second general human identity function that signals the development of a trans-egoic attitude and perspective and the cultivation of an identity that positively identifies with Humanity as a whole.

The One-Many Dialectic

The iQuad Coin contains a second spiritual signifier in the form of the “One-Many” or “Unity-Multiplicity” dialectic. As shown below, this dialectic is captured by the relationship between the 1 and the imaginary number raised to the fourth power. The one, of course, signifies unity, and the i4 represents the many or multiplicity. This is represented in the iQuad symbol as follows:

The tension and relationship between the one and the many represents one of the great philosophical issues of all time. In the West, we can trace it back to ancient Greek philosophy, and the debate between Heraclitus and Parmenides. Heraclitus believed the world was constantly changing and that you never stepped into the same river twice. Parmenides believed that change was an illusion and that the reality was a static unity beneath appearance. In Christianity, we see debates about the “one true God” and the “holy trinity,” which parallels the one and the many dialectic. We also see it in the Neo-Platonic tradition, with Plotinus framing much of his core philosophy around this dialectic. And it shows up clearly in the Eastern traditions of the Tao and Confucianism and is symbolized in the yin-yang symbol.

In UTOK, we can frame the one versus the many dialectic in relationship to both natural science and philosophy/theology. With regard to natural science, we see the remarkably differentiated world around us, that seems to be made up of many different things. However, as was been made clear in the philosophical critiques against Rene Descartes mind-body dualism, it is very hard to argue that the universe contains fundamentally different substances. Indeed, a central insight of the natural sciences has been that the world is stratified into different levels and dimensions of complexification. The conclusion is that the world ultimately consists of a single fundamental substance. Moreover, we can trace the levels and dimensions of complexification both “down” through the levels to quantum field theory and “back” in time to the Big Bang, such that the ultimate physical substance is a kind of Singular Energy-Information Superforce Field.

We can also shift this dialectic “upward,” such that we are oriented to the concept of God. In UTOK, the Elephant Sun God is an icon that represents the idea of God as an imaginal end point or north star that symbolizes the ultimate good, true, beautiful antithesis of evil. Consistent with a metamodern sensibility, the Elephant Sun God is framed as an “integrated pluralistic” conception, such that different people and cultures can see the concept of God from different angles, but there nonetheless is still an integrated center. Such a formulation is loosely consistent with Plotinus’s frame of ultimate oneness.

This dialectic can also be used to frame a metamodern sensibility (see here and here). A metamodern sensibility can be most basically defined as the synthesis between the modern thesis that pure rationality is possible via reason and science and that generates inexorable progress. The postmodern antithesis is the critique that modernity failed to generate an ethical grand metanarrative, but really the systems of justification that emerged were tied to power and social identity, such that conferred normative power to CIS gendered white men. The metamodern synthesis is an integrative pluralism that embraces the postmodern critique but also returns to the idea of synthetic philosophies that can better frame science in relationship to social knowledge.

The Digital Identity Problem and Orienting Toward Its Solution

The situation that humanity finds itself in during the first half of the 21st Century is, as Tomas Bjorkman framed it, appropriately considered a “meta-crisis.” A crisis is an event or period that can lead to an unstable, disruptive or dangerous situation. A meta-crises is when there are a multitude of different crises that are happening simultaneously that are all interrelated. (See here for an excellent recent discussion with Jordan Hall on the Stoa on the meta-crisis and the concept of sovereignty). Although there are many facets to the meta-crisis and many possible ways to frame the situation we find ourselves in, I find it useful to divide the meta-crises up into four different domains.

First, we have what John Vervaeke calls the meaning crisis. This crisis arises from the fact that, collectively, we don’t have a shared sense of what is true and what is good, and we are struggling in our efforts to cultivate a meaningful existence. In simple terms, we live in a chaotic fragmented pluralistic world, such that we are drowning in bullshit, and are confronted with deep problems of meaninglessness and nihilism.

The second domain is the mental health crisis, which, as Vervaeke notes, is deeply connected to the meaning crisis. We are witnessing an epidemic of depression, anxiety, isolation, and suicidality, and this is especially true in our children, adolescents and young adults, along with certain socio-economic groups, such as lower-class whites. As for our youth, they are growing up in a culture racked by confusion and uncertainty and accelerating change, and it is little wonder that they feel insecure.

I refer to the third domain as the “techno-environmental crisis.” This includes both global and local climate change, and the technological extraction of resources from mother earth, along with mass extinctions, which by virtually all accounts, is leaving her wounded and depleted. Borrowing a metaphor from Daniel Schmactenberger, humanity is a caterpillar eating its way through the substrates that sustain us. Each decade the situation progresses, and mother earth is losing her robustness and becoming more fragile. This then is juxtaposed with our increased capacities for weapons of mass destruction, and the numbers of countries that have access to them. The inescapable conclusion is that we either evolve and learn to play a new game (i.e., continuing with the metaphor, we transform humanity into a butterfly), or we will face the painful consequences.

The last is in some ways the most salient, but also the least understood and least predictable. It is the digital-globalization crisis. Digital here refers to the age of information networks, and includes the Internet, computational processing and communication systems, and informational interface platforms and capacities, ranging from smartphones to the deep melding of human and artificial intelligence systems and our interface with them. We are witnessing the emergence of a whole new landscape of complex adaptive behavior systems, and it is changing all the rules such in a way that the old institutions (i.e., media, governments, financial systems) are not structured to manage.

It is important to note that this framing should not be confused with a local crisis that requires everyone inside the system to act as if their personal lives were facing an emergency. The prefix “meta-” refers to beyond or transcending and the meta-crisis operates at a higher level and timescale than local lives. A central adaptive principle is to operate at the proper level of socio-ecological frequency, and not to mistake local for global or the reverse. Thus, although the system as a whole might experience a crisis, many individuals might live wonderful lives within it. As such, if folks start to experience despair at the meta-crisis, this is understandable, but is also the case that they should not confuse it for their lives.

Regardless of whether one is pessimistic or optimistic about the future of humanity, it seems undeniable that the human potential of the 21st Century is not currently being realized. Given our control over the physical and biological domains, the situation is rife with confusion, chaos, unpredictability, vulnerability, and massive levels of mental illness and existential despair. Even if we are not on the verge of collapse or an apocalypse (which we arguably are), we surely have not developed a way of being in the 21st Century that allows us to realize our wisdom potential in a manner that is robust, clear, stable, and sustainable. As such, it is very reasonable to be exploring new systems of knowledge and wisdom that would enable different and better relations between humans, technology, and the planet, and it is good to see the visions and proposals that are emerging (e.g., dialogos, Perspectiva, Intellectual Deep Web, Game B, syntheism, metamodernism, Bildung, etc.). These are seen as planting the seeds of a “meta-cultural conscious” transition into new ways of being that hopefully will become solidified in the decades to come and result in a much more robust, healthier, and sustainable place for humanity for the back half of the 21st Century.

This brings us back to the structure of the iQuad Coin. The idea is that it can provide one of the threads that affords us a sense making tool that can address deep issues associated with the identity confusions we face and orient us toward wisdom. As such, the Coin is offered as part of the solution to the Digital Identity Problem. Specifically, and aligned with the descriptive metaphysics of the ToK System, it is situated as a psychotechnology that can foster the transition through the 5th joint point and the emerging next dimension of complexification.

The iQuad Coin can be framed as part of the Digital Identity Solution

In his tour of the iQuad Coin, John Vervaeke framed it as a “talisman of transformation.” I thought this was a wonderful description. To fully see how the Coin can function as such, I needed to develop the full description of its conceptual architecture, which is the purpose of this blog series. The next blog will describe the Human Identity Function’s four core sub-functions, which will complete the structural description of what the iQuad Symbol represents and situate us to be ready to follow the iQuad logos path to wisdom energy.



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Gregg Henriques

Gregg Henriques


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