The Vision Logic of UTOK’s MEme Flower

Gregg Henriques
Unified Theory of Knowledge
16 min readApr 26, 2024

--

On the heels of our successful 2024 UTOK Consilience Conference, I asked the UTOK team if there were any UTOK ideas that seemed to be underdeveloped in my writing.

“I don’t think people fully ‘get’ all that is packed into the MEme Flower,” said Andrew Robinson, UTOK’s awesome IT guy who managed the conference zoom platform. “I know I benefited tremendously from when you explained it to me in detail on our trip to the Metamodern Spirituality Retreat.”

Given all the wonderful work Andrew did for the 2024 UTOK conference, I was happy to follow up on his request. It is definitely the case that the MEme Flower plays a crucial role in UTOK, and I have yet to spell out all its layers in writing. So, in some ways, this blog is long overdue.

The MEme Flower’s central position is obvious when we consider that it is number 1 icon on the UTOK-20 formulation, and it is situated in a centralized place on the trunk of the Tree of Life in the center of the UTOK Garden.

To fully grok the vision logic of the MEme Flower, we need to understand the following key points: 1) the ‘m’ stands for metaphysics and the ‘e’ stands for empiricism, and UTOK provides specific frames on both concepts; 2) the relationship between metaphysics and empiricism, and why it is crucial in UTOK’s theory of knowledge; 3) the Metaphysical-Empirical Continuum and its relationship to solving the problem of psychology; 4) why there is a big ME in the middle and small mes around the periphery; 5) why a dialectical symbol is used and how the MEme Flower maps the branches of philosophy; 6) the connection between the Flower and memes and memeplexes; 7) the relationship and alignment with the iQuad Coin; and 8) how placement of the Flower on the Tree of Life represents a healthy dialectical dance between scientific and humanistic ways of knowing.

1. UTOK’s Definitions of Metaphysics and Empiricism

As noted, the ‘m’ in the MEme flower stands for metaphysics, whereas the ‘e’ in the MEme flower stands for empirical or empiricism. What is metaphysics? Many people outside of philosophy, including many scientists, think of metaphysics as referring to things that are “new age” or “woo.”

However, this is not what the term means in academic philosophy or in UTOK. In Metaphysics: The Fundamentals of Philosophy, Koons and Pickavance explain why metaphysics is arguably the most central concept in all of philosophy. They characterize it as being concerned with “the fundamental structure of reality as a whole…Plato describes this task of philosophy as ‘carving nature at the joints,’ comparing metaphysics to a skillful and knowledgeable act of dissection.” In a similar fashion, during the 2024 UTOK Conference, Bonnitta Roy defined metaphysics as the process of clarifying the relationship between “truth and reality.”

As elaborated upon in this Now UTOKing blog/video, UTOK defines metaphysics as the concepts and categories one uses to map reality and our knowledge of it. Later, I will explain how UTOK is explicitly concerned with developing a descriptive metaphysical system that can frame our empirical knowledge. First, though, let’s shift to how UTOK defines empiricism.

At its base, empirical refers to data and information brought in through the senses. As such, it can be thought of as knowing via direct perceptual experience, rather than knowing via propositional knowledge and abstraction. Via this definition we can see that, although empiricism is about knowledge, it represents a different grip or frame or pathway to knowledge than metaphysics.

UTOK highlights that there are two different meanings of the word empiricism that need to be separated. Empirical can refer to first-person experience of perceptions. For example, it is an empirical fact that, currently, when I look to the right, I see a green coffee cup.

The second meaning refers to systematic data collection that can be observed by any trained observer. We can call this “third-person empiricism,” and it represents the core methodological advance of modern science. Crucially, these are very different meanings. The difference grows as science gets institutionalized, such that the language of science is grounded in third-person empiricism, but it has a hard time assimilating the language of first person, subjective experience.

As we will see, the difference and relation between first-person and third-person empiricism is embedded in the vision logic of the MEme flower. However, first we need to dive a bit deeper into the relationship between metaphysics and empiricism and explain why it is central to UTOK’s theory of knowledge in general and psychology in particular.

2. The Relationship Between Metaphysics and Empiricism is Central in UTOK

One way to frame UTOK’s analytical project is that it affords us a new descriptive metaphysical system that effectively aligns first-person and third-person empirical knowledge. Put another way, UTOK allows us a way to unify the language of the subject with the language of science.

This becomes clear when we consider the Enlightenment Gap. The Enlightenment Gap refers to the failure of modern philosophy to generate a coherent ontology that places mind in relationship to matter tied to an effective epistemology that relates scientific knowing to subjective and social knowing. Put another way, the EG highlights that we do not know how to align the language of science with the language of the subject.

We can also consider the core mantra of UTOK: Marry the Coin to the Tree in the Garden Under God. The first half of the mantra refers to bridging one’s first-person experience of being a subject in the world framed by the iQuad Coin with the third-person view of natural science given by the Tree of Knowledge System. As such, Marrying the Coin to the Tree refers to aligning one’s experience as material object, living organism, minded animal, and cultured person on the energy information field or grid.

Another way to see the relationship between empiricism and metaphysics emerges we consider ourselves as both primates and persons. Nonhuman primates know the world via first person empirical processes; however, they lack a propositional network that enables them to construct and reflect on propositional truth claims and generate systems of justification that map truth and reality. Thus, first-person empiricism relates to our embodied primate way of being in the world, whereas our metaphysical systems of understanding relate to our cultured person way of being (i.e., our justification systems for what is true and good).

In sum, metaphysics is about the concepts and categories one uses to propositionally map reality and our knowledge of it. Empiricism refers to data and information gathered either via the senses or systematic measurement and data collection. UTOK is about developing a deep, coherent description for both our first-person experience of being in the world and the third-person empirical findings of science.

3. UTOK’s Metaphysical-Empirical Continuum

I mentioned earlier that UTOK is about developing a descriptive metaphysical system for our empirical experiences and findings. As was explained in detail in A New Synthesis for Solving the Problem of Knowledge: Addressing the Enlightenment Gap, this suggests that we can differentiate descriptive metaphysics from “pure” metaphysics. Pure metaphysics refers to concepts and categories that are not necessarily tied to the empirical world. For example, consider the question of the number of angels that can fit on the head of a pin. This is a pure metaphysical question that has no direct relation to the empirical world.

In contrast, descriptive metaphysical questions pertain to the concepts and categories and their interrelation in dealing with empirical phenomena. For example, what is the relationship between matter and mind? This is a descriptive metaphysical question that UTOK is structured to answer.

This brings us to UTOK’s Metaphysical-Empirical Continuum. On the far right of the continuum is the empirical. At the most elementary, this refers to anecdotal observations that a single individual makes about the world. To be transformed into the language of science, these observations are then systematized, usually into some kind of measurement.

From there one can form hypotheses about patterns of observations. These can be either descriptive (e.g., engaged in exploratory work or developing a taxonomy) or explanatory in nature. If they are explanatory, then such explanations are derived from a framework. In psychology, such explanatory theories are embedded in domains inquiry (i.e., personality, developmental, social) that have “mid-level” theories about phenomena (e.g., cognitive dissonance, trait theory, etc.). In addition, because psychology lacks a coherent framework, these models are generally embedded in schools of thought (e.g., cognitivism, behaviorism, psychodynamic approaches, etc.).

UTOK explicitly labels this fragmentation the problem of psychology, which refers to the fact the fields lacks a clear definition and that there is no “meta-paradigm” that frames the domain of inquiry. UTOK solves the problem of psychology by providing both a new metatheoretical architecture and new descriptive metaphysical system.

The way it provides a coherent metatheoretical architecture was laid out in A New Unified Theory of Psychology. Specifically, via the lens of UTOK’s Unified Theory of Psychology, we can assimilate and integrate the domains of inquiry (i.e., cognition, personality, social, developmental, clinical), the major empirical findings (e.g., cognitive dissonance, operant conditioning), and the major schools of thought (e.g., behaviorism, cognitivism, psychodynamic approaches) into a coherent system of understanding.

The argument is extended in A New Synthesis, which frames UTOK as a descriptive metaphysical system. In it, I use the Metaphysical-Empirical continuum to show there is a level of abstraction beyond metatheory, a domain that perhaps warrants the level of “deep description.” Deep description refers to the descriptive metaphysical system that one is using to tie together one’s vocabulary. A New Synthesis delineates how psychology is defined by science, behavior, and mind, and I showed why and how those concepts failed to be coherently interrelated in modern psychology, and how they could be effectively interrelated by UTOK. That is, A New Synthesis shows how UTOK provides a coherent deep description for defining psychological science via the ToK System, Periodic Table of Behavior, and Map of Mind.

Advanced UTOKers know that we can add the iQuad Coin to capture the specific subject as a psyche in the world. Together, they help us define natural science, the domains and layers of minded behavior, and the human psyche, with a result being a deep descriptive system for first and third person empirical realities.

4. The Big ME — small me Relation

The vision logic of the MEme Flower represents the relations between individuals and Cultures. This is because the Flower obtains its shape via the small mes forming a circle around the Big ME at the center. Each small me represents an individual person, whereas the Big ME represents the shared, large-scale system of justification that defines the group.

The small mes represent individuals, whereas the Big ME represents large-scale systems of justification.

Consistent with the notion that humans are both persons and primates, the small ‘e’ represents the individual’s embedded, perceptual experience of being in the world, whereas the small ‘m’ represents their personal theory of knowledge and reality. Thus, the small e is the same thing as first person empiricism.

In contrast, the Big ME refers to the large-scale systems of justification that unite a collective in a set of beliefs and facts about the world. At a general level, these systems might be science or Christianity or the United States of America. Placed in the context of UTOK, the Big ME represents the shared metaphysical and empirical set of understandings that unites “UTOKers” in believing in and valuing UTOK itself. Note that the big E represents the shared set of facts that a group can agree on, and so it translates into a third person empiricism, with science having develop a specific kind of third person behavioral empiricism (i.e., data need to be interpretable by trained observers in a way that is reliable and valid).

The fractal-like design of the MEme flower also works to capture the self-society dialectic, such that small mes come together to build Big ME belief- value systems that then provides the justification for institutional structures and organizations that make up modern society and functions to socialize future individuals into it. Framed as such, this is structured to represent the one-many, human-Humanity dialectic, something that is also embedded in the iQuad Coin. Later we will return to the relationship between the Flower and the Coin.

5. The Metaphysical-Empirical Relation and the Major Branches in Philosophy

The MEme Flower is depicted as a dialectic, like the yin yang symbol. Here dialectic means balanced or structured in relationship to one another. For an example of a dialectical relation close to what the MEme Flower is getting at, think of the relationship between what we think propositionally and what we see. We see something, narrate it, then our narrative changes where we look and how we see, which feeds back on the narrative and so forth.

We can also think here of the dialectical relationship between research and theory in science. Theorists build models which organize data and lead to predictions, such that data is then collected which feedback on the model.

UTOK uses the Metaphysical-Empirical relation to frame the major branches of philosophy. To start, we can consider that Kant bridged the rationalists and empiricists into a more advanced frame of understanding.

UTOK also advances our understanding of the relationship between epistemology and ontology. Consider this interesting depiction of ontology/ontic and epistemology/epistemic, framed by the yin yang dialectic:

To be clear about the meaning here, ontic refers to the reality that is “mind independent.” If we stay with a Kantian lens, we can consider the ontic to be the “thing in itself” that can only be known about via our phenomenological experience. Ontology, then, refers to our theory of the real world. An epistemic is a moment of knowing or a frame for knowing, whereas epistemology refers to the refined analysis of knowing and reflections on the justifications for what is real and true.

If we zoom out on the diagram, we can then consider all of these to be concepts and categories for understanding what is real and true and how we know about that. In other words, we are talking here about metaphysics!

The diagram below expands this line of thinking to include the five major branches of philosophy. The ground of philosophy is one’s metaphysical conception of the relationship between ontology and epistemology (i.e., what is real and true, and how we know about it).

From there, we can ask what is good, which gives us ethics. We can then move into what is beautiful (i.e., aesthetics) and what is fair or just in society (political philosophy). The diagram suggests that we can place these branches of philosophy within the context of the Metaphysical Empirical Continuum/Dialectic.

6. The MEme Flower and Memes and Memeplexes

Although memes are everywhere on social media, they have their conceptual origin with Richard Dawkins. At the end of the Selfish Gene (1976), he introduced the term to consider the driver of cultural evolution in a frame that paralleled biological evolution. The term “meme” was analogous to gene, and what theorized to represent a replicable unit of culture. The idea was that, much like genes, there were specific units, like phrases, tunes, or recipes, that would compete for influence and spread accordingly.

Some theorists, like the recently deceased philosopher Daniel Dennett, really liked the idea of a meme and advanced it as a viable concept for cultural evolution. Others find the analogy weak or misguided. UTOK does not endorse the meme theory of culture but does embrace the idea that there is evolution of both society and the Culture-Person plane that has elements that are analogous to genes. For example, justifications are thought to be analogous to genes in that they are units of information that are part of a variation, selection, and retention process and get networked into larger systems of justification, similar to how genes relate to organisms.

Indeed, this brings us to the idea of a memeplex. This was an idea introduced by Susan Blakemore, it refers to clusters of memes in individuals that also sync up into systems. The clearest examples of memeplexes are constellations of beliefs and values that correspond to UTOK’s conception of justification systems. Thus, we can say that the Garden is a memeplex, in that it is a network of beliefs and values that individuals share and connect in a collective system of justification.

7. The Identity Between the MEme Flower and the iQuad Coin

What is the relationship between the “I” and the “me”? This is a question asked by many thinkers, including the father of American psychology, William James. Generally, the “I” is framed as the subject that reflects on the me, as an object of consideration.

UTOK argues that the I-me relation profoundly changed in humans as a function of propositional language, question-answer dynamics, and the problem of justification.

The iQuad Coin and the small me on the MEme Flower provide a helpful iconic way to hold and frame this relationship. The iQuad Coin is the “I” as a unique, knower, from the subjective perspective. Given that, we can consider the “small me” to be the individual from the objective vantage point. This can either be from the “I” of the Coin, or placed within the interpersonal (other small mes) or larger sociocultural context of the Big ME.

The more direct identity, is the iQuad Coin — small me identity, such that when we say, “I am me,” we are reflecting on our unique experiencing of being subjects in a material, living, animal, cultural field of being.

Baron Short’s UTIK formulation provides much richness in elaborating this set of relations. His four-part blog series starts with the subject in the world (i.e., the iQuad Coin perspective) and then invites individuals to reflect on themselves via generating a mindful “I-me” relation. Moreover, consistent with the Metaphysical-Empirical divide, he guides folks on how to see their Personal Theory of Knowledge (PTOK), which corresponds to the metaphysical dimension, and engage in multimodal mindfulness practices, which aligns with the e of the small me.

From there, this exploration is transformed into the metaphor of a tree, which is then aligned with the UTOK Tree of Life in the Garden. As such, the UTIK path is a path from the I of the iQuad Coin into the “small me” into the Big ME of UTOK.

In UTOK, the mantra “rotate and flip the Coin” refers to the process of reflecting on one’s self as both a subject that generates imaginal epistemic information and an object that is a real, ontic, pattern of energy.

8. The Dialectical, Dynamic Dance between the Sciences and Humanities

In his book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, Edward O. Wilson comments that “the greatest enterprise of the mind has always been and always will be the attempted linkage of the sciences and the humanities.” With its Unified Theory representing science and Unified Approach representing the humanities, the Tree of Life is UTOK’s symbol for bridging these great branches of learning.

The MEme Flower sits at the center of the trunk of the ToL, and it is structured to pull the eye, as if it were a vortex, which helps capture how the ToL is structured to have a dynamic flow to it. The Flower pulls you into the Garden and then transports you around the ToL through a journey connecting its concepts. Moreover, consistent with a scientific humanistic philosophy, one can be pulled either left to right, or right to left.

If one is first pulled to the left, then one enters via the small me to the big ME and from there jumps to the ToK System, as the first branch. This is the large-scale frame for our scientific worldview (i.e., the Big ME for science). From that grounding, one moves to JUST to frame human consciousness and the Culture-Person plane of existence. The next step is to our animal nature via BIT, which frames the Life-to-Mind joint point and maps the evolution of minded behavior into the four layers of reacting, learning, thinking, and talking. Jumping to the fourth branch, we move back up into the primate heart and the dynamics of social influence, mapped by the Influence Matrix. From there, we model systems of character adaptation and development, oriented toward healthy living via CALM-MO. This is the scientific-into-humanistic rotation.

However, we can also go the other way, moving from right to left. Here we start simply with the iQuad Coin and small “m.e.” and from there jump to CALM-MO and align the sage mode. With loving compassion and an orientation toward clarifying what is and cultivating what ought to be, we consider our well-being from our subjective experience into our functioning into our environment and aligned with our values. We then reflect on our development and processes of adaptation across contexts. Then we apply a “JII Dynamic” lens to our ways of being, exploring the ways we justify, invest, and influence others. Finally, we place our lives in the unfolding wave of history and complexification mapped by the ToK. This is the humanistic-into-scientific rotation.

Summary

The MEme Flower sits at the center of the UTOK Garden for good reason, as it carries many layers of meaning within its vision logic. It provides clarity regarding UTOK’s Big theory of knowledge, as it specifies why we need a new and better “deep description” that can align our first person and third person empirical realities. It shows how we can think of the metaphysical-empirical continuum, which frames the structure and relation of A New Unified Theory (metatheory) and A New Synthesis (descriptive metaphysics), and how we can extend Kant’s synthesis of the rational with the empirical lines in philosophy with a new metaphysical empirical dialectic that maps the five great branches of philosophy. When placed with the iQuad Coin, it gives an I-me relation that can be conceived of as a portal connecting the individual to the center of the Garden. It also represents your embodied, empirical experience of the world, and your personal, metaphysical theory of knowledge. It also represents a dialectic that serves as a memeplex for the greatest challenge of the academy, bridging the sciences and humanities into a coherent whole.

--

--

Gregg Henriques
Unified Theory of Knowledge

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