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 Myth's Spiritual Psychology of Network Agency

Spirits, Gods, Goddesses
Personifying the Archetypal Character of How Agency Animates Networks

Viewed Psychologically, Network Agency has Archetypal Personality

  • Depending on the structure of feedback networks,such  systems self-organize and behave differently

  • Just as in humans, agency emerges in noticeably characteristic ways in other complex systems

  • System behaviors can shift dramatically from one pattern of to another in ways that have common traits

  • While variable and unpredictable, these patterns archetypal complexes of how agency tends to manifest

  • Mythical cultures symbolized such generalized behavioral traits as 'powers' and personalities of abstract spiritual agents

  • Those characterizations of behavior were elaborated in stories about these agents and their interactions with each other

From System-Specific Souls to the "Dynamical Attractors"of Generalized Archetypal Divinities

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

How system components are connected and how feedback flows between them creates biases

or 'rules' within which networks process information and thus tend to behave. Though behavior is

an unpredictable emergent property, thus unpredictable, it tends to produce self-similar patterns:







The emergence of animating network agency, or soul, arises not only from the feedback flows within the system but in interdependent relationships with the external environment. Thus how a system behaves also involves the feedback it receives from its environment. The adaptive capacity of network agency, or its particular 'intelligence,' can depend on past experience encocded in biological genetics, but also evolves over time and to a significant degree in every instance of emerging agency as the network process information about itself in relationship to its environment. Thus, though its behaviors overall demonstrate some archetypal characteristics about how it 'does what it does,' behavior can shift unexpectedly from moment to moment.

There is a constant interplay between a given system, other systems, and their shared environment.

Thus an array of capacities and 'attitudes' must be available for network selection at all times.

It is the overall character of this self-sustaining and adaptive transformation that constitute 'soul':



Since the structure and behavior of systems emerges from how their feedback networks form in relation to those of other systems in their environments, overall behaviors represent considerable 'kowledge' about how to operate as a given system in a given environment.  In this regard, specific systems, like animal species, manifest behavior adapted to self-organization and adaptive behaviors in a local environment. Different environments can prompt different forms of emergent system behavior.


Spirits: Meta-System Behaviors as Generalized Spirit

The mythological imagination seems to have grasped the need to represent characteristic system behaviors 'as forms of knowing and acting' that collectively constitute the world.  Localized systems such as plants, animal species, and landscapes were thus described in terms of 'spirits' with archetypal traits and capacities. 

Beavers are individual systems which acts as parts of what science terms "agent based systems."

Thus a local population or the species in total are a kind of meta-system with an overall range

of characteristic capacities and behaviors. These constitute 'beaver-ness' or beaver spirit:


Divinities: Identifying Network Tendencies as Abstract Behavioral Attitudes and Related Influence or 'Powers"

The abstraction of collective behavior in an agent based system like an animal species to an archetypal range of behaviors represented by a spirit is extended to a further level in the imagination of gods and goddesses which are not identified directly with particular systems.  Here the network character and capacities represented are more like 'categories of dynamical attitude' that appear as if 'free agents' in actual system networks or environments.  These 'exist' as abstract potential but are more likely to emerge as patterns of behavior in the interplay of various networks under particular conditions. In the mythological perspective, the ordering of the world is constantly arising from the manifestation of these behavioral attitudes, with their associated knowledge and 'powers.' But under certain conditions one or another can become more dominant, as in when competition and conflict suddenly become violent combat or war.

The interplay of systems and their environment is continually activating agency in archetypal patterns,

represented by gods and goddess. When networks respond to each other in certain ways,

a particular archetypal pattern can be emphasized, such as 'the god of war.'

The Interplay of Archetypal Network Tendencies--Gods and Goddesses--Makes the World

Just as systems science how identifies various network configuration produces different systems and their associated behaviors interact to create large-scale or meta-systems, like ecologies and cities, so too does myth's spiritual symbolism. Though gods and goddesses are associated with specific ranges or types of behavior, it is the interactions of these archetypal tendencies that collectively order the world in each instant and over time. 

Though Aphrodite, associated with love, pleasure, and delight, stands in stark contrast to Ares,

who personifies violence and terror in combat, myth shows them as irresistibly drawn

to each other--as somehow co-arising forms of agency:

Complex Systems' Behavior and Their Archetypal Forms as "Dynamical Attractors"

System Behavior Represented as a "Dynamical Attractor"


The diverse character traits, mentalities, and powers of divinities are portrayed as continually 'pushing and pulling' on how events happen in the world according to myth.  They create and destroy, provoke and punish, compete and cooperate, are sometimes empathic and often vindictive.  As characterizations of abstract influences on how agency emerges from and among self-organizing systems, they resemble the "dynamical attractors" of systems science.  The concept of  an "attractor" represents a set of states or formations toward which a system tends to evolve--a pattern of ordering that makes it recognizable. The simplest form of a dynamical attractor is one formed by physical constraints, such as a whirlpool in a toilet basin. Water flowing into the basin swirls chaotically while moving in a general direction toward the drain. In the process, the water flows self-organize spontaneously into momentarily ordered patterns within the general flow. The overall dynamical behavior of the whirlpool vortex is a system formed  from feedback loops emerging within the flow. In this physical example, the basin imposes an external constraint that the flowing water responds to. But the basin does not predetermine exactly the ordered structure that will emerge from the chaotic flow of water at any given moment. The whirlpool remains recognzale as an archetypal system formation even though it is constantly changing and never exactly repeating its exact patterns.

Water flowing into a basin creates a chaotically self--organizing system in response to

a literal physical constraint or "attractor basin" as its trajectory seeks an outlet--or the 'final positon' of its "attractor state":







This simple physical example of the whrilpool demonstrates how a system 'takes form' in response to its environment--in this case fluid interacting with a basin and gravity. The behavior, here the chaotic but recognizible flow of water in a vortex, describes the system and constitues its "dynamical attractor" as the course of it trajectory over time within an "attractor basin" toward its "attractor state" or the end point of its trajectory. The attractor concept is not explanitory but descriptive. It enables us to visuzlize a system as a 'form of dynamical activity'.

Thus attractors are represented graphically as system behaviors over time. The simplest are like the path of a pendulum swinging until it comes to rest at a fixed point--its 'attractor point.' Some repeat and are termed periodic. But complex systems involving significant disorder or chaos can describe fantastically convoluted, never exactly repeating patterns, as if they are describing respnses to mulitple attractors or a combination of attractors and repellors. Simple physical systems like pendulums generate behavior trajectories that end at a fixed point. More complex ones can repeat periodically. But those involving chaotic self-ordering can be wildly convoluted, or never repeat exactly yet generate a formation that has a reconizable "self-similar" character.

Attractor graphs of system behaviors range from simple fixed-point

trajectories to the mind-boggling patters of "strange attractors":


These descriptive categories of attractor types can be thought of as 'archetypal.' That is, there can be an infinite variety of individual systems which generate any type--such as fixed, periodic, or strange--but these can be identified by their basic or archetypal dynamical character. The type of attractor tell us something about the overal formation of a system though not exactly how that system will express such behavior.

The World as "Attractor Landscapes"

This notion that a system's behavior over time can be represented by "dynamical attractors" is extended to conceiving how asystem interactis with a context  or envirionment. Here variations in the environment are posed as conditions which can influence a system to manifest different forms of an attractor. This concept represents the collective influences of multiple attractors that in effect 'push and pull' on systems that encounter them, creating mutlple possible trajectory's for a systems behavior. The simplest example is a literal landscape of hills and valleys encountered by water or objects like rolling rocks. Here gravity is the main activating force of 'attraction' and the landscape presents the responding water or rock with constraints on where it can flow or roll seeing a stable state.

The "attractor landscape" is easily imagined as a physical form of topography in which low points

represent attractor basins and high points what are termed "repellors":

As a system encounters this dynamical landscape it is 'pushed or pulled' from instability

toward the relative stability of an "attractor state":

However, when the system being 'pushed and pulled' is itself a dynamically complex, self-organizing, thus to some degree self-directing system, that is responding to the attractor landscape of other such complex systems, which are already interacting with each other, events become fantastically more interactive and uncertain.  Here we can imagine an animal moving through a forest ecology. The forest is an attractor landscape for the system of that animal. The possible routes the animal might take will depend both on what it encounters as it moves, what dangers or obstacles 'repel' it and what enticements or escape routes attract it. Thus in this landscape is not configured only by physical forms and gravity, but by the self-ordering feedback networks of many self-organizing systems symultantously interacting interdependently.

This is the truly challang aspect of the science. The feedback networks of self-organizing complex systems generat much of their own trajectory in selective response to each other's continually  emerging behavior--or trajectories. Such systems are concurrently and continually interacing interdependently. It is simply not possible to fully calculate, much less illustrate this amoung of complexity and its emergent properties , particualry as network agency.

As different systems encounter an attractor landscape composed by other interacting systems, the 'route' they take, or the attractor state" toward which each 'moves' will emerge from both its own internal feedback network's responses to that landscape--which itself is being formed by the feedback networks in and among those systems currently composing the landscape. The attractor landscape itself is dynamically changing as systems encounter it and each other over time. The interplay of factors that form the 'landscape' can shift as a system enters into relationship with that 'landscape,' thus the potential attractor basins can change.

Complex adaptive systems interact to compose "attractor landscapes"

that 'push and pull' on each other. An example is when stem cells in the body

respond to influence from multiple attractors by transforming into radically different types of cells:




Such is the dynamic character of events in the 'real world' of inumerable complex systems interacting with each other while emergently manifesting various degrees of unpredictably self-animating agency.


Attractors as Expression of Agency--not Its Cause

Useful as it is, the concept of dynamical attractors is inherently misleading. The notion of an 'attractor' suggests there is some force, like a magnetic field, that is 'pushing and pulling' a system's behavior into a particular form and trajectory. This makes sense in terms of simple physical sytems like a whirlpool in a basin. Here behavior is driven by gravity and the shape of the basin and the force of flowing water. However, even the simplest representations of attractors are a kind of 'negatvie image' of the 'forces at work'. The shape of an attractor graph or landscape is not 'in and of itself' the cause of the system behavior. Even with flowing water and a basin, it is the volume and rate of flow of the water interacing with gravity that creates the conditions for the water to chaotically form momentarily ordered patterns. And even under these relatively simiply constraints, the ordered patterns that momentarily emerge in the flow of water are unpredictable and infinitely variable configurations.  Even in this instance, it is the interdependent interations of the water molecules and the resulting turbulance these create in the feedback flows between them that create momentary order--in a fundamentally mysterious way. That is, ordered form emerges from disorder in ways not predictable by caluclating the shape of the basin, the force of gravity, and the rate of flow of the water into 'the system' that is the whirlpool.


The truly challanging aspect of this science is that the feedback networks of self-organizing complex systems  not only generate much of their own trajectory, they can sustain and even adapt that trajectory in selective response to each other's continually  emerging behavior--or trajectories. Thus, the behaviors of complex self-ordering systems whose networks are emergently self-ordering their internal system operations are doing so in response to 'dynamical landscapes' around them that arecomposed of other such systems. That means a significant aspect of the 'forces' involved emerge from the inefable realm of network self-ordering under the semi-chaotic dynamical conditions "at the edge of chaos" both in and around each system. This dynamical context, where system self-direction, or agency, emerges, is an analytically impenatrable realm of 'events' that are only indicated by the quantifiable changes in ordering that emerges from them, but for which a causal sequence cannot be fully specified. This dynamical conundrum is actually a 'fact' of physical and mathematical analysis--of scientific method at its most developed state. Thus, it becomes logical to state that the emergence of network agency is an actual, fundamental property of Nature--but one that is, dynamically speaking, a literal mystery. The attractor concept then, enables us to archtypally categorize types of complex system behaviors as dynamical expressions, but not to literally chart all their internal actions nor reliably predict their behaviors. 

To appreciate the importance of this unexpected revelation about 'how the world actually works,' one need only consider human social networks.  There is possibly no more dynamically complex "attractor landscape" than one constituted by numerous individual persons. Humans are the most complex example of self-organizing, self-directing, adaptive systems currently known to science. Our network agency extends through our technology to influence every aspect of the biosophere. Consider the staggering interactive interdependency of multitudes of human individuals, networked into various social and economic systems, which then become interdependently interacting meta-systems in their own right, collectively and simultaneousl exerting network agency across a vast, psychologically dynamic attractor landscape. 

The collective "attractor landscape" we create and negotiate is a vast layering of individuals and groups,

linked in innumerable sets of sub-systems, and 'hyper-linked' via the internet. Yet patterns of ordering

emerge and are sustained despite this staggering diversity, competion, and conflict.

What 'makes' self-sustaining order out of such confusion?


If the order that emerges from such a vortex of unfathomable interactivity is not only unpredictable but causlly 'beyond understanding,' then how can we know anything about its future manifestations with confidence? Can there be any guidelines for how to negotiate this ever shifting 'dynamical terrain' or discern which nexus of interactions is producing current overall orderings? Actually, systems science does offer some guidelines with the concept that how networks are interconnected--how feedback flows through them--often associates with general types of system behavior. Thus, if we learn to examine network structures closely for how feedback flows amont parts, we can better estimate potential future system behaviors.


But the caveat that agency is always emerging 'from out of ' the 'no-where' of dynamical complexity "at the edge of chaos" remains constant. Complex systems tend toward self-similarity over time--but there are no guarantees about which part of their variable past might surface in the present, or whether they might undergo sudden transformation. Therefore, their relative consisstency, their often long-term self-similarity, appears to be the most astounding, if not literally miraculous, aspect of their emergent manifestation.  Network agency takes on various familiar 'forms,' as in an animal species or societies. In doing so we can say it expresses identifiable types of 'attractors.'  Tracing these archetypal characteristics can be useful information. But it cannot provide us with predictive causal explanations. 'Attractors' are representations of an 'impulse toward' types of order and agency that 'is not there' in any literally definable 'place and time.' The attractor is a kind of 'finger print' left by an ultimately ineffable emergence of agency.

Gods and Goddesses as "Dynamical Attractors" in Myth's 'Spiritual Psychology'

So what do mythic symbols of divinity, those personified gods and goddesses, have to do with attractors and attractor landscapes? Cultural mythologies are famous for depicting  these 'spiritual agents' in fantastically diverse and fanciful ways. There are archetypal themes among these, but no evident way to categorically interpret them as having a consistent, coherent underlying logical meaning across cultures.  Indeed, many mythological traditions appear to be rife with self-contradictory accounts of what spirits or divinities exist, what their powers are, and what they are described to have done.  It would seem that what they all 'agree' upon is that normally causal logic is to be evaded in any appropriate representation of spiritual animation in or of the world.

To our modern mechanistic and materialistic worldview, this is all nonsense. But from the new perspective of systems science, the fantastical events and characters of myth can be seen as an epistemological maneuver--a  symbolic way of knowing -- useful for 'seeing the invisible' aspects of the world. While systems science uses measurement and calculation to reveal the limits of our ability to predictably explain all events, myth also confronts our ordinary attitudes about 'how the world works' that are so reflexively accustomed to a strictly cause and effect reality, Myth, like the new science, suggests 'there is much more to the story.'  Myth's fantastical style indicates that the 'story of emergent agency' simply cannot  be 'told' in a definitively causal or sequentially logical manner. Since that aspect of reality is 'beyond predictive explanation,' it must be represented in terms of archetypal tendencies--observational knowledge accumulated over time in a culture and symbolically encoded in the forms of personified spiritual agents.


The mytho-logical perspective takes into account that ordinary human attitudes about reality require intense imaginal stimulation to begin to 'see the invisible' dynamics in and around them. Thus myth employs the most compelling characterization of those dynamical phenomena available-- the psychological personification of 'spiritual agents' as the 'immortal and immaterial' actors of spirits, gods, and goddesses 'at work in the world.' Yes, this is indeed a form of "anthropomorphic projection" of 'what it is like to be human' onto non-human phenomena. However, systems science now reveals there is an empirical basis for this epistemological maneuver. If emergent network agency is an actual yet ineffable aspect of 'how the world actually works,' and it does so in unpredictable yet archetypally characteristic ways, and it manifests in human as well as non-human systems, then imagining it  psychologically, in the mode of a human-like personality that is also not human, can 'make sense.'

Just as dynamical attractors give us a sense of the form and trajectory a system can take, pictured as if there were some 'external' force 'attracting' system behavior into that form, so too the character of specifically imagined gods and goddesses present 'behavioral ranges' of how network agency can manifest. Similarly, the stories told about these 'personified forces' indicate the contexts or 'attractor landscapes' in where the are likely to be expressed, as well as how. Thus we can think of how a general context tends to manifest specific types of 'spiritually animating agency' in system networks that can be characterized as the abstractly personified  'spiritual agents' of gods and goddesses--as illustrated in stories about them.

The collective 'dynamical attractors' of a context--or 'attractor landscape'-- can interact to 'activate'

the overall 'behavioral attractor' of an archetypal spirit, god, or goddess.


In Greek mythology, the gods Apollo and Dionysus are half brothers with starkly contrasting personalities. Apollo models archetypal traits of rational analysis, harmonic unity, abstract thought. Dionysus is associated with embodied vitality, poetry, theatre, intoxication, and collective immersion in ecstatic states of mind.  Apollos iconic weapon is the bow and arrow. He is the 'far shooter' who 'hits his mark' or kills from a distance.  He proves utterly insensitive in his attempts to relate to the feminine. Dionysus in sharp contrast has no weapon--except perhaps his capacity of transformation. When torn apart he reassembles himself. When captured by pirates who intend to sell him into slavery he transforms the masts of the ship to grape vines and the terrified pirates leap overboard. And, he is closely associated with the ecstatic rites of women. If we then consider these two personalities as 'archetypal attractors' of emegent network agency formation, together they can be imagined as 'in a relationship' that constitues a potential 'attractor landscapel.' The system of a person, or even a social group, encountering this 'dynamical terrain' as a set of interacting internal and external factors, might get 'pulled or pushed' toward one type of behavior or the other. Of course, there are no 'literal gods' involved here. But how else to represent such ineffable yet identifiable tendencies if not through such symbols?

The contrasting but 'intimately related' brothers Dionysus and Appollo togehter form

a kind of 'attractor landscape' to which a system's own emergent agency can selectively respond:

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