The Fifth Joint Point

The singularity that leads to the next dimension of complexity

Posted Jan 19, 2012

Your Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is your worldview, or language-based system of justification that consists of networks of beliefs and values that tell a story of what is, how it came to be, and what you ought to be doing. The TOK that I advocate for is a scientific humanistic worldview grounded in a conception of cosmic evolution represented by the Tree of Knowledge (ToK) System. Examine the ToK System and a pattern will become apparent. First, Matter emerges out of Energy. Then Life emerges out of Matter, Mind emerges out of Life, and Culture emerges out of Mind.

The natural question that follows is: What emerges out of Culture? A sensible answer is MetaCulture, and the unified theory suggests that the way there is through the construction of the fifth joint point.

But what would such a joint point look like? Joint points are the links between the dimensions, so we should consider the nature of other dimensions of complexity and what gave rise to their emergence. Each dimension that has evolved following Matter's emergence from Energy at the Big Bang has been associated with the evolution of a novel information processing system. The second dimension of complexity, called Life, emerged via genetic information processing. The third dimension of complexity, Mind, emerged via neuronal information processing. The fourth dimension of complexity, Culture, emerged via symbolic information processing (i.e., human language). It is thus reasonable to suggest that the dimension of complexity that follows Culture will arise in the context of a new system of information processing.

In direct accordance with this picture, the futurist Ray Kurzweil has argued we are at the cusp of a phase transition and new human epoch because of the Information Age and the associated emergence of electronic computational technologies and the Internet (i.e., a connected, novel information processing system). Kurzweil defined epochs in very much the same way that I view dimensions of complexity. And his first three epochs correspond directly to Matter, Life, and Mind, and consist of information in material objects, living objects, and brains. His fourth epoch, technology, roughly corresponds to Culture on the ToK System.

Kurzweil argues we are approaching a 'singularity' in which we will transition into the fifth epoch, which he believes will be achieved by the merger of human technology with human intelligence and human biology. The unified theory corresponds well with Kurzweil's vision in the sense that both systems clearly point to the possibility of a new phase transition associated with the emergence of new information processing systems. Like genetics, nervous systems, and symbolic language, electronic computational processing and the Internet provide the infrastructure and mechanisms for a whole new dimension of complexity.

But the unified theory of psychology proclaims that novel information processing capacities are not enough. In addition to new computational systems, we need a way to assimilate and integrate human knowledge into a global system of understanding. Indeed, many have argued that one of humanity's greatest threats is the possibility that we will create technologies that far outstretch our wisdom to control them. To counteract this problem, great technologies must be fused with a deeper understanding of human nature. Yet what science has produced so far is the capacity to understand and control the physical and biological worlds. Progress has been far slower on the profound questions regarding the nature of human nature, consciousness, morality, and so forth. 

   And at this present junction the future of humankind seems uncertain. Will the combination of careless stewardship, population explosion, weapons of mass destruction, resource degradation and depletion, and local realities clung to as the truth result in global conflict and the destruction of Culture?

Or will humankind continue to stumble through its existence, being pulled via the vicissitudes of various civilizations?

Or will there be a phase transition, a pathway realized to a higher way of being? 

As humanity seems to be simultaneously sowing the seeds of its elevation and potential destruction, any of these outcomes appears possible.

I am hoping for the third possibility and I see the unified theory as an important piece of the puzzle, as it bridges the sciences and humanities and offers a coherent narrative of the human condition. Humans, the unified theory tells us, are the justifying animal. Our singularly unique accomplishment was not tools, opposable thumbs, or the ability to walk, but instead our ability to construct systems of justification that coordinate human groups and provide narratives for how the world works and our place in it. It is in this light that I submit that our transcendental purpose should be the construction of a new global system of justification that effectively merges wisdom with science and technology in a way that fosters the emergence of a new age. The theorized consequence of such a synthesis would be the fifth joint point and the emergence of a MetaCultural dimension of reality.