Life is an Adventure! An agent-based reconciliation of narrative and scientific worldviews

Heylighen, Francis (2010) Life is an Adventure! An agent-based reconciliation of narrative and scientific worldviews. [Preprint]


There is a more recent version of this eprint available. Click here to view it.

Full text available as:



The scientific worldview is based on laws, which are supposed to be certain, objective, and independent of time and context. The narrative worldview found in literature, myth and religion, is based on stories, which relate the events experienced by a subject in a particular context with an uncertain outcome. This paper argues that the concept of “agent”, supported by the theories of evolution, cybernetics and complex adaptive systems, allows us to reconcile scientific and narrative perspectives. An agent follows a course of action through its environment with the aim of maximizing its fitness. Navigation along that course combines the strategies of regulation, exploitation and exploration, but needs to cope with often-unforeseen diversions. These can be positive (affordances, opportunities), negative (disturbances, dangers) or neutral (surprises). The resulting sequence of encounters and actions can be conceptualized as an adventure. Thus, the agent appears to play the role of the hero in a tale of challenge and mystery that is very similar to the "monomyth", the basic storyline that underlies all myths and fairy tales according to Campbell [1949]. This narrative dynamics is driven forward in particular by the alternation between prospect (the ability to foresee diversions) and mystery (the possibility of achieving an as yet absent prospect), two aspects of the environment that are particularly attractive to agents. This dynamics generalizes the scientific notion of a deterministic trajectory by introducing a variable “horizon of knowability”: the agent is never fully certain of its further course, but can anticipate depending on its degree of prospect.

Item Type:Preprint
Keywords:narrative, agent-based models, myths, uncertainty, adventure, mystery, prospect, anticipation, exploration, cybernetics, dynamical systems, complex adaptive systems, landscape, archetypes, hero's journey
Subjects:Psychology > Behavioral Analysis
Biology > Animal Behavior
Computer Science > Complexity Theory
Psychology > Evolutionary Psychology
Philosophy > Decision Theory
ID Code:7266
Deposited By:Heylighen, Francis
Deposited On:02 May 2011 18:16
Last Modified:02 May 2011 18:16

Available Versions of this Item

References in Article

Select the SEEK icon to attempt to find the referenced article. If it does not appear to be in cogprints you will be forwarded to the paracite service. Poorly formated references will probably not work.

Aerts, D., L. Apostel, Bart De Moor, Staf Hellemans, Edel Maex, Hubert Van Belle, and Jan Van der Veken. 1994. World Views. From fragmentation to integration. VUB Press.

Aoki, Y., 1999. Review article: trends in the study of the psychological evaluation of landscape. Landscape research, 24(1), 85–94.

Appleton, J., 1996. The experience of landscape, John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Ashby, W.R., 1964. An introduction to cybernetics, Methuen London.

Axelrod, R. & Cohen, M.D., 1999. Harnessing Complexity: Organizational Implications of a Scientific Frontier, Free Press.

Barrow, J.D., 1998. Impossibility: the Science of Limits and the Limits of Science, Oxford UP, Oxford.

Boyd, B., 2009. On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Brockman, J., 1995. The third culture, Simon & Schuster.

Brown, D., 2003. The Da Vinci Code, Anchor Books.

Bruner, J., 1986. Actual minds, possible worlds, Harvard University Press.

Campbell, D. T., 1960. Blind variation and selective retention in creative thought as in other knowledge processes. Psychological Review, 67(6), 380–400.

Campbell, J., 1949. The hero with a thousand faces, Princeton University Press.

Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2001). On the self-regulation of behavior. Cambridge University Press.

Cawelti, J.G., 1976. Adventure, mystery, and romance: Formula stories as art and popular culture, University of Chicago Press.

Clark, A. & Chalmers, D., 1998. The extended mind. Analysis, 58(1), 7–19.

Cohen, J.D., McClure, S.M. & Yu, A.J., 2007. Should I stay or should I go? How the human brain manages the trade-off between exploitation and exploration. Philosophical Transactions B, 362(1481), 933.

Cone, J.D., 1986. Idiographic, nomothetic, and related perspectives in behavioral assessment. In R. O. Nelson & S. C. Hayes (Eds.): Conceptual foundations of behavioral assessment. New York: Guilford, pp. 111–128.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1990. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Harper & Row.

De Waele, J.P. & Harré, R., 1979. Autobiography as a psychological method. Emerging strategies in social psychological research, 177–224.

Dickey, M.D., 2006. Game design narrative for learning: appropriating adventure game design narrative devices and techniques for the design of interactive learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 54(3), 245–263.

Freeth T., 2009. Decoding an Ancient Computer, Scientific American 301 (6), 52–59.

Frijda, N.H., 2007. The laws of emotion, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Frijda, N.H., Kuipers, P. & Ter Schure, E., 1989. Relations among emotion, appraisal, and emotional action readiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(2), 212–228.

Gavrilets, S. 2004 Fitness Landscapes and the Origin of Species (Princeton Univ. Press.)

Gershenson, C., 2004. Cognitive paradigms: which one is the best? Cognitive Systems Research, 5(2), 135-156.

Gershenson, C., Gonzalez, P.P. & Negrete, J., 2002. Thinking Adaptive: Towards a Behaviours Virtual Laboratory. Arxiv preprint cs/0211028.

Gibson, J.J., 1977. The theory of affordances. In Perceiving, acting and knowing: toward an ecological psychology. Houghton-Mifflin, pp. 67–82.

Gigerenzer, G. & Goldstein, D.G., 1996. Reasoning the fast and frugal way: Models of bounded rationality. Psychological review, 103(4), 650–669.

Gimblett, H.R., Itami, R.M. & Fitzgibbon, J.E., 1985 Mystery in an information processing model of landscape preference. Landscape journal (USA), 4(2) p. 87-95

Hawkins, J., and S. Blakeslee. 2005. On intelligence. Owl Books.

Heath C., Bell C. & Sternberg E., 2001. Emotional Selection in Memes: The Case of Urban Legends. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81(6), 1028-1041.

Heath, C. & Heath, D., 2007. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Random House.

Heylighen F. 2009: Complexity and Self-organization, in: Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, eds. M. J. Bates & M. N. Maack (Taylor & Francis)

Heylighen F., 1990: Representation and Change. A Metarepresentational Framework for the Foundations of Physical and Cognitive Science, (Communication & Cognition, Gent).

Heylighen, F. & Bernheim, J., 2000. Global Progress I: empirical evidence for increasing quality of life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 323-349.

Heylighen, F. & Joslyn, C., 2001. Cybernetics and Second Order Cybernetics. Encyclopedia of Physical Science & Technology, 4, 155-170.

Heylighen, F. & Vidal, C., 2008. Getting things done: the science behind stress-free productivity. Long Range Planning, 41(6), 585–605.

Heylighen, F., 1988. Formulating the Problem of Problem-Formulation. Cybernetics and Systems, 88, 949-957.

Heylighen, F., 1999. Advantages and limitations of formal expression. Foundations of Science, 4(1), 25-56.

Holland, J.H., 1992. Complex adaptive systems. Daedalus, 121(1), 17–30.

Hudson, B.J., 1992. Hunting or a sheltered life: prospects and refuges reviewed. Landscape and Urban Planning, 22(1), 53–57.

Kahneman, D., 2003. Maps of Bounded Rationality: Psychology for Behavioral Economics. American Economic Review, 93(5), 1449-1475.

Kaplan, S., 1988. Perception and landscape: conceptions and misconceptions. In (Ed. Nasar, J.) Environmental aesthetics: Theory, research, and application. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 45–55.

Kaplan, S., 1992. Environmental preference in a knowledge-seeking, knowledge-using organism. The Adapted Mind. Ed. Jerome H. Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby. New York: Oxford UP, 581–600.

Knobloch, S., 2003. Suspense and mystery. in: J Bryant, D Roskos-Ewoldsen, J Cantor, Communication and emotion: Essays in honor of Dolf Zillmann, Lawrence Erlbaum 379–396.

Knobloch-Westerwick, S. & Keplinger, C., 2006. Mystery Appeal: Effects of Uncertainty and Resolution on the Enjoyment of Mystery. Media Psychology, 8(3), 193.

Kramer, D.L. & Weary, D.M., 1991. Exploration versus exploitation: a field study of time allocation to environmental tracking by foraging chipmunks. Animal Behaviour, 41(3), 443-449.

Loewenstein, G., 1994. The psychology of curiosity: A review and reinterpretation. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 75–75.

Lyons A., & Kashima Y. (2003). How are stereotypes maintained through communication?: The influence of Stereotype sharedness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 989-1005.

March, J.G., 1991. Exploration and exploitation in organizational learning. Organization science, 71–87.

McAdams, Dan (1999) `Personal Narratives and the Life Story', in L. Pervin and O. John (eds) Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research, 2nd edn, pp. 478—500. New York: Guilford Press.

Menon, S. & Soman, D., 2002. Managing the power of curiosity for effective Web advertising strategies. Journal of Advertising, 31(3), 1–14.

Miller, J.H., Page, S.E. & LeBaron, B., 2007. Complex adaptive systems: an introduction to computational models of social life, Princeton University Press Princeton and Oxford.

Neisser, U. 1976. Cognition and reality: Principles and implications of cognitive psychology. Freeman San Francisco, CA.

Newell, A. & Simon, H.A., 1972. Human problem solving, Prentice-Hall Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Oatley, K. 1999b. ‘Emotions’ in: The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences. R. A. Wilson and F. C. Keil. Cambridge, Mass. and London,

Oatley, K., 1999a. Why fiction may be twice as true as fact: Fiction as cognitive and emotional simulation. Review of General Psychology, 3, 101–117.

Powers, W.T., 1973. Behavior: The control of perception, Aldine Chicago.

Prigogine, I. & Stengers, I., 1984. Order out of chaos: Man’s new dialogue with nature, Bantam books.

Prigogine, I. & Stengers, I., 1997. The end of certainty: Time, chaos, and the new laws of nature, Free Press.

Riegler, A. (2001) The role of anticipation in cognition. In: Dubois, D. M. (ed) Computing Anticipatory Systems. Proceedings of the American Institute of Physics 573. American Institute of Physics: Melville, New York, pp. 534–541.

Rosenblueth, A., Wiener, N. & Bigelow, J., 1943. Behavior, Purpose and Teleology. Philosophy of Science, 10(1), 18-24.

Ruso, B., Renninger, L.A. & Atzwanger, K., 2003. Human Habitat Preferences: A Generative Territory for Evolutionary Aesthetics Research. In: E. Voland, K. Grammer (eds.) Evolutionary Aesthetics (Springer), 279–94.

Simon, H.A., 1967. Motivational and emotional controls of cognition. Psychological review, 74(1), 29–39.

Simon, H.A., 1982. Models of Bounded Rationality, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Snow, C.P., 1961. The two cultures and the scientific revolution: the Rede Lecture 1959, Cambridge University Press.

Spielberger, C.D. & Starr, L.M., 1994. Curiosity and exploratory behavior. Motivation: Theory and research, 221–243.

Sumpter, D.J. & Beekman, M., 2003. From nonlinearity to optimality: pheromone trail foraging by ants. Animal behaviour, 66(2), 273–280.

Tolkien, J.R.R., 1991. The Lord of the Rings. London: Grafton.

Tulving E (2002). “Episodic memory: from mind to brain”. Annual review of psychology 53: 1–25.

Turchin, V., 1977. The Phenomenon of Science. A Cybernetic Approach to Human Evolution. New York: Columbia University.

Veenhoven, R. 1997. Advances in Understanding Happiness. Revue Québécoise de Psychologie 182, 29-74.

Vogler, C., 2007. The Writer’s Journey: mythic structure for writers (3rd edition), Michael Wiese Productions.

Wooldridge, M.J., 2002. Introduction to Multiagent Systems, Wiley. New York.

Zamora, L.P. & Faris, W.B., 1995. Magical realism: theory, history, community, Duke University Press.

Zelazny, R., 1999. The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles, 1-10, Eos.


Repository Staff Only: item control page