The UTOK Tree of Life
The Central Icon for a New Scientific Humanistic Worldview
The Unified Theory of Knowledge (UTOK) is a novel way to coherently interrelate the natural sciences, psychology, the social sciences, and philosophy into a consilient system of understanding. As shown below, UTOK can be visually depicted as a Garden. This conveys how the system invites the joining of the two cultures of the academy, the sciences and the humanities, to come together in a mutually inspiring dialectical dance.
At the center of the Garden is the UTOK Tree of Life, and this blog describes its core features. We can begin by noting that the Tree of Life is a fundamental archetype that has shown up in various forms in many different cultures. In many of these narratives, such trees are framed as the source of all life and as a symbol of humanity’s interconnectedness with nature, and they often produce the fruit that nourishes humanity or the world. Consistent with the primary symbols in UTOK, many mythic traditions have included a “world tree” or a “cosmic tree” that then divides into two different trees: One drawing horizontal connections across the four directions of north, east, west, and south to include all of the natural world, and the other drawing vertical connections between the heavens and the earth, and sometimes into the underworld.
For many in the West, the more familiar symbolism of two trees is found in the Abrahamic traditions and the biblical story of Genesis. The Tree of Life nourishes the creatures in the Garden of Eden, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil produces the forbidden fruit that the serpent gets Adam and Eve to eat from. Their disobeying God is the original sin and they are cast out from paradise. (Note: Jordan Peterson has given an excellent psychological interpretation of this story in his Bible Series that directly aligns with Justification Systems Theory and the emergence of human self-consciousness and awareness of right and wrong).
As those familiar with UTOK know, it also prominently features two trees. The Tree of Knowledge is the more familiar Tree in UTOK. It popped out of my consciousness in 1997, and by 2001 I had developed the Tree of Knowledge System Manifesto. The Manifesto explains how the ToK System can organize our scientific knowledge of the natural world via conceptualizing it as an “Energy-Information Implicate Order” that gives rise to four planes of existence; namely, Matter-Object, Life-Organism, Mind-Animal, and Culture-Person, out of which science emerges to map complexity and change.
It was not until almost two decades later that I developed the Tree of Life, in 2016. It emerged because the system had grown and new ideas had been added such that there was a clear bridge between the science of psychology and the practice of psychotherapy in a way that created a synthetic scientific humanistic worldview. And, symbolically, the Tree of Life represented a wholistic and humanistic complement to the Tree of Knowledge that included a bridge to wise living, nature, and the transcendent.
We can place the two trees of UTOK in reference both to the more general world tree mythic and to the story in Genesis. Placed in relation to the world tree myth, the Tree of Knowledge System represents the horizontal tree that connects us with nature across the four dimensions, whereas the Tree of Life represents the vertical tree connecting the natural world with the transcendent. Placed in reference to Genesis, the message from UTOK is that we can and must eat from the Tree of Knowledge System, which enables us to get in right relationship to what scientifically is the case, and from that we can be oriented toward the Tree of Life, which will enable a realistically grounded return to “paradise” in the form of wise and fulfilled living.
In addition to connecting to mythic narratives, the Tree of Life also directly connects to science. Indeed, arguably the best way to map the living world is via a tree diagram that depicts initial origins and then follows the branching lines. Here is a fascinating website that uses excellent graphics to travel down the various lines of evolution. It describes the biological “tree of life” as showing “how all life on earth is related. Each leaf represents a different species. The branches show how these many species evolved from common ancestors over billions of years. In our interactive tree of life you can explore the relationships between 2,235,076 species and wonder at 105,378 images on a single zoomable page.” (Note: This is actually explicitly represented on the Tree in that it is a map of the second plane of existence, Life, on the Tree of Knowledge System, which is the first branch of the UTOK Tree of Life.)
The Parts that Make the Whole UTOK Tree of Life
At the center of the UTOK Tree of Life is the Metaphysical Empirical (M.E.) Flower. The M.E. Flower represents the metaphysical empirical dialectic. This is the idea that human knowledge systems are developed as a function of the empirical experiences that connect one to the world via senses and data, and propositional networks of concepts and categories that map the world (i.e., ontology) and how we know about it (i.e., epistemology) via language, the whole of which is one’s metaphysical worldview.
In the center of the M.E. Flower is a large M.E. circle, depicted as a green and yellow yin yang dialectic, and around the circumference are small “m.e.” circles. The small m.e. circles represent each individual, and their metaphysical and empirical systems of understanding. The big M.E. represents a large-scale system of justification that connect the small m.e. into a shared Culture. Thus, the M.E. Flower represents both the individual’s particular embodied, embedded perspective on the world and the large-scale propositional systems of justification one is aligned with. Because of this relation between the individual and large-scale systems, the M.E. Flower is sometimes referred to as the “MEme flower,” which affords a useful play on the concept of a meme.
Placed in the center of the Tree of Life, the M.E. Flower represents and invites reflection on relation between the individual’s system of understanding, represented as a small m.e., and the big M.E., which in this is UTOK itself. It is worth noting here that, in terms of the overall architecture of UTOK, the small m.e. circle directly corresponds to the iQuad Coin and its “human identity function,” described in more detail in this blog. The M.E. Flower thus invites you to reflect on yourself as a particular knower and then step into the yin yang metaphysical empirical vortex of the UTOK Garden.
With the central flower clarified, we can proceed to the eight “flowering apples” that represent the nourishment of knowledge and wisdom that the Tree of Life offers. The first four flowering apples are the four key ideas that make up the Unified Theory of Psychology; hence the “UT” that is engraved in the left side of the Tree of Life.
The first branch, or “flowering apple”, is the aforementioned Tree of Knowledge System, which gives a naturalistic ontology grounded in a scientific epistemology. The next apple is Justification Systems Theory (JUST), which provides us a framework for human consciousness and the evolution of the Culture Person plane of existence. Then, Behavioral Investment Theory (BIT) frames the Mind dimension of complexification, and the Influence Matrix maps the dynamics of our relational interconnectedness. (For those who are interested in a full “Tour of the Garden,” see here).
We then move to the right side of the Tree, which houses the four key ideas that make up the Unified Approach to psychotherapy. The first two flowering apples map the five systems of character adaptation via Character Adaptation Systems Theory (CAST) and the five domains of development via the Wheel of Development. The Nested Model of Well-being is the next flowering apple, which offers a meta-theoretical account of the various domains of human well-being. Finally, there is CALM-MO as an integrative approach to psychological mindfulness. Together, these ideas provide a coherent framework for individual psychotherapy for adults that assimilate and integrate the key insights from the major schools of thought (i.e., cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, and humanistic) into a coherent whole.
Although they are somewhat difficult to see, resting on the Tree of Life are the wisdom bees. Together, the bees represent wise ways of “bee-ing” in the world. The first is the WKID WISM Bee, which can also be called the bee of Sophia. It represents the metaphysics of knowing and of the knower and the pollination of knowledge in service of wisdom. The second is the WIC W bee, which is the bee of Phronesis. It represents adaptive living in the real world and the cultivation of one’s character toward wisdom and well-being.
As suggested by the imagery of a “M.E. Flower vortex,” the Tree of Life is structured to have a dynamic flavor and flow to it. It pulls you into the Garden and then transports you around the Tree of Life through a journey connecting its concepts. If one is pulled to the left, one follows the trail from the wave of causality represented by the Tree of Knowledge into the domain of human consciousness and justification and the four layers of reacting, learning, thinking, and talking mapped by Behavioral Investment Theory, and then over through the Influence Matrix. The black line of the Matrix, which represents relational value and social influence, can also be thought of as the jump from theory to the more applied side structure of the Unified Approach. One can then follow the trail of adaptation and development into the domains of well-being and arrive at a metacognitive reflective stance that is curious, accepting, loving compassionate, and motivated toward valued states of being. One can also be pulled in the opposite direction. Here one steps back into the metacognitive position and trails back into well-being, development, adaptation, influence, investment, justification, and knowledge. The overall point here is that, in some ways that parallel the Tree of Life in the Kabbalistic tradition, there are paths and points of connection between the flowering apples.
Finally, we can connect these paths to adaptive living. One way to do this is to think about each flowering apple as a one word concept that we want to get right. The eight words are: knowledge, justification, investment, influence, adaptation, development, well-being, and mindfulness. Together they make for wise living. This affords parallels with the 8-fold path in Buddhism, as depicted below.
If there is a single symbol that represents UTOK, it is the Tree of Life. It can be thought of as our connection to nature and each other, and as giving us fruit to cultivate wisdom energy. It sits in the center of a Garden that provides a scientific humanistic worldview that is oriented toward “beeing” that which enhances dignity and well-being with integrity.