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Myth's Spiritual Psychology of Network Agency

Symbolizing the Embodiment of Network Agency in Matter

The Synchronic Emergence of Network Agency as a "Ghost in the Machinery'


  • Network agency emerges from the interdependency of system components but is not physically 'of' them

  • This animating impulse of self-organization emerges from the relationships of those physical components

  • Thus network agency arises 'among' a system's physical aspects that it can in turn unpredictably re-organize

  • There is then a factual basis for the notion of a 'ghost in the machinery' of complex systems

  • This science-derived sense of an animating impulse correlates with mythic notions of 'soul'

The Notion of Soul Conveys Network Agency's Ethereal Manifestation in Matter

Self-Organizing Agency as Animating Principle in Nature--But 'of ' or 'in' Systems?


The unpredictable emergence of self-organizing networks in complex systems appears responsible for most of the complex ordering in the biosphere.  It gives life forms and the larger systems they compose the capacity to order, maintain, and adapt transformatively. Thus, despite its evidently inexplicable, synergistic origins in feedback networks, it is not only fundamental to life but actually animates both living creatures and large scale systems, from forests to civilizations. Yet, due to its dynamically inaccessible origins in complex feedback networks, there is uncertainty about just 'where' it is and how it is doing what it does. If emergent agency is not a demonstrably sequential causal process, what is it and how can it happen in a physically or materially composed system? Is  the animating phenomena of network agency 'in' a system or 'of ' a system's operations? This might seem a superfluous distinction, but it seems to have been a conceptual problem for ancient people just as it is for modern scientific materialists.


Soul as Network Agency's 'Animating Force'


The word soul represents perhaps the most general sense of spiritual agency.  It associates with notions such as life force, inner spirit, and psyche.  In spiritual traditions it is often used to identify an 'immaterial' aspect of a human or animal that 'makes it alive' and perhaps even continues to exist after bodily death.  This view of an animating aspect of the physical body symbolizes the conundrum of network agency arising 'within the interactive relationships' of a complex systems parts while not being specifically identifiable as measurably 'of' those materialistic components or their mechanistic actions--yet being able to effective influence the operations of them. Thus systems science clearly suggests network self-organization, thus animation, is somehow 'other than' the material system components.

Concepts of soul often suggest that it is 'given' to living bodies at birth and departs at death. In so far as birth and death mark the commencement and cessation of network agency's manifestation of self-organization and self-direction in a system, this concept appear appropriate. Both brain death and bodily death can be understood in this way. A brain or body without the emergent operations of its network self-organization remains physically similar but no longer 'living' as a self-maintaining person with functional consciousness.  The metaphor of soul is also sometimes extended to systems that are not distinct biological creatures, such as cities and the biosphere--as in the phrase "the soul of the world."

Soul as Network Agency 'Embodied'

In contrast to how other types of 'spiritual agents' are depicted, such as abstract gods and goddesses who 'exist' without biological bodies, soul seems to suggest a form of network agency that is specifically linked to embodiment. It is also often regarded as individualized or specifically configured in the particular 'body' where it manifests. That is, 'a soul' is unique to its embodiment, like the character of an individual personality. This particularization suggests that network agency emerges in unique ways in or 'through' every system that manifests it. Thus the death or dissolution of that system would mean its soul ceases to have a material or 'world' context in which to express its agency.

Soul as 'Disembodied' Agency

However, the notion that soul might continue to exist somehow 'beyond death' also suggests that its particular traits or character could continue to assert some sort of influence on the material world--perhaps by somehow 'living on in' the souls or network agency of other intact systems.  In so far as network agency's manifestation in a given system is understood as a set of tendencies characteristic characteristic of how it emergently organizes and directs its system's operations, it seems conceivable that one soul or network might 'take on' the characteristics of another one with which it has interacted. Thus, in the sense that one is influenced or 'guided by' the traits of dead friends or relatives, the notion of 'disembodied' yet still active agency has a certain symbolic aptness.


The sense that soul can exist 'out of' or 'beyond' embodiment is a particularly challenging concept for our modern,

materialistic worldview. Nonetheless, there a many tangible examples of how historical patterns of system behavior persist over time despite profound changes in systems, or seem to 'disappear' from a system then reappear at a later date. Examples include social and political behaviors, such as racism and fascism. Societies that have been fundamentally fascistic, like Germany, can become broadly democratic only to have the 'fascistic  soul' of the system's previous organization resurface with astonishing energy. Systems science observes that, though self-organization manifests as an ever variable, on-going emergent activity,  the past of a given system's behavior seems to remain an influence upon it even after significant reorganization or transformation. Thus past configurations of characteristic 'soul' remain somehow 'in' the network dynamics even though a system appears to have developed a different configuration.  In this regard, soul as animating principle would seem to be mutable and have an 'evolving character.'

Spiritual Materials--Soul and Inanimate Objects

The archaic notion that soul can even be 'of ' inanimate objects, such as hand tools or stones, is particularly puzzling even when viewed from the perspectives of systems science. The latter does offer a clue as to why humans have regarded inanimate things in this way--as somehow 'spiritual materials.' In the larger analysis of earth systems, it appears that self-organization networks, from geological to biological, have mutually modified each others operations so thoroughly over time that even the forms of stones have been in some way influenced by its emergent agency.  Biological life has changed the 'face of the earth' in various ways many times over.  Thus, associating all objects with some quality of 'animating force' or soul has a certain intuitive logic. 

Individuality of Soul and Generalized Archetypal Patterns of Network Agency Manifestation

These notions of soul provide a kind of base line level of symbolizing network agency as an 'animating force' that necessarily has individualistic traits in different systems because each is an emergent phenomena arising from significant disorder and uncertainty in unpredictable ways.   To grasp the intricacies of this mysterious phenomena 'at work in the world' scientifically requires intimate examinations of how network formations tend to bias system behaviors toward overall types of behavior. More hierarchically structured feedback networks tend, for example, to lead towards more centralized control functions than do less hierarchically configured networks. The mythological imagination seems to have grasped the need to make such distinctions as well--by symbolizing such tendencies in the more abstract personifications of gods and goddesses.