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Our Next

            World View

The New Implications

Confronting the Character and Motivations of Complex System Networks
  • All complex adaptive systems, natural and human, develop characteristic patterns of self-organizing behavior

  • However, the agency of such networks also gives them the capacity to respond and adapt unpredictably

  • To understand how our systems operate we must regard them psychologically--as if they were complex 'personalities'

  • From marriages to institutions, we will discover that networks have character and hidden 'motivations'

  • But to 'see' the world thusly we must confront our addictive obsession with deterministic prediction and control

 Agency Directs both Natural and Human Systems

The agency of complex adaptive system networks manifests what are essentially 'strategies' for sustaining their systems. How the parts of systems such as local ocean ecologies or metropolitan cities are connected and interact generates activities that constitute characteristic behaviors, even a sense of 'personality.' Chicago as a system operates in ways that distinguish its network character from New York. Thus, just as with individual persons, the 'motivations' behind the behavior of one city network can be significantly different from another one. Similarly, trying to influence the behavior of one network might require different actions than another that appears very similar. It is not that a city or ecosystem 'thinks' like a human, but that the feedback networks in such systems have evolved self-sustaining patterns of behavior and can respond differently to a variety of events -- giving them some aspect of 'reactive agency.' This knowledge has profound implications for both how natural systems react to human actions and how individual human actions are influenced by the character of human system networks. Human systems are 'made by' the participation of human agents. But once established as complex adaptive systems in their own right, we can no longer directly control them.

Complex System Networks Dominate Our Lives
We are all Parts of Self-Determining Networks that Manipulate Us for Their Own Purposes

Each person is a self-determining network with at least some capacity to act independently in relationship with other such networks. But those networks are not just other persons. Science confirms that similar selective agency is manifested by the interactions of multiple persons. These organizational or "social networks" develop their own characteristic behaviors and purposeful motivations. They range from families and groups of friends to organizations, institutions, corporations, governments, and entire economies.  The influence of these collective networks readily prompt individual persons involved 'in' them as 'agents,' to think and act in ways that serve the larger network's purposes. When people are acting on behalf of a political party or business that employs them, they can behave in ways they would not do otherwise. The behavior of individuals, as well as groups of people, is continually being manipulated by the character and motives of larger system networks in which they are involved.

Distinguishing the Manipulations of Our Behavior by Organizational Networks from the People in Them

Because humans tend to assume that human behavior arises entirely from human agency, from ideas, beliefs, and psychological motivations that exist only in human minds, few of us conceive that our behaviors might actually not express our personal values or interests.  But the science of complex systems shows how organizational networks, from social groups to educational, economic, political, and technological systems, assert profound influence upon the behavior of humans involved in those systems.  To understand how and why events take place in our societies and economies, we must learn to examine the behaviors of our system networks for their 'self-serving motivations.'  In doing so we will learn that educational systems do not necessarily operate primarily to promote education, nor law courts to enforce justice, or corporations to make profits -- and that our technological systems direct our behavior in service to their elaboration more than we consciously control them.

Hierarchical System Structure Promotes Networks more Motivated toward Power and Control

The structure of connections between the parts of a complex system, and thus the ways feedback flows between those parts to form its operational network, has a profound influence on the characteristic behavior of a network. System structure can be configured so that feedback flows relatively evenly between many parts. That can be thought of as general reciprocity of influence between system parts.  But connections between parts can also be configured so that feedback flows toward very few parts of the system so that those parts have more capacity to control the entire system. That can be described as centralized influence within the system network. The more generalized flows of feedback have a 'horizontal' character, while the more centralized flows have a 'vertical' or hierarchical one.


Hierarchical network relationships emphasize a capacity for a network to assert it influence upon its parts and other networks more overtly. In the extreme case of human created systems, this hierarchical structure greatly inclines network character toward manipulative control and exploitation. Examples are societies structured around 'upper' and 'lower' classes, the enforced chains of command in armies or corporations, and professional associations in which rank imparts disproportional status to some members of the group.  Systems structured in this hierarchical manner have network character that reflexively seeks to assert control and enhance its power over 'lower' parts of the system and over other systems.

Lacking an understanding of how both natural and human-generated system networks can effectively 'behave like autonomous agents,' we are blind to how these self-organize to create and sustain their 'selves' by 'acting selectively' to further their existence in distinctively characteristic ways. We assume we can manipulate and control them directly, when in fact they are acting autonomously, and, in the case of our human systems, are manipulating and controlling us. We assume that whatever our social, economic, and governmental systems are 'doing' is the direct result of individual human intentions. Such assumptions render us ignorant of how complex adaptive systems operate and blind to how our own behaviors as agents are being manipulated by those systems. The catastrophic destruction of natural ecosystems, disruptions of the global climate system, and the endless wars between nation states can all be understood as expression of our hierarchically structured, control obsessed collective human systems. We 'blame each other' for behaviors we are all manipulated into by those systems. 

Our Inability to Perceive the Self-Asserting Autonomy of Our Collective Systems is Catastrophic
Our Worldview is 'Trapped' in a Culture of Left Brain Hemisphere Bias

Our decades long, obviously ineffectual struggles to restrain the ecological and climate disrupting effects of our  behaviors are symptoms of a control-obsessed, left brain hemisphere biased cultural mentality. In the terms of the psychology of addiction, we are addicted to that mindset and the power over things and people it has generated. We are unwilling to confront the catastrophic consequences of that 'psychological dependency.'

cognitive therapy that will provoke a metanoia

No Adequate Understanding of Politics, Economics, Society, Nature, or Our Own Psychology,
is Possiblewithout a Network Worldview --
And that Requires the Symbolism of Art
(read more)
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