Systems Interact                                             Meta- Systems Form                     Archetypal Agency Emerges at Multiple Levels
Myth's Spiritual Psychology of Network Agency 

 Souls, Spirits, Divinities
Understanding Self-Organizing Systems through Personification

The Characteristic Agency of Complex Systems seen as Spiritual Actors


  • Self-organizing networks process information and selectively direct their system behaviors in distinctive ways

  • Spiritual symbols represent the characteristic traits of how this animating agency tends to behave over time

  • As representations of purposeful agency these reveal a kind of mentality or personality in systems

  • Collectively such symbols constitute a psychological perspective on how system behaviors tend to manifest

  • This 'spiritual psychology' of mythic imagination can be correlated with concepts in modern psychology

Extending Psychological Perspectives through Systems Science to Spiritual Symbolism
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Systems Science and the Characteristic Emergence of Self-Organization Networks

How feedback networks are configured, which parts are linked to other parts and how feedback flows between these, is associated with the ways they self-organize and direct the overall behavior of their systems. Various ecologies or cities can have similar components (plants and animals or humans and structures). But how these are linked in their system networks can result in distinctive differences of overall system operation and behavior.  One city can manifest a society of general economic equality where as another one has a few rich and powerful people who dominate a mass of impoverished people. 

Network configuration influences how overall system behaviors or character emerges:












Psychology as Systems Science

The notion of characteristic system behavior is most evident to us as the individual personalities of people. The study of human behavior is the basis of modern psychology. Thus it can be said that psychology is the study of how network agency in the systems of particular people express distinctive characteristics. Those in turn provide the basis for identifying general "psychological types." We speak of "psychopathic," "manic-depressive," "introverted," and "extroverted personality--or character. Categories of identifiable behavior traits are often termed as archetypal, meaning there are a range of behaviors associated with generalized types of personality. Thus psychologists speak of a "father" or "mother archetype." But different literal fathers and mothers tends to express some aspects of the wider range of the archetypal traits associated with fathering or mothering. A domineering father and a passive one are both expressions of the archetypal range of fathering.


With systems science we can extend these psychological perspectives toward understanding the ways agency emerges in systems that are not limited to humans or even animals. This perspective enables us to understand how myth's spiritual symbolism is actually such a psychological perspective on network agency 'at work in the world'

Myth's Spiritual Symbolism as The Archetypal Psychology of Network Agency

Personification of 'Natural Forces' as Useful Symbolization of Character in Network Agency


Even in contemporary language usage psychic characteristics are attributed to 'forces of Nature.' Storms, rivers, and landscapes are frequently described in terms of intentional and emotional behavior--as if natural systems were manifesting some form of personality. Storms are said to be angry, rivers rampage, jungles are treacherous, breezes gentle. Once one becomes familiar with mythic culture, these contemporary expressions can appear to be a residue of pre-modern attitudes about natural phenomena originating from the intentional impulses of spirits and divinities. That worldview is most broadly termed "animism" or the notion that all phenomena are expressions of some willful intelligence. In general, such attitudes are now regarded as  erroneous anthropomorphic projections of human intelligence onto Nature. However, from the perspective of systems science, one might think that these references, even to such phenomena as weather, express an archaic human intuition about the self-organizing aspects of non-living systems. After all, the science shows how even storms involve elements of self-organization.

Despite our modern assumption that human intelligence is somehow fundamentally different from that of other species, and that any capacity to act intentionally is limited to animals, systems science has blurred such distinctions. The complex dynamics that give rise to self-organization in hurricanes has been shown to be similar to how human minds manifest. Just where self-organization generates the capacity for self-regulation and thus the network agency to direct system behavior toward the goal of adaptive behavior is not readily determined. The systems of forests and cities show this ability. Such systems react to disruptive threats by reorganizing in ways that promote their continued existence in a purposeful manner.  These systems are clearly not complexly intelligent on the human scale. But nor are they categorically unrelated.  It is not a fundamental delusion to describe the characters of New York and New Orleans in terms of different 'personalities.'   These are similar systems with differences in their feedback networks that lead to contrasting but relatively consistent expressions of 'character' over time--networks with dynamics like those which give rise to human intelligence.

Self-organization resulting in agency that directs system behaviors in complex system networks now appears as a fundamental aspect of Nature. It occurs in naturally evolved and human designed systems alike. Archaic or pre-modern humans were not 'scientific' in our sense, but they were, by necessity, keen observers of natural phenomena. That they apparently all, across a vast range of time and cultures, represented the agency of complex systems in terms of souls, spirits, or divinities--as personifications of an animating network impulse--now appears both logical and intelligent as a way of successfully adapting to their environments. Such spiritual symbolism, in the absence of systems science, made them aware that they could not control the systems around them and needed to be wary of disrupting those upon which their own survival depended. To regard them as 'personalities' with archetypal character was a practical cultural adaptation, as well as a way to preserve and pass on accumulated 'knowledge of nature.' Mythical stories about spirits convey considerable practical knowledge. It is quite evident that our modern rejection of this animistic attitude, in favor of a strictly mechanistic one, is having catastrophic consequences for the biosphere. Our ignorance about how natural systems persist through self-organization is causing us to destroy the capacities of those systems--from species to ecologies and climate--to self-regulate and successfully adapt. They are not 'mere machinery' but, at the least, 'semi-sentient beings.' Cultures that regard them as 'persons' show more capacity to preserve the integrity of their network agency, thus the benefits they provide for humans.

Specific and General Modes of Personifying Archetypal Character in System Networks

There are distinctions between just how mythical cultures express personification of network character. Perhaps the most archaic is termed animism, meaning a sense that all things and events derive from the intelligence, character, and intentions of some 'spiritual entity.'  Cultures that emphasize this attitude in effect experience even what we regard as 'inanimate objects' or merely material, non-living things, as having some sort of 'soul' or 'spirit.'  This attitude is like regarding all things, natural phenomena, plants, and animals as if these were 'people.'  This is a very specific way of personifying agency in the world and appears to be the most ancient.

A more generalized mode imagines spirits or divinities that are not linked specifically to one particular object, place, or species but exist as more abstract entities with specific identifying powers and personality characteristics. Here we find what are more readily termed gods and goddesses. These divinities tend to symbolize more abstract aspects of 'spiritual power' in the world. Thus there are abstract gods of Love, Marriage, Wild Nature, and War. 

More specific modes of personification include the spirit of a particular animal species such as beavers.

More abstractly generalized ones stand for the archetypal agency of large scale systems,

such as the god Pan who symbolizes for the character of Wild Nature

Psychology in Myth is 'More than Human'

Psychology as the rational analytical study of human behavior is a Modern cultural phenomena. Such study of "the mind" is not considered a 'spiritual' endeavor. Nonetheless, there are psychologists who regard myth's archetypal personifications of gods and goddesses, along with tales of their interactions with each other, as useful characterizations of psychological types.  Most influential among these in the 20th century was Carl Jung, whose work led to the notion of  "archetypal psychology."  From this perspective, myth is pre-modern cultural psychology, meaning it was the way societies enhanced their understanding of how 'mind' or 'psyche' takes various forms and produces various behaviors. What is distinctive about mythical psychology versus modern clinical psychology is that the mythic mode represents mind as manifesting not only 'outside' humans and animals, but as a 'force' in the abstract--as spirits and divinities that are not literal living biological entities. 

These abstractly generalized personifications of 'spiritual agency' or 'mind' that can influence the material world while not appearing to be 'of it,' constitute a kind of 'cultural encyclopedia' of ways intelligent agency can manifest in the world. Again, this is quite similar to how modern psychology configures "psychological types" and seeks to define characteristic forms of "psychopathology." The importance of myth's 'spiritual psychology', viewed through the perspectives of complexity science, is that it enables us to represent the science's new knowledge, with its implications of fundamental mystery in complex networks, in an emotionally compelling manner. Thus the psyche-logical world view of myth is not simply 'about humans' but about agency or mind manifesting throughout nature.

Where a psychologist sees two people in couples therapy a systems science might perceive two systems interacting interdependently to generate a third system and network--a kind of 'meta-system' we refer to as 'the relationship.' It generates its own "hidden layers" of interactions that the psychologist might refer to as 'in the unconscious'. From the systems science perspective, this meta-system, arising from the interdependency of 'two separate systems' or minds, effectively becomes a third with its own agency.  But just 'where' is this system? It emerges from the interactivity of its two subsystems, the two people 'entangled' by the relationship. So long as those two persons consciously regard themselves as 'separate entities' they cannot perceive the self-organizing influences of the relationship as a meta-system. It remains 'below the surface' of awareness. The mythic mode of psychological representation through symbolism can give this 'invisible agency' a compelling image to aid in self-awareness.

Two people interacting generate a third system with its own "hidden network layers" that necessarily

remain obscure. Mythic imagination can provide a startling image of this mystery.

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