UTOK’s Conceptual Architecture for Subjective Knowing

Gregg Henriques
Unified Theory of Knowledge
21 min readMar 18, 2024

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The goal of this rather detailed blog is to develop a clear descriptive metaphysical architecture for human subjective experience and knowing. The need for this is obvious when we consider UTOK’s diagnosis of modern problems in knowledge.

Specifically, UTOK claims that modern science gave rise to an objective, exterior, behavioral third-person empirical perspective that was split off from the subjective, qualitative experience of being in the world. This epistemological fracture is a crucial part of the Enlightenment Gap. UTOK is a unified theory of knowledge in part because it resolves the Enlightenment Gap. This means it solves both the ontological problem of mind relative to matter and the epistemological problem of science relative to subjective and social knowing.

The core mantra of UTOK, “Marry the Coin to the Tree in the Garden Under God,” invokes the idea that we can now coherently interrelate natural scientific knowledge, as represented by the Tree of Knowledge System, to our subjective experience of being in the world, as framed by the iQuad Coin, to intersubjective, collective wisdom traditions, as framed by the UTOK Garden. Success in this endeavor requires clarity about the language of the subject in relationship to the language of science. The goal of this blog is to specify in greater detail UTOK’s frame for the human subject’s basic experience of being in the world.

Differentiating the Language of Science Versus the Language of the Subject

Central to UTOK is the idea the language of science is different from the language of the subject. By science, I specifically mean modern empirical natural science, which UTOK calls “MENS Knowledge”. This is the line of thought from Descartes to Galileo to Newton that gave rise to classical physics and now constitutes the natural sciences (i.e., modern physics into chemistry into biology).

MENS Knowledge is a different kind of justification system than subjective knowing. This should be obvious at some level. We each go through our daily lives navigating the world based on our subjective experience of being. And, of course, humans have been doing so long before modern science came along.

Moreover, when you look closely at MENS, you see it is an epistemological system for understanding the world via an exterior, generalizable, behavioral point of view. I elaborate on this in detail in A New Synthesis for Solving the Problem of Psychology: Addressing the Enlightenment Gap. Of course, I am not the only one who makes this claim. The philosopher of science, Michael Strevens, makes a similar point in his excellent book, The Knowledge Machine. He argues that MENS produces knowledge by following what he calls the “iron rule of explanation,” which is defined as follows:

The rule that all scientific arguments be settled by empirical testing, along with the elaborations that give the demand its distinctive content: a definition of empirical testing in terms of shallow causal explanation, a definition of official scientific argument as opposed to informal or private reasoning, and the exclusion of all subjective considerations from the official scientific argument.

To be clear about what this means, it says that science is grounded in systematically gathered data that can be observed and interpreted by trained observers. We can call this systematic third-person empiricism, and frame it as a kind of epistemological justification system. As Strevens makes clear, MENS knowledge takes off because systematic third-person empiricism provides a powerful way to understand the material world. Importantly, it comes with an institutional generative mechanism: Scientists generate ideas that require data, which requires money and effort to acquire and publish.

Importantly, this analysis means that there are two very different meanings of the word empiricism. One is basic, first-person experience and observation. The second is third-person, systematic, scientific data collection.

If you are wondering exactly what the difference is between the first-person, interior perspective and the third-person systematic perspective, consider the kind of data that can be observed and interpreted by trained observers. Trained observers can see data from complicated statistical analyses or pictures taken with a telescope or images under a microscope, or trails left by exotic subatomic particles in a bubble chamber. Of course, what you can’t directly observe with a microscope or a telescope or any kind of exterior observation device is subjective experience. As Ken Wilber’s well-known quadrants make clear, you can only see “behavior” from a third person point of view.

Another way to clarify the difference between first- and third-person empiricism is to consider John Locke’s distinction between “primary qualities” and “secondary qualities.” For Locke, primary qualities are things that exist in the world independent of perception, whereas secondary qualities are impressions based on the mind of the observer. So, for example, we can think of the difference between the color red and redness as experienced by a person. Redness as experienced by a person is a secondary quality, while the color red’s corresponding electromagnetic waves in the world, are a primary quality. Thus, primary qualities are accessible via a third-person empirical point of view and can often be quantified.

The summary point is that MENS Knowledge gave rise to a new epistemological language game, whereby the perspective and evidence was grounded in a third-person exterior, behavioral vantage point. This is different from the first person, interior, phenomenological perspective of everyday life. And, although this was a tremendously powerful way of knowing, it also gave rise to what is arguably the most profound philosophical problem of our time.

MENS Knowledge Resulted in the Enlightenment Gap

The emergence of MENS knowledge opened a profound gap in our philosophical understanding of the world and our place in it. UTOK calls this the Enlightenment Gap. The Enlightenment Gap states that, as MENS knowledge became established, the infamous “mind-body problem” emerged. This actually consists of a number of different but related problems. Specifically, there was the ontological problem regarding the relationship between matter and mind. In plain language, this is the problem of specifying what mind is and how it relates to matter. In addition, there also was the epistemological problem of relating scientific knowledge to subjective and social knowledge.

If you know how to look for it, you will see that the evidence that we struggle with an Enlightenment Gap is everywhere. To provide just one example, consider this quote summarizing the main argument of the just released book, The Blind Spot: Why Science Cannot Ignore Human Experience:

[The paradoxes in these fields of science] are more than mere intellectual or theoretical puzzles. They signal the larger unreconciled perspectives of the knower and the known, mind and nature, subjectivity and objectivity, whose fracture menaces our project of civilization altogether.

The book basically offers an analysis of the Enlightenment Gap and justifies the need for a new way to frame the philosophy of science that includes human experience and knowledge. Of course, UTOK is already riding this wave into the future. From a UTOK vantage point, the Enlightenment Gap is best seen by trailing it into the problem of psychology, since it is in the science of psychology that we find the most evidence for the confusion generated by the mind-body problem; it is in psychology that we find the greatest set of problems that need to be addressed and resolved.

Framing Our Qualitative Experience of Being with Mind2

A New Synthesis lays out the case for how UTOK solves these issues in the context of the science of psychology. It shows how the Tree of Knowledge System provides a new vision logic for carving nature at its joints. This set of ideas integrates the insights of modern physics (i.e., general relativity and quantum field theory) and clarifies that there is an Energy Information Implicate Order that exists underneath the standard Newtonian material world, which the ToK frames as the Matter-Object dimension. The ToK also clarifies that Life emerges as an ecology of complex adaptive systems of information processors and communication networks mediated by genes and cells.

It then solves the problem of scientific psychology’s subject matter by carving out the Mind-Animal and Culture-Person planes of existence. This affords us an ontology to see Mind (i.e., mindedness and mental behavior) from a natural science perspective (i.e., a behavioral perspective). It also allows us to separate out human mental behavior via Justification Systems Theory and the Culture-Person plane of existence. And it allows us to see MENS Knowledge as a particular kind of language game, a justification system, that emerges out of the Culture-Person plane of existence to map behaviors and the processes of behavioral complexification in nature.

The map of scientific knowledge given by UTOK is deepened with the Periodic Table of Behavior and the Map of Mind. As delineated in A New Synthesis, these frameworks show that we can now effectively define what we mean by behavior and mental processes from the vantage point of a natural science worldview.

Particularly relevant to the current essay is the Map of Mind. It maps mental processes via three general categories, as follows: 1) Mind1, which refers to neurocognitive activity, both within the nervous system and between the animal and the environment; 2) Mind2, which refers to the domain of subjective conscious experience; and 3) Mind3, which refers to self-conscious private and public justifications.

UTOK’s Mind2 provides us a new and better way to think about conscious experience and the subjective vector of knowing. First, given its connection via UTOK to the ToK System and the Periodic Table of Behavior, we have a network of understanding that allows us to place it clearly in relationship to the ontology of natural science.

The beauty of Mind2 is that it can be used to frame subjective conscious experience. Indeed, we can now ask: What, exactly, are Locke’s secondary qualities? and give a clear answer: They are the subjective conscious experiences that emerge in Mind2.

Moreover, when we add in UTOK’s Behavioral Investment Theory, Justification Systems Theory, and the ESP-A Updated Tripartite Model, we can achieve a good metatheoretical outline of Mind2 in humans. This is tremendously helpful in clarifying what is happening from a functional, transjective knowledge perspective; that is, how subjective conscious experience exists in the context of the animal-environment relationship. We can see the clear evidence for this utility in how UTOK has synced up with John Vervaeke’s work in metatheoretically mapping cognition.

The Three Hard Problems of Mind2

UTOK’s framing of Mind2 also makes clear the problems in bridging the language of science and the language of the subject. Specifically, there are three hard problems that need to be considered when dealing with Mind2 and trying to achieve a coherent holistic philosophy that includes both the language of science and the language of the subject.

· First, there is the epistemological vector problem, which as we reviewed earlier, is that the language of science is grounded in an exterior, behavioral position, whereas the subject is anchored to an interior, subjective position. This is a problem that UTOK’s descriptive metaphysics helps us achieve an optimal grip on via the Tree-Coin relation and related frames like those given by the PTB and Map of Mind.

· Second, there is what is known in the philosophy of mind literature as the hard problem of consciousness. We can label this the “neurobiological, binding, ontological engineering problem of Mind2.” This is the problem of specifying what, exactly, are the mechanisms that bind together neuronal activity that brings about subjective experience of being. For example, although we know the sensation of touch is associated or correlated with activity in the parietal lobe and the sensation of vision is correlated with activity in occipital lobe, we have little knowledge of exactly how and why those brain processes give rise those kinds of subjective experience. UTOK claims the hard problem is a real problem; however, it also claims that it is exaggerated because there is so much conceptual confusion about mind and matter stemming from the Enlightenment Gap.

· Third, there the problem of generality versus specificity. This problem is less well-known, although sometimes it gets mentioned. For example, David Deutsch spells out this issue nicely in The Beginning of Infinity. Science is about generating generalizable knowledge and utilizing such knowledge to describe and explain events. To explain something scientifically is to apply one’s generalizable knowledge and use that to clarify the patterns. In such a frame, there is much that is not explained, and that is generally considered “error”. Indeed, that is why experimental scientists care so much about controlling variables, so that they can elucidate generalizable cause-effect relations by reducing error. Another way to think about this is in terms of specific, unique history. There are a lot of random events that do not really warrant a scientific explanation. Consider, for example, the specific numbers drawn in a lottery. There really isn’t a scientific explanation for why those numbers in particular came up at that time.

Subjective knowledge is different. Unique, one-time events can have tremendous significance. Indeed, arguably, one of the greatest, defining aspects of our experience is that it is unique, particular, idiographic, specific, and ours alone. However, events that are unique, unreliable, and specific are basically “error” in the language game of science.

With this background in place, we are now ready to construct the basic architecture of our first-person experience of being in the world using the language of UTOK.

Mind2 is the Potential Subjective Empirical Field, Out of Which Moments of Epistemic Awareness Emerge

Mind2 is the domain of subjective conscious experience in animals, so we can place our first-person empirical experience of being in the world as residing in the general domain of Mind2. More specifically, we can consider Mind2 to be the field of our first-person empirical potential experience. To capture what I mean, we can use the analogy of a desktop computer screen. The desktop represents the informational interface of what we can become potentially aware of at any moment.

From this field of first-person empirical potential experience, we can then focus our attention on what we might call perceptual gestalts. A perceptual gestalt is a perceived meaningful entity. We can use the example of the pointer on a mouse to be akin to the place where we direct our centralized attention. So, for example, as I pay attention to my subjectivity, I see my visual attention land on the white coffee cup to my right, then I shift and I see a brown blanket to my left, then I feel my back side sitting in the chair, then I hear the hum of the air conditioner. I can also “see/hear” propositions running somewhat like a ticker tape through my mind’s eye as I try to write this blog. (For more on the academic analysis of the relationship between central and peripheral attention, see here).

Note that all these elements can be thought of as being part of my potential field of experience. From that potential there is an alignment of my focused attention on various sensory patterns that bring them to the forefront of my conscious experience. This is what consciousness researchers mean when they talk about the fact that consciousness has “intentionality”; consciousness, or conscious attention, is about things.

The primary elements that make up the perceptual gestalts are often called qualia. The word stems from Locke’s secondary “qualities” as opposed to primary quantities, and they refer to the basic experiential elements that make up our perceptual gestalts. For example, I saw a white cup and a brown blanket, which are color qualia.

In our series on Untangling the World Knot of Consciousness, John Vervaeke and I delineated three different kinds of qualia. Adjectival qualia were the properties of the objects and processes of our experience. Examples include things like color, taste, temperature, size, shape, etc.

However, in addition to the properties, there is also the binding, integration of attention into the field of experiencing the whole. We called this binding into the hereness, nowness, and unity that indexes and frames the experience adverbial qualia.

Finally, each experience comes with a valence that is positive or negative. We called the evaluative vector valence qualia.

To summarize the architecture so far: We start with the field of Mind2, which is the field of first-person empirical potential, out of which instances of perceptual gestalts emerge when and where we focus our attention. We can label these perceptual gestalts moments of epistemic awareness. As I am using it here, epistemic refers to the basic elements of knowledge; in this case, the registering of a perceptual gestalt. To be clear, I am not referring to self-conscious reflection on that awareness; rather, epistemic awareness here refers to simply the registering of a perceptual gestalt (i.e., the experience of a white coffee cup).

For a good, experientially salient example of what I mean by a unit of epistemic awareness, consider the duck-rabbit illusion. When you look at it, you will see either a duck or a rabbit, but not both. Each flash of experience represents a moment of epistemic awareness.

You will either see a duck or a rabbit and it will flash back and forth.

With moments of epistemic awareness arising out of a potential empirical field specified, we can ask: Who or what is witnessing these instances of perceptual gestalts? We address this in the next section.

The Core Primate Self: Situating the Moments in a Matrix of Identity Across Time

Our experiences of perceptual gestalts do not exist in a completely disjointed or disconnected fashion. In typical functioning individuals, moments of epistemic awareness are networked, bound together, and anchored to a particular point of view, one that has a memory across time, a sense of intent or will, and investment in the unfolding of events.

In other words, they cohere together and connect to a sense of self. To put this in the negative, to the extent that there is a breakdown in the continuity and coherence of the field of Mind2, then there will be serious problems with mental functioning (e.g., consider that schizophrenia translates into the “shattering of mind”).

To see this more clearly, consider the lived context in which I experienced the white coffee cup. It emerged in the context of me writing this blog, which initially gave rise to the intent to track my attention and report the experiences I had. The unified sense of intent connected to a memory matrix across time allows me to have a sense of identity and coherence.

In UTOK, the extended domain subjective conscious experience in humans is called the Experiential Self. As UTOK’s ESP-A model of human consciousness makes clear, the experiential self divides into the ‘A’ which stands for “pure awareness” and ‘S’ which stands for the “core self”. As we noted, the domain of pure awareness refers to moments of perceptual gestalts that one can be aware of. But what about the self that seems to be doing the witnessing? What is it and where does it come from?

In the Cognitive Science Show Series The Elusive “I”: The Nature and Function of the Self, John Vervaeke, Christopher Mastropietro, and I argued that a model of the self emerges as animals develop the capacity to project themselves over increasingly extended periods of time. So, for example, as an animal simulates different possible paths of investment, it must simulate itself across many different potential environments. As it does that, it will separate itself out from the environment and model what is relevant and consistent about itself relative to the all the possible future environments.

This model of the self becomes especially important in social environments, where one develops relationships with many others over time. UTOK’s Influence Matrix makes this clear, as it maps the “self versus other” relations on the core process dimensions. Although “the others” will vary across the entire social network, the self will remain (relatively) consistent.

The Influence Matrix is the Fourth Branch on the UTOK Tree of Life

What does this mean for our first-person experience of living in the domain of Mind2? It means we can divide our first-person experience into the domains of “witnessed” (moments of epistemic awareness) and “witnesser” (is the core self that is observing the experiences extended in time and intent).

In more functional terms. what does this mean for how human agents navigate the arena? It means that instances of epistemic awareness are being connected to the core self, which is evaluating what is being perceived, identifying what is relevant for the self, and what is good and bad for the self and trying to grip the world accordingly in its intent for future actions.

(Note, we can also state that in higher forms of mediation and enlightened states, this distinction will blur and perhaps even disappear; this is the root of the Buddhist claim that there really is “no self”. However, at the general level of conscious experience, we can split the two domains of the Experiential Self into instances of epistemic awareness and a core witnessing self that grips those instances in a matrix of identity and intent).

The Four Primary Epistemic Portals of Awareness that Connect the Core Self to the World

Our architecture of the human subjective field of experience is coming along. We have moments of epistemic awareness that emerge out of the potential empirical field of Mind2. Of course, given UTOK’s scientific, naturalistic ontology, this is nested in Mind1, and Life, and Matter, and, ultimately, a field of Energy Information. Those moments of epistemic awareness are connected to a point of view across time, intent, and memory and organized into a matrix that provides coherence and relevance to what one is doing in the world. This is primate witnesser of the witnessed events.

We can extend this architecture by dividing our perceptual field into four different primary portals. Think about these portals as four different desktop screens. One screen is the portal to the outside world. This is the portal of sensory awareness, and it consists most directly of seeing and hearing, and to a lesser extent smelling and touching. In a more technical sense, this is the portal of exteroception, and we can think of the see, hear, and touch senses as “sub-portals” in the general category of sensing the exterior world.

There is another broad and general channel, which allows us access to our inner feeling states, such as thirst, hunger, pain, and our bodily position and orientation. This somatic, embodied portal can be broadly labeled the domain of interoception, or the portal of inner feeling. Like the domain of exterior perception, this domain can be broken down into things like the vestibular sense of balance, the proprioception of the place of the body, and so forth as the general category of perceiving the somatic, interior world.

Third, as primates, we have good working memory such that we can manipulate things in our mind, draw up old memories and simulate possible future outcomes. This the portal of inner seeing.

Finally, as human persons, there is a whole separate doorway that have access to, which is the domain of inner speech. As we will see in the next section, this portal adds another layer of complexity to understand ourselves as subjective knowers.

The Narrating Self and One’s Personal Theory of Knowledge

Via Justification Systems Theory, UTOK makes clear that humans live in a unique, adaptive situation whereby others can gain access to one’s thoughts via speech in general and questions in particular. The classic therapist question, “How does that make you feel?” provides us a great example of the information highway that propositional language opens between perceiving subjects.

Justification Systems Theory is the Second Branch on UTOK’s Tree of Life. It gives rise to the ESP-A Updated Tripartite Model of Human Consciousness

As children learn to talk, they are socialized into the norms and belief-value networks that enable them to develop systems of justification that create legitimizing structures for the world and their place in it. Consider the questions: What is this that I am experiencing? What should I do about it? Why?

Questions force a propositional interpretation. This interpretation is networked into a system of justification. As explicated in the ESP-A Updated Tripartite Model of human consciousness, the ego is UTOK’s name for the private narrating self, and the persona is the name for the public facing aspect of the same.

The Four Domains of Human Consciousness are: Pure Epistemic Awareness, the Core Primate Self, the Private Ego and the Public Persona.

How is this relevant for our model of epistemic awareness and the core self? It says that what will emerge as self-conscious narrating creatures is something we might call a “personal theory of knowledge” (PTOK). PTOK is a term and abbreviation that recently emerged in Dr. Baron Short’s blog series on the UTIK path to UTOK that shows how to develop a richer connection between one’s personal theory of knowledge and experience with the UTOK formulation. I am happily drawing on it here.

Each reflective human being will have a PTOK that is grounded in an epistemology and an ontology. By epistemology, I mean that, at a particular point of human development, there will be a basic way the person learns to justify what they know and how they know it. And by ontology, I simply mean there will be concepts and categories that the person uses to say what is real and why. Of course, I do not mean to say that everyone is a professional philosopher who has refined, sophisticated arguments for their epistemological and ontological conclusions. Indeed, many folks will simply be naïve realists who will claim that their senses allow them to see reality simply as it is. However, these are still claims about knowledge and reality, and thus represent an individual’s PTOK.

The point here is that we have a propositionally interpretive system that is making sense of the moments of epistemic awareness, anchored to a point of view that has a memory and intention that gives a sense of ownership and continuity across time. In so doing, we have added some additional layers to the subjective matrix of the human knower.

Summary of UTOK’s Basic Architecture of Human Subjective Experience and Knowing

There are ways in which we exist in the world and the world exists within us. MENS knowledge is grounded in a third person epistemological framework that essentially eliminates the qualitative subject. Thus, it only speaks to how we exist in the world, without clarifying how the world exists in us. This, coupled to faulty ontological maps, resulted in the Enlightenment Gap. The Gap gives rise to confusions between various philosophical positions like materialism, idealism, and dualism. UTOK resolves the Enlightenment Gap because it gives us better language systems for both science and the subject. And it allows us to see both how we are in the world and the world is in us.

Most of my writing has been focused on how UTOK gives us a better understanding of natural philosophy, natural science, psychological science, and psychotherapy. However, as I note at the end of A New Synthesis, there is also the problem of the psyche, which is the unique, particular qualitative subject in the world. A core goal of UTOK, as made clear in the first part of the system’s central mantra (i.e., Marry the Coin to the Tree) is to generate a philosophical system that allows the language of natural science and the language of the subject to be coherently interrelated.

UTOK’s Map of Mind and iQuad Coin help clarify the way to frame the subject in a way that is consistent with the Tree of Knowledge. This blog has elaborated on how to extend the concept of Mind2 into a clear architecture for our subjective experience of being.

To review, we can say that the experiencing human subjective knower includes:

— A First-Person Empirical Mind2 Field of Potential Experience, which gives rise to

— Moments of Epistemic Awareness, which can be framed as perceptual gestalts,

— Which can be framed by four primary portals of sensory awareness, inner feeling, inner seeing, and inner speech,

— Which are connected to a core, primate self that is evaluating the perceptual gestalt for relevance and future implication,

— Which in humans gets turned into a narrative that we can frame as Egoic Epistemological reflection on how “I” know, and Ontological claims about what is real, which can be characterized as the individual’s Personal Theory of Knowledge (PTOK).

— Finally, we can step back and say that each person and all people and all things exist in some kind of larger reality. We can call this the “ontic” which is the name for the reality that extends beyond our knowledge of it. Of course, there is not much we can say about the ontic, because to say something intelligible about it is to look through a particular epistemological-ontological lens. But as I note in A New Synthesis, the concept of the ontic serves a useful purpose to point to the world that exists beyond us and our knowledge about it.

This metaphysical formulation allows us to trace our subjective empirical field to moments of epistemic awareness that is situated in an epistemology in an ontology and, ultimately, the ontic. The following diagram, constructed by Marcia Gralha, puts the architecture together in a visual representation.

UTOK’s Architecture of Subjective Experience and Knowing

Future Directions

Where do we go from here? Well, the next steps are to connect this architecture to existing work in phenomenology. As the recent UTIK-UTOK blog series by Dr. Baron Short makes clear, we need practical work bridging from the personal experience of the world into UTOK. His UTIK formulation brilliantly clarifies the concept of PTOK and then extends it with the UTIK path of the Unified Theory of the Tree in the Knower to show how to connect one’s personal philosophy and mindfulness practices to the UTOK worldview.

Last, there is a final connection to be made that syncs this formulation up with the deep architecture of the iQuad Coin. As UTOK insiders know, the root of the iQuad Coin is the Henriques Equivalency and the iQuad Path to Wisdom Energy.

The Henriques Equivalency makes a deep connection between mathematical operators, behaviors, observers, frequency, energy, and information. Via the iQuad Path, it is then collapsed into the iQuad Coin, which then works to frame the vector of the human subject (i.e., the psyche) in a way the creates clear associative adjacent identities with physics, mathematics, and philosophy. The result is a coherent network of concepts that coherently connects the human psyche with both science and wisdom.

For those who understand the language of UTOK, the undeniable conclusion is that a much more complete picture is emerging for how we can coherently interrelate the language of science and the language of the subject. And that sets the stage for a second Enlightenment, one that transcends the gap and is situated in a truly unified theory of knowledge.

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Gregg Henriques
Unified Theory of Knowledge

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