Principia Cybernetica Web

Collaborative Knowledge Development

The Principia Cybernetica Project aims to collaboratively develop a system of philosophical knowledge. The method of development is supposed to implement the same principles of self-organization and evolution of systems that form the basis of the knowledge system or theory itself, thus resulting in the self-application of the theory.

These principles can be applied not only to physical or biological systems, but also to ideas: concepts and systems of concepts. (Ideas that are replicated when they are communicated from one person to another one are called "memes".) These principles are constructive, in the sense that they assume a variety of "primitive" systems (e.g. nodes containing expositions written by diverse participants), which undergo different combinations and recombinations (e.g. connection through hypertext links), and finally selection, so as to retain those nodes or combinations of nodes which are most "fit". There will be a development of higher levels of organization through the combination of simpler subsystems into supersystems. We foresee metasystem transitions occurring within the body of the Principia Cybernetica Web itself, perhaps in a manner similar to that of metasystem transitions in formal systems. The basic methodology for quickly developing a knowledge system as complex as a cybernetic philosophy would consist in supporting, directing and amplifying this natural development with the help of different cybernetic technologies and methods.

It will require, first, a large variety of concepts or ideas, provided by a variety of sources: different contributors to the project with different scientific and cultural backgrounds. The easy gathering, exchange, editing and otherwise manipulating of these ideas by a group of contributors can be facilated by different techniques from computer-supported cooperative work.

The knowledge system we are trying to build will be structured like a semantic network: the meaning of a node should be entailed by the links it has with other nodes. Determining an unambiguous meaning for each node requires a thorough semantic analysis. However, one must keep in mind that it is generally impossible to completely represent any concept's meaning: meanings are always to some degree context-dependent and any formal definition can only be temporary and approximate. First-order, coarse approximations can in a later stage perhaps be replaced by more precise approximations, in a bootstrapping fashion. We call this process progressive formalization. Determining meanings of concepts also requires reaching a consensus between the collaborators. This can be achieved through a process similar to the scientific method of peer-reviewed publication under the guidance of an editorial board.

Implicit consensus, however, can also be used to experiment with a process of spontaneous self-organization of the semantic network: the more people agree that two concepts should be directly linked, the stronger the link will become. The semantic analysis too can be supported by an autonomous process: by checking the similarities and differences in linking patterns, such a program could suggest different ways of restructuring the network, so as to make it semantically more simple and coherent. We are researching different techniques for "mining" such implicit knowledge from a web of linked documents, in order to develop an intelligent, self-organizing web.

See also: Links on Computer-Supported Collaborations

Copyright© 1999 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen, C. Joslyn,

Mar 29, 1999 (modified)
Aug 1993 (created)


Project Organization

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Gathering a variety of contributions

Computer-Supported Cooperative Work

Hypertext web as a semantic network

Semantic Analysis

Progressive formalization

Consensus Building

PCP Research on Intelligent Webs


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