A site on the future of psychology

The ToK as the Ultimate TOK

Consider your reaction to each of these justifications:

George W. Bush was an outstanding president. Matter is made up of atoms. Abortion should be illegal. Science is more reliable than faith. Joseph Smith was a prophet.

Although you might not have labeled it as such, your reaction to these statements will be in part reflective of your theory of knowledge (TOK).  An individual’s TOK can be thought of in terms of both the content of their knowledge (the individual’s ontology—what they justify to be true) and the process by which they arrive at knowledge (the individual’s epistemology—how they justify what is true). Many people, of course, do not explicitly think in terms of their TOK, but there is a movement to change that, as there now is an explicit international course of study on TOK.

I believe it is crucial that we become reflective about our TOK, and perhaps one of the best ways to do that is to spend time with people who have very different worldviews. For example, I happen to be listening to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on tape, and it is striking to consider how different the character’s worldviews are to my own.

If people have different TOKs, how do you know if your TOK is a good one? Although there is much debate about this, philosophers have offered four basic angles to analyze one’s TOK.

1)      Coherence refers to the extent to which the knowledge system offers semantically clear constructs that relate to one another in a logically coherent way. In other words, is the system internally consistent?

2)      Correspondence refers to the extent to which the system lines up with independent evidence. In other words, does the system make predictions about facts to be discovered? (For me the difference between coherence and correspondence is seen comparing the TOK of people with disorganized schizophrenia from delusional schizophrenia. Disorganized schizophrenics lack coherence—at the extreme, there simply is no way to make sense of the semantic network. In contrast, it is often easy to understand what individuals with delusions are saying, but it simply does not correspond with external evidence.)

3)      Comprehensiveness refers to scope (breadth and depth) of the TOK. In other words, to what extent does it incorporate the various domains of knowledge or at least provide a potential explanatory framework for various possible domains.

4)      Conduciveness refers to the extent to which the TOK pragmatically fosters achieving one’s goals. Here the criterion for goodness is simply whether “it works”. Consider, for example, the contrast between myself and Huck Finn. While my TOK may well be more coherent, empirical, and comprehensive, if I were to be transported back into his time and attempted to live in his world, the conduciveness of my TOK relative to his may well be far lower. That is, I may well have floundered and died if I were confronted with the environmental (social and physical) stressors and affordances he was able to navigate.

What is your TOK? What do you think is the best TOK out there? Is there an ultimate TOK. Although I did not set out to develop the ultimate TOK, I now believe that is what the ToK System achieves.

With its novel claim that the universe is an unfolding wave of Energy-Information, and depiction of that wave as consisting of four separable dimensions of complexity, divisible because of the emergence of novel information processing systems (genetic, neuronal, symbolic), the ToK System finally gives us a deep understanding of why there are four separable classes of objects and causes: 1) the material (behavior of things like atoms, rocks and stars); 2) the organic (behavior of cells and plants); 3) the mental (behavior of animals like bees, rats and dogs); and 4) the cultural (behavior of people). And with its joint points, the ToK System provides the best TOK of why and how these broad dimensions are connected, and with its characterization of human knowledge as human justification systems, we finally have a way to conceptualize the place of the human knower in relationship to the rest of the universe.



Comments on: "The ToK as the Ultimate TOK" (4)

  1. Jason Stout, Psy.D. said:


    Agreed on all fronts! I think the distinction of coherence and correspondence – especially as it applies to those with severe psychotic disturbances – is right on. My experience has been that those that suffer from severe mental illness often revert to more “durable” justification systems. What I mean by “durable” is that the justification systems that are adopted tend to be more closed and rigid, perhaps in order to preserve as much coherence and correspondence as possible. My view is that human beings seek coherence if nothing else, and if that coherence is threatened will revert to rigid/closed versions of reality that are harder to challenge.

    I’ve often viewed human versions of reality (justification systems) as existing on a continuum from very closed and rigid to very open and inclusive. Like we see with evolution, it truly does seem that the systems most likely to “survive” and prosper are those that are more basic. To me, it’s not surprising that many closed systems of religion, politics, and law have existed with success across human history – the systems that require the adopter to expend relatively little mental energy in order to achieve coherence and correspondence tend to be most “durable” and successful and less open to criticism. Conversely, more “comprehensive” systems (like the institution of science), which require the adopter to expend more mental energy, appear most likely to fail in the grand scheme of things. As complexity increases, so do the chances of a regression to simpler, more basic systems. Perhaps that’s why a scientific confirmation of global climate change, despite overwhelming evidence in favor of this theory, is so vehemently rejected; to adopt this worldview, the adopter must expend mental energy to grasp the concepts and understand a scientific worldview that goes beyond what they can assess with their basic senses.

    The concept of the ToK itself as an “Ultimate ToK” is an interesting one. Perhaps the ToK itself represents the “fifth joint point”; that is, as the institution of knowledge continues to expand at ever-increasing rates, it eventually leads to the emergence of an “ultimate ToK” that functions to control the flow of information at all domains below it. The consilience of human knowledge may be the pinnacle achievement of human society and also be the necessary next-step for our growth and evolution.

    • Jason,
      Thanks for the comment and interesting points about open and closed justification systems. Your point about the ToK and the Fifth joint point is also something I have wondered about, and reflected on in the last chapter of the book. We need the development of an effective, comprehensive Theory of Knowledge in tune with the development of technological innovations like the internet to emerge into the next global age!

  2. I am intrigued by Jason’s observation that justification systems can be characterized in terms of being open and closed. About fifty years ago, social psychologist Milton Rokeach published a book entitled The Open and Closed Mind which laid out a theory of a personality trait called dogmatism. Rokeach argued that philosophers had understood dogmatism as an epistemological error in which one’s confidence in a proposition exceeded the logical or empirical evidence supporting that idea. However, building on contemporary work on the authoritarian personality, Rokeach argued that dogmatism also has a psychodynamic element because it is essentially a defensive orientation toward world views. Dogmatics are individuals who see the world as a threatening place against which they must protect themselves, and they doubt their own competence to do so. As a result, dogmatics look for authority figures to help protect them, and they choose figures whom they view to be wiser and stronger than themselves arond which to build their cognitive fortresses. But these defenses are unrealistic for two reasons: dogmatics have a distorted view of the authorities they admire–seeing them as absolute in their wisdom and their ability to offer protection–and because dogmatics confuse the absolute allegiance they feel for the authority for evidence that the authorities beliefs and actions are true and justified. Rokeach believed that dogmatic individuals manufactures a false sense of security for themselves with a cognitive transaction of giving unquestioned loyalty, and, in many cases, obedience to their authorities in exchange for a sense of peace and confidence for everday living. The abdication of the right to independent thought seems to dogmatics a small price to pay for a feeling of safety in a threatening world. Rokeach’s theory of dogmatism, and the subsequent body of empirical literature that it stimulated, makes an interesting platform for fleshing out this notion of open and closed justification systems.

    • Leigh,
      Excellent link to Rokeach. I know Craig Shealy, author of Justifying the Justification Hypothesis, would be happy to see the reference. His work at the International Beliefs and Values Institute, on his measure, the Beliefs, Events, and Values Inventory (BEVI), and his Equilintegration (EI) Theory all were in large part grounded in Rokeach’s work. As a developmental psychopathologist, he is exploring how early traumatic events and unmet needs might result in individuals having a deep sense of insecurity, which in turn causes them to seek certainty and protectedness in certain figures and Versions of Reality. He has has now achieved a very impressive data set (I think nearing 5000) on the BEVI and is in the process of exploring the structure of Beliefs & Values (AKA justificaiton systems) and is very much concerned with exploring the openness versus closedness in a multitude of different ways (e.g., openness v closedness to experience, to other cultures, etc.). I will share with him your comment to see if he has additional information to add…


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