The Tree of Knowledge System A New Map for Big History



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.