The Tree of Knowledge

large tree of knowledge

In Genesis 2:17, the god character commanded: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Normally this injunction has been taken to prohibit the exploration of “carnal” knowledge, and has led to a sense of sin and many forms of arcane prohibitions against social and sexual contact–from dance bans to burquas.

There’s only one problem, “carnal knowledge” is essential to the continuation of the human race. So 99% of everyone who’s breathing at some point in their lives has to take a bite of the forbidden fruit. We are by this definition all fallen and miserable sinners. The other 1%, who remain ‘virtuous,’ face angst of a different kind as they die with their biological purpose unfulfilled. So to counter (or more correctly, co-opt and control for social stability) this overwhelming human urge, the memetic engineers had to come up with the elaborate archetypes of the serpent, Eve, and the apple.

Jungians might find a lot of value in studying such archetypes, and they have strong utility in analyzing our deeper motivations and behaviors. We humans often do things we know we shouldn’t, and like Icarus, many of us reach for the sun even at risk of immolation. Indeed, with near-universal knowledge about addictive substances such as crack cocaine or heroin, and the awful end of loss, sickness and loneliness they produce, why does anyone ever try them at all? But people do. They want first-hand knowledge, whatever the cost.

Another far-less-insidious metaphor for the tree of knowledge is pictured above in the diagram of “Relationships between Scientific Paradigms.” The Edenic injunction still applies, and religionists of all stripes increasingly find themselves squaring off with science. But it’s a fools errand, as many have discovered. Only one thing can happen when a religious person both understands science and comes to grips (deeply) with their own psychology: they drop the religion; notwithstanding Stephen Jay Gould’s concept of “non-overlapping magisteria” which was roundly debunked by Dawkins in The God Delusion.

Even if we accept the bible as largely metaphor–a work of potent fiction, a literary blast from the past–we still have to deal with the reality that scriptures once attempted to make truth-claims about the universe. They attempted to explain origins, purposes, and morality. But they did so in a complete vacuum. Like the knowledge of their day, their claims were circular and unsupportable, and were based on folk wisdom and traditions.

While many will still claim this ever-shrinking territory for scripture: (It purportedly explains the “why,” while science explains the “how”), I submit that all knowledge humans ever need to know is contained in science, and mapped out in the above diagram (with yet-to-be-discovered additions and deletions).

Commissioned by Katy Borner of Indiana University, node layout by Kevin Boyack at Sandia National Laboratories and Dick Klavins, president SciTech Strategies, Inc., data from Thompson ISI, graphics and typography by W. Bradford Paley at Information Esthetics. The “tree” was originally printed in Nature, posted at Seed Magazine, and picked up by and others. This masterpiece of scientific art is available for free (shipping and handling) from the Information Esthetics site.

This map was constructed by sorting roughly 800,000 published papers into 776 different paradigms (shown as pale circular nodes) based on how often the papers were cited together by authors of other papers. Links (curved black lines) were made between the paradigms that shared papers, then treated as rubber bands: holding similar paradigms nearer one another when a physical simulation forced every paradigm to repel every other; thus the layout derives directly from the data. Larger paradigms have more papers; node proximity and darker links indicate how many papers are shared between two paradigms. Flowing labels list common words unique to each paradigm, large labels general areas of scientific inquiry.

The sheer scope and complexity of this diagram boggles the mind. It’s just a beginning of the mapping of what has been heretofore terra incognita.

Scriptural traditions on the other hand substitute glib and broad brush strokes to give meaning to their hopelessly narrow world view, and shut down almost every line of inquiry beyond it. Everywhere they turn, in every corner, under every rock, behind every flower–behind everything they can’t explain–they insert the god character. Stemming from a time when geocentric models of the universe ruled the day, and stars were thought to have been glued to a finite sphere of the ‘heavens’ rotating about the earth, these traditions and ‘gods of the gaps’ are as outdated as the pathetically inadequate models themselves.

I submit this chart of science is a sacred object in the best sense of that word. It is a symbol of the collected works of man. It shows how man is becoming his own god–god with a small ‘g.’ I personally stand humbled before it. I submit that if there is any purpose to life at all, it is in becoming ‘awake’ as Buddha taught. I interpret this to mean observing, participating in and benefiting from the power and wisdom of the universe which is locked in our brains. And coming to know the only love that lasts: which is the love of knowledge. This perspective gives greater meaning to the words of Kahlil Gibran: “love is sufficient unto love.”

If I could dream of immortality, it wouldn’t be spent strumming a harp somewhere, nor with some coterie of virgins, lambs, cherubs or other collection of heavenly fluff. It would be spent gaining both intimate self-knowledge, and understanding of the vast depths of the cosmos. Through this desire–man’s natural curiosity, which is widespread and growing–humanity will banish death (by replacing worn-out body and brain parts) and (through enhancing our brains and communication abilities) become unified with the intelligence of the universe. If this does not happen in our lifetimes, certainly it will within the next few hundred years.

We humans are but an instrument: Science is the battle cry of the universe waking up to itself.

Comments (31 comments)

Heather Annastasia Siladi / March 30th, 2007, 12:48 pm / #1

Absolutely 100% couldn’t-have-said-it-better-myself a w e s o m e.

Thank you.

Doris Tracey / March 30th, 2007, 1:00 pm / #2


This Post is magnificent and is so real to me. The best you have written yet!
In my opinion…

a / March 30th, 2007, 4:01 pm / #3

Astonishing. This just made my day.

Joseph C / March 30th, 2007, 11:24 pm / #4

Bright Blessings, Sean! Beautifully expressed. Let the veil be lifted!


Jason / March 31st, 2007, 4:20 am / #5

So very well put. Most excellent.

Morgaine / March 31st, 2007, 11:17 am / #6


Yes, this is beautifully written. And, the scope and complexity of the tree map is mind boggling

Your article reminds that along side the admonition against tasting knowledge, to not stray from the blissful (inherently infantile) union with the god character, is another awful core religious message; the feminine principal as ‘sinful,’ the root of evil. Here the feminine is both the epitome of vulnerability, (i.e..weak) AND power to corrupt. No wonder women were/are feared, misunderstood, oppressed. Standing with her in ‘sin,’ is the male phallus as serpent that seduces the ‘weak’ feminine. The message is clear: Knowledge and Sexuality (and particularly the feminine aspect of sexuality…she is depicted directly without metaphor) that are EVIL ITSELF. (That these archaic ideas still holds such sway today is fucking sickening)!

This god character is indeed a jealous lover; invoking guilt to maintain fidelity to itself alone, To say that this union is the goal, from which we fell, is to say that we are best to remain childlike, naive, ignorant…pliable to the will of those in power Alternatively, when we follow and encourage our instinct for knowledge, to explore our outer world, our inner selves, our sexual impulse,…we enter into communion with our humanity rather than the supernatural. We embrace a human lover. Such relationships hold a far better mirror for who we are, are far better teachers for what we need learn to become psychologically whole (holy in its best meaning), than unification with a god.

Our urge to merge, (aside from sex, and other quite healthy consciousness altering revelries) can go in two directions…backward into the oneness of oblivion where we are unable to discern self from other, where we implicitly ask to be governed by someone or some thing else (traditional religion provides this balm all too well), or forward towards individuation and self direction, with the capacity to truly feel for another living being, empathize and act with compassion. As you stated in your article Sean, it is through exploration of our world, through psychological work, shadow work, and the empirical method of science that we will learn how to be among ourselves as a species, and with other species, for our greatest growth, fulfillment, and pleasure. Curiosity is the nature of consciousness expanding.

So here’s a toast: To Science, Sexuality and as you so eloquently put it, “the universe waking up to itself!”

just say no to christ / April 2nd, 2007, 2:36 pm / #7

Sean and Morgaine

I couldn’t agree more, but I want to add how important the science of evolutionary biology is! To know yourself, you have to understand how you evolved in nature and the part you play in nature. Part of that is understanding how our emotions are a part of that evolutionary process and that our emotions are a poduct of our sexuality. The more sexually stable one is the more emotionally stable they are.


I really enjoyed ‘Meeting the Shadow’. I am more of a Reichian follower and was pleased that the book mentioned and compared Jungs work with Reichs. Reich has a bad wrap and for no good reason. His work is still used in psychoanalysis and animal psychiatry to this very day. And his ideas about organomic energy are not that different from the ‘shoe string’ and ‘dark energy’ theories.

I like Reich because he has more of an instinctual philosophy which is easier for me to indentify with. Not to say that instinctual functioning doest have its cons, cuz it does. The biggest one is, that once you embrace your instincts, it becomes harder and harder to function in a society that doesn’t and can even bring out aggressive behaviors in humans who are not comfortable with them. A good example of what I am talking about would be how the christians reacted to the Native Americans. The more balanced one is, the more anger and hatred others(who arent balanced) feel towards them. I guess this is what you would call projection.

You know, when a person starts down the trail of animal psychiatry they are warned that they may never fit back into human society completely again. And that is exactly what has happened to me. Is it the same for those of you who dare to know your true animal self? Do you find humans are so out of wack, that it makes you uncomfortable and you have a hard time knowing what to talk about with them? I find myself talking about the weather an awful lot. lol


just say no to christ / April 2nd, 2007, 2:48 pm / #8

Oh, I see biology, it got cut out of the picture way over on the right.

Morgaine / April 2nd, 2007, 11:07 pm / #9


I share with you a tremendous bond with non human animals…and am curious to hear more about your experiences in this arena…what animals do you work with?

In answer to your question …does pursuing ones animal self make it harder to talk to and deal with human society -for me, yes and no. Honestly, the yes is really more a reflection of my tendency toward introversion anyway, from early on, before actively engaging in psychological and shadow work. So my innate desire not to talk about the weather, to go deeper…has always made this a challenge. Still, that tendency to squirm around social superficiality was (especially initially) made more intense as I began connecting with and embracing my instinctual self.

In other ways though, its made it easier to bear the uncomfortability of being with others not on the same page.(AND excited about finding more like minded individuals!) The more I uncover about my own psyche, about evolutionary biology/psychology…neurology..the clearer it is that we are all struggling under the weight of our genetic predispositions, our partucular brain strengths and weaknesses, and whatever environmental and cultural influences shaped/shape us …. For me, it is making it easier to think less in terms of railing against what is,and more in terms of trying to figure out a strategy to reach others who aren’t…in my opiniong “getting ” something. It’s also making it easier to see who may not be reachable…because of varying capacities …to grasp think abstractly etc. And this broaches the subject of free will…and how much do we really have anyway…

King Aardvark / April 3rd, 2007, 5:45 am / #10

Couldn’t we have both intimate self-knowledge and understanding of the vast depths of the cosmos, and a coterie of virgins?

BlackSun / April 3rd, 2007, 9:13 am / #11

JSNTC and Morgaine,

I think humans and animals will be found to be more alike than different–when we finally get around to reverse-engineering brains. While we have more control and capacity for self-reflection and abstract thinking than animals, too many people don’t use these capabilities.

Free will is definitely limited by our genes, and this makes many people squirm. “We can choose to do whatever we want.” they say. While true, the fact that so few actually choose outside the narrow mainstream argues for a far more limited scope of free will than many would care to admit.

As is stated at the website “Philosophy of Genetics:”

What you want is who you can become. We are free to choose what we want, but we are not free in our wants themselves (desires and motivations), which are innate and vary across the population.

King Aardvark:

I hope so. But I would like my virgins to be real and not imaginary ;-) …on second thought, maybe experienced women are better?

just say no to christ / April 3rd, 2007, 9:21 am / #12


I work with dogs and humans. I think the most frustrating thing is that most people think that, because I work with dogs that I haven’t a clue about people. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. People come to me to “fix” their dogs, but the problem isnt their dogs, it is them. Dogs will not follow with confidence or follow at all, if the pack leader isn’t balanced. Some people may get their dogs to follow, but if the owner isnt balanced the dog may follow out of fear and mistrust and a dog that follows out of fear and mistrust is unstable and can be dangerous! So, a lot of my work is focussed on the owner and their mind set. Once the pack leader is balanced the dog naturally becomes a balanced pack member. This philosophy works with children as well. A lot of my clients not only become better pack leaders, but better parents as well.

The first thing I tell new clients, before taking any money, is that they have to be willing to change the way they think. Luckily, most of them are, but not without a lot of work. If people arent willing or are too affraid to change the way they think, they will never become balanced. Unfortunately there are more people out there that are too affraid and unwilling to change, than there are willing people. I see them at the dog park all the time and if people aren’t balanced enough to be respected by a dog, you know there are some serious problems in that persons life.

A major instinct of ALL animals (to include humans) is the ability to pick up on sutle bodylanguage. The biggest difference between humans and other animals is that humans lie. They lie to themselves and to everyone around them and it shows in their suttlest of bodylanguage. You can NEVER lie to a four legged animal, cause it knows the instictual and universal language of the body. Humans have been trained from very young not to trust in or even acknowledge its there. Once a human has tapped into this instinct they can no longer sit in a room with other humans comfortably, because they know that every person that talks to them is lying about something. And it gets harder and harder to bite your tongue, thus the weather comes in handy. lol


just say no to christ / April 3rd, 2007, 9:47 am / #13

Sean Said:”Free will is definitely limited by our genes, and this makes many people squirm. “We can choose to do whatever we want.â€? they say. While true, the fact that so few actually choose outside the narrow mainstream argues for a far more limited scope of free will than many would care to admit.”

Exactly! Another thing I have also realized is that humans are more pack orintated than we are willing to admit. I have to remind my clients all the time that the reason dogs are so successful as household pets, because their social struture in the wild is identical to human family struture and in all likley hood the earlist human social structures were identical to that of the wolf, thus making the companionship possible. And according to DNA a dog is still a wolf, just domesticated. Dogs have no problem reverting back to the wild and will behave exactly like wolves. Part of human instict is to form packs , but now in an overpopulated world we form small family packs insted of extended ones.

Anyway back to the point, most humans are instinctual pack members and will follow more dominate people and like dogs, if their pack leaders are unbalanced, they will be unbalanced.


just say no to christ / April 3rd, 2007, 10:26 am / #14


I agree with how you feel when you talk with people, it is hard to not recognize when they have shadow issues. I have learned the hard way that pointing out someones shadow, even in a tactful way, will cause some people to lashout. Lol I find myself frustrated sometimes, but you can’t help people who don’t want it or are too affraid to deal with reality. Fear of reality is the ever consuming moster in human societies.


Thanks for the link . Very interesting.


Mike / April 3rd, 2007, 10:59 am / #15

I agree that animals see truth instantly.

Just say no to Christ has been a mind opening experience for me. I continue to hang out in groups where there are Christians, because I do like the “higher power” concept that arises when people speak truth. In the 12 steps I think people do attempt this in many arenas (not all).

But I don’t like hanging around with people when I know it will be artificial or pompous.

Great discusion, thanks

just say no to christ / April 3rd, 2007, 2:17 pm / #16


I don’t know if I would consider the tuth a “higher power”. I think knowing the truth will empower you to know yourself better and help you become a more balanced person. I also do not think a “higher power” is what I would want to strive for. I find a lot of spiritual relief in knowing my place in the natural world and just being a part of it. I’m one of those people that prefer the words “balanced” and “grounded” rather than “higher power”. I think the words “higher power” can also be misleading and give some people the idea of superiority over others.


Morgaine / April 3rd, 2007, 9:00 pm / #17


Very cool work you do. Any experience with cats?

just say no to christ / April 4th, 2007, 9:50 am / #18


Cats are a whole nother story, they have less use for humans. lol I just accept my cat for the asshole he is and he accepts that I am the pack leader to everyone else. Living with cats is a compromise, they have no need for a pack leader, just someone to fill their food bowl and scratch their head from time to time. My cat lets me brings other dogs in the house as long as he gets to make it clear that he lives there too and aint taking no shit from any of them. Its an agreement that works for us. lol

And thank you, I absolutely love what I do, its not easy work and can be very dangerous, but the rewards are so worth it. It doesnt leave me with a lot of time for writing though and looking back over my spelling I am out of practice. lol


Mike / April 4th, 2007, 12:24 pm / #19

Amy, you bring up good points on the Higher Power terminology. I agree that the goal is to be more grounded/balanced.

Earlier you spoke of wolves wanting to be in packs, and I realize I often crave that and have a hard time being alone. When I am the most grounded, I don’t have this “craving” for others. At some points I have found that if I don’t have a venue to discuss my thoughts in a productive way, I tend to become extremely negative and self-depreciating.

It would be interesting to hear how you or others deal with those feelings, if you have them?


just say no to christ / April 6th, 2007, 9:08 am / #20


I think we all have those feelings from time to time. Humans are social animals, so we need the company of others. The problem with that is that most people are unbalanced. Wilhelm Reich and Carl Jung, as well as many other psychoanalysis have long realized that humanity suffers from nuerosis. Humanity is in a mass state of confusion, due to repressing our emotions and instincts. The more we embrace those emotions and instincts the more balanced we become. Now, the problem with that is that the more balanced you become, the more uncomfortable the unbalanced become with you. This is where I have the hardest time and I have to give props to Morgaine for telling us about “Meeting the Shadow. I have always wondered why my nagging gut feelings about certain things just felt right on, even though others were telling me they were wrong and in the end, it turned out those gut feelings were right. Some how some of us do maintain some of our instincts even though our parents and others are telling us they are not acceptable. Thanks Morgaine! :)

Anyway, if a more balanced person following his instinct to be around others, they may not be fulfilled when they begin to unconsiously realize that the unbalanced are not capable of fulfilling that need of true group companionship. Unbalanced people are not honest with themselve, therefore they can not be honest to others. The most sad part is that unbalanced people see a kind of evil in the balanced only because they want that balance, but are scared shitless of it. They are afraid of all those emotions and instincts they were taught is unacceptable. Again, ‘Meeting the Shadow’ helped me understand this a little better. I have the same problem. I want to be around others, but I’m always disapointed afterwards. I hate walking away feeling like I made no real connections with anybody. All humans have a need for bonding with others. When you can recognize and acknowledge that and the problems that are breaking that down, it makes dealing with it easier. I also realize and always have, that I substitute humans with dogs and people who love dogs and can recognize their dogs behaviors as a breakdown in comunication are usually more willing to become more balanced. So, I can fulfill my need to connect with humans there and not worry about all the other people I met at a party or gathering. I know this might sound wierd, but if you really want to meet people who are more intouch with their emotions and instincts and therefore are more honest with themselves(even if they dont quite understand it) talk to the crazy lady with all the cats or the people who are really into their pets. They naurally form bonds with others that allow them to just be themselves, hence why they prefer animals over humans.


just say no to christ / April 6th, 2007, 9:42 am / #21


Also, I personally think that more balanced people are more comfortable being alone, because they are comfortable with who they are and unconciously realize, that unbalanced people disrupt their balance and self harmony. I would much rather be alone than be surrounded by the unbalanced that are trying to me make me behave like them. I love my shadow, others may not, because it reminds them of all the things they were taught are not acceptable. I think this would be considered a self preservation instinct, because if someone kills a part of your shadow, they are killing a part of you.


just say no to christ / April 7th, 2007, 10:42 am / #22


I don’t know why, but I couldn’t get the cat thing out of my head. I guess my shadow(I’m glad there is a name for it) is telling me that I should be more helpful. A lot of us in the animal business try to speciallize in what we do best. Dealing with cats are a little different from dealing with dogs, although some of the same concepts do work for both. Like being a balanced person, even cats can recognize that and are much more at ease with a balanced care giver. When dealing with any animal it is of the most importance to understand how they evolved in their natural envirnment and how they evolved into pets. Cats more or less became our pets out of admiration and later out of benefits.

Small cats in the wild are solitary and have no need for a pack leader. In order to astablish a relationship with them we had to comprimise with them and understand their instinctual side. Cats are natural hunters and love the chase! They also mantian this instinct even in domestication so we must comprimise with this behavior. I have done this with my own cat by encouraging his instict to chase things by throwing little balls that he likes to chase. And he actually brings that back for me to throw again for him. This is just what works for us, there are other things other people have had success with. Doing things like that help keep your cat in good spirits and keeping them from becoming bored and depressed.I would recomend finding a good book on cat behaviors or maybe even looking for someone who speciallizes in cats.

I have also had problems with my cat peeing in my plants and found, that once again I had to comprimise and use smaller plant pots, cos if he can fit his ass in it, he will follow his instinct to piss in and scratch around in dirt. Cats are much more autonomous and do as they wish for the most part, so we have to work around some of their instincts.


Morgaine / April 7th, 2007, 11:50 am / #23


Thanks for speaking to this!

Interesting that this was on your mind!! Was it because you got my email? I tried to email you just a few days ago, to see if we could talk a bit off line about some of my cat questions, as I didn’t want to hijack Sean’s blog on this tangent. (I have access to addresses as a contributing writer.) But maybe it never reached you and I had the wrong address? Or, is your comment in reference to that?

If I didn’t get through with email, it brings up another tangent, which I will also speak to in a later post, about some of the latest EEG research and brain function. (One of the things I do; I am certified as a brain wave trainer, using neurofeedback and meditation for peak performance, etc.) and work with an internationally respected researcher in the field with some interesting theories around one of the functions of Delta waves; (the very slowest of our brain wave emmisions,4Hz and below). She’s theorized that, (among other things that are conclusive and cutting edge), delta functions as a repository for the collective unconscious, (in a Jungian sense). HIGHLY conjectural…the most conjectural aspect of the body of the work, the rest of which is very much accepted science. But even this idea doesn’t require anything mystical or supernatural to consider the possibility of physical brain mechanisms that could explain it. I’m being obtuse. More on this later.

For now, let me know about the email. If you’d prefer to keep this online, thats fine. No worries. Otherwise, you can email me at:, and I’ll get back to you.

BTW: I think you’d get a kick out of knowing that my vet just gave my kitty a general exam, and told me that she was one of the most well adjusted cats he has ever run across. I was pleased, but I didn’t realize how much of a complement it was…for me and her original caretaker, till reading your points on animal behavior.

Re: hunting. Oh my god! I have to always use a flashlight at night, through a closed front door, to check her mouth for “gifts.”I can’t tell you how many rats and mice she has brought to me. Its kind of pathetic…in a cute kind of way, to see her standing there, this diminuitive little Siamese with a big fat rat in her mouth, looking up at me as though she’s saying, look what a good hunter I am! And my response is…drop the thing, or you’re not coming in! LOL

( you can see why others might appreciate my talking about this off the blog ;-)

just say no to christ / April 7th, 2007, 6:18 pm / #24


Wow, that is wierd, but I’m completely open to brain wave theories. And I just havent check my mail in the last day or two. So I will have to do so, till then, I got your email.


mike / April 11th, 2007, 4:20 pm / #25

Amy and Morgaine,

I enjoy reading your comments on cats, brainwaves, etc. Hope to see more in the future. And thanks Amy for your feedback.


Morgaine / April 12th, 2007, 3:16 pm / #26


Thanks for your feedback, and for sharing your feelings and thoughts!

Carnival of the Godless: You’re Going to Hell Edition « Abstract Nonsense / January 28th, 2008, 11:02 pm / #27

[…] The same applies to John Wesley’s apologetics for sinning on the grounds that it’s a natural consequence of human civilization. Sean Prophet’s attempt to reconstruct the tree of knowledge by appealing to Godless science and some magic concerning citations in peer-reviewed papers is even more offensive to God’s creation. […]

Larry / January 20th, 2010, 4:25 pm / #28

The tree of knowledge led us first of all to doubt God. From there we embarq upon an endless quest to "know." In order to know if God is right or wrong, we would have to know more than he knows. The fruit of the tree leaves us in a position where we must judge God. It leads to his crucifixion. If we want to know God then we must see Jesus on the cross. It's the only way the love of God can overcome our faith in ourselves and bring us around to trusting him. Thanks, Larry

BlackSun / January 20th, 2010, 5:06 pm / #29

"Doubt God"

What would lead you to believe in such a being in the first place?

laura / January 29th, 2011, 9:39 pm / #30

the paradigm of sustainability might close those gaps in the synapses up rather quickly

Ikem / September 2nd, 2012, 2:04 am / #31

I Really like science, its intricacies and equation map out the universe for us. Even more so I Love the creator of the land his science maps out for us.

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