The Tree of Knowledge System A New Map for Big History

Main Article Content

Gregg Henriques
Joseph Michalski
Steven Quackenbush
Waldemar Schmidt


This article summarizes the Tree of Knowledge (ToK) System (Henriques, 2003; 2011), and compares and contrasts its depiction of cosmic evolution as four “dimensions of existence” (i.e., Matter, Life, Mind and Culture) with Big History’s eight thresholds of complexity. Both systems share the concern with the current fragmentation in academic knowledge and advocate for a more consilient and integrative vision that places the disciplines in coherent relationship to each other, and both views argue that such efforts are needed to advance wise decision making in the context of the accelerating rate of change. The major differences between the two perspectives are found in how the ToK conceptualizes the different dimensions of existence. Following Matter, the dimensions of Life, Mind and Culture are seen as emerging as a function of different semiotic or information processing systems that give rise to strongly emergent properties. In addition, given its emphasis on psychology and the mental dimension of existence, the ToK highlights some aspects of cosmic evolution that have not been featured prominently in most models of BH. The article ultimately suggests that there is potential for a fruitful synergy between the historical emphasis of BH with the more psychological focus of the ToK System.

Article Details

Author Biographies

Gregg Henriques, James Madison University

Gregg Henriques is Professor of Graduate Psychology at James Madison University, and core faculty member in the Combined-Integrated Doctoral Program in Clinical-School Psychology. Dr. Henriques his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Vermont. Dr. Henriques’ primary area of scholarly interest is in the development of a new unified theory of psychology, which offers a new scientific humanistic philosophy for the 21st Century. Dr. Henriques has published a book (A New Unified Theory of Psychology) and numerous articles on this work. Dr. Henriques is author of a popular blog on Psychology Today and has launched the Theory of Knowledge Society. Dr. Henriques is a licensed clinical psychologist in Virginia.

Joseph Michalski, King’s University College, Western Ontario

Joseph Michalski has taught at King’s University College’s Department of Sociology since 2003, most recently serving as Associate Academic Dean. His main intellectual interests include comparative studies of violence (ranging from domestic conflicts to international terrorism), as well as the sociological foundations of knowledge production. Dr. Michalski’s most recent paper appears in The British Journal of Sociology, “Terrorism and Lethal Moralism in the United States and United Kingdom, 1970-2017.” He published an edited volume last year entitled Sociological Theory, Methods, and Perspectives.

Steven Quackenbush, University of Maine at Farmington

Steven W. Quackenbush is Professor of Psychology at the University of Maine, Farmington.  His interests include moral judgment and narrative approaches to the study of lifespan personality development.  Representative publications include "And yet Your Duty Is to Hope": The Positive Psychology of Jean-Paul Sartre (Quackenbush, Lockwood, & Cyr, 2016) and Theoretical Unification as a Practical Project: Kant and the Tree of Knowledge System (Quackenbush, 2008).

Waldemar Schmidt, Oregon Health & Sciences University

Dr. Waldemar Schmidt is Professor Emeritus at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon.  After retiring from a career in academic medicine (Pathology) he has attended to continuing education in and writing on human psychology and psychiatry over the past fifteen years.  In the course of that endeavor he has become a member of the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology (APA Division 24).  He is, in addition, a member of the of The Theory of Knowledge Society, wherein he also serves as a member of that society’s executive committee.  He is the author of multiple peer-reviewed articles and presentations in numerous medical journals, the founder and editor of Cytopathology Annual, a past officer of The Papanicolaou Society, and the author of Principles and Techniques in Surgical Pathology.