Francis Heylighen was born in 1960 in Vilvoorde, near Brussels, in Belgium. He received his university degree in mathematical physics in 1982, and his Ph.D. in 1987, both "summa cum laude", from the Free University of Brussels (VUB). He is presently a tenured research professor at the VUB, where he is co-director of the Center "Leo Apostel" for transdisciplinary research.
He has been working at the VUB since 1982, first on the foundations of physics (quantum mechanics and relativity theory). The focus of his research then turned to the self-organization or evolution of complexity, which he studies from a cybernetic viewpoint. He has worked in particular on the evolution of knowledge (including memes) and the creation of new concepts and models. More recently, he has extended the underlying principles to understand the evolution of society, and its implications for the future of humanity. Together with J. Bernheim, he has shown how progress can be objectively measured by using socio-economic indicators of happiness in different nations. The theoretical framework being developed by Heylighen intends to integrate knowledge from different disciplines into an encompassing "world view".
Some of the implications of this framework have been empirically tested, in the domains of psychology and linguistics. Together with his PhD student Johan Bollen (now Assistant Professor
at Old Dominion University), Dr. Heylighen has applied this framework by implementing a self-organizing knowledge web, that "learns" new concepts and associations from the way it is used. As such, it forms a simple model for a future intelligent computer network, the "global brain".
To study the technological and social implications of this vision, in 1996 Dr. Heylighen founded the "Global Brain Group", an international discussion forum that groups most of the scientists who have worked on this issue. Since 1990, he is also an editor of the "Principia Cybernetica Project", an international organization which attempts to consensually develop a cybernetic philosophical system, with the help of computer technologies for the communication and integration of knowledge. The Project's website, which is administered and largely implemented by Heylighen, was created in 1993 as one of the first large, interactive webs in the world.
Dr. Heylighen has authored over 80 scientific publications, in a variety of disciplines, including a monograph and four edited books. He performs scientific functions, including editor of the Principia Cybernetica Newsletter, Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science, and scientific advisor for the software company "Global Wisdom". He is a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Memetics, which he co-founded in 1996, the Journal of Happiness Studies, and the journals Informatica and Entropy. He has been a referee for various scientific journals, including the International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, Adaptive Behavior, and Foundations of Science.
As an expert on cybernetics and systems, Francis Heylighen has been invited to write articles on this domain for several leading encyclopedias and dictionaries. He has organized and chaired many international conferences, symposia and seminars. As a leading thinker on the future of the information society, he is regularly interviewed by the media and invited to lecture in different countries. Articles about his work have appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world, including New Scientist, Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung, Die Zeit, Le Monde, and the Washington Post.