Agents Interact                                                               Sub-systems Synchronize                                                   Networks Self-Organize

The New Reality of Spiritual Symbolism

Old Metaphors for the New Science of Network Agency

A Factual Basis for Traditional Imaginations of World-Animating Spirits
  • Systems science provides evidence for how network agency creates, sustains, and adapts the ordering of the biosophere

  • The same evidence indicates there are limits for how completely we can analyze and explain this agency

  • Thus it confronts us with a fundamental mystery about how order arises and changes

  • This pervasively self-animating, purposefully adaptive impulse in natural sytems is new to our scientific world view

  • But it correlates with the spiritual imaginations of cultures throughout history

  • The spirits, gods, and goddesses of mythology have a new factual basis--as metaphors for a naturalistic spirituality

Correlating Spiritual Imaginations with Systems Science
Network Science and Myth as Knowledge of Nature

The mythic imagination of spiritual 'actors' in archaic cultures represents intentional action by non-human agency 'at work in the world.' Notions of souls, spirits, monsters, gods, and goddesses are found in mythologies of all pre-modern cultures.  These are personifications of willful agents that influence 'how things happen'--that effectively animate bodies, species, forests, and even human relationships.  Now, for the first time, this seemingly unrealistic symbolism can be interpreted from a new scientific perspective. Viewed through systems and network science, the magical actions and spiritual actors of gods and goddesses depicted in myth now can be understood as metaphors for the self-organizing thus self-animating activities of complex adaptive systems. This correlation gives spiritual symbolism a factual basis as metaphors for this new scientific knowledge, showing how both can constitute 'knowledge of Nature.'

Naturalistic Spirituality in Scientific Theory and Spiritual Metaphors

Science employs graphic illustrations to represent equations and theories. These often are abstractions which 'are not the things they represent. Yet they are useful in providing a way to think about or imagine what measurements and calculations reveal about 'how the world works.'  The dynamic conditions of interactive feedback networks that give rise to complex adaptive systems and their self-organizing, self-directing capacities have been extensively modeled, providing testable theories about their existence and effects in ordering the biosphere. This science is highly technical but can be generally grasped through various basic concetps and schematic symbols.

Dynamical traits and system relationships are represented by illustrations of modeling

concepts such as nerual networks, attractor trajectories, and recursive feedback flows:


These representations provide a more tangible sense of the conditions from which self-directing, thus self-animating agency arises. But at the same time they indicate how those conditions are not fully accessible to quantitative analysis as sequential processes. The accessible facts point to a limit on what can be known with certainty and thus fully explained.  Thus the implications for self-animating network agency, thus a naturalistic spirituality, involve an element of fundamental mystery that is somehow 'beyond measuremet.' Network agency remains a "black box" to our qauntitative analysis. We cannot specify exactly where, when, or how it generates its unpredictably purposeful ordering or adaptive changes. Many things appear to happen all at once in recursive feedback flows with no discernable beginning, middle, or end. This is one aspect of the science that correlates to generalized mythic symbols of 'how the world works.'

The "black box" of self-directing reciprocating feedback interactivity

is imagined symbolically by traditional mythic metaphors:

But the symbolism of network agency in mythic traditions goes much further than this in imagining the characteristics of network agency. In all but the mythologies of monotheisitic religions, cultures have represented the world as thoroughly animated by some form of spiritual agency, from plants and animals to rivers, winds, and volcanoes. The broadest term for this world view is "animsim." Cultures based upon agriculture and urbanized civilization tended to imagine more generalized abstract pantheons of gods and goddesses that acted as an additional layer of agency shaping the world.  Myth presents us with a myriad of these personifications of how network agency "behaves" as it shapes the world and how they interact in so doing.  How they are imagined can be associated to what systems science tells us about the ways different patterns of feedback networks produce different types of system behaviors.

Gods and Goddesses, with their particular taits of appearance and behaviors,

model how real world networks influence reality:

Mythic tales also model what it is like for humans to interact with such characteristic network behaviors manifesting in both human and natural systems.


Exploring how the mythic world view imagines characteristics of network agency through spiritual metaphors enales us to correlate these with our new science of self-animating systems. By demonstrating how traditional spiritual symbolism offers insight into a hidden reality of mysterious events and the psycholoigcal character of animating agency we can better comprehend the astonishing implications of this new scientific world view.

By correlating scientific and mythical representations of network agendy

we can gain a more realistic understanding of 'how the world actually works':

Further exploration of this theme is provided on the Science of Symbolism page in the top menu, and the more specifically focused pages in its drop down window.

Feedback Networks    

Self-Organizing Agency
Characteristic Behaviors
Mythic Symbols