Metasystem Transition Theory
Principia Cybernetica Web

Metasystem Transition Theory

Metasystem Transition Theory (MSTT) is the name we have given our particular cybernetic philosophy. Its most salient concept is, of course, the Metasystem Transition (MST), the evolutionary process by which higher levels of complexity and control are generated. But it also includes our views on philosophical problems, and makes predictions about the possible future of mankind and life. Our goal is to create, on the basis of cybernetic concepts, an integrated philosophical system, or "world view", proposing answers to the most fundamental questions about the world, ourselves, and our ultimate values.

Our methodology to build this complete philosophical system is based on a "bootstrapping" principle: the expression of the theory affects its content and meaning, and vice versa. In this way we aim to apply the principles of cybernetics to their own development. Our philosophy too is based on cybernetic principles. Our epistemology understands knowledge as a model, which is constructed by the subject or group, but undergoes selection by the environment. Our metaphysics asserts actions as ontological primitives. On the basis of this ontology, we define the most important concepts and organize them in a semantic network. At a higher level, we also lay out the fundamental principles of cybernetics in terms of these underlying concepts.

One of the central concepts is that of evolution in the most general sense, which is produced by the mechanism of variation and selection. Another is control, which we define in a special cybernetic sense, and assert as the basic mode of organization in complex systems. This brings us to the central concept for MSTT, that of the metasystem transition, or the process by which control emerges in evolutionary systems.

On this basis we then reconstruct the complete history of evolution, from the Big Bang to the present, as a sequence of MST's. An extrapolation of this sequence provides us with a first glimpse of what the future might bring. Finally, the possible dangers and opportunities of our evolutionary future direct our attention to the need for formulating an ethics, based on evolutionary and systemic principles, that could guide our actions.

Background of the theory

The concept of the metasystem transition was introduced in Turchin's book The Phenomenon of Science, which was followed by Inertia of Fear and the Scientific Worldview. The basic tenets of MSTT were formulated by Turchin and Joslyn in "The Cybernetic Manifesto". As Heylighen joined the Editorial Board, the work on MSTT intensified, and the Principia Cybernetica Web was created. A major collection of papers on MSTT by the three editors and invited authors was published in a special issue of the journal World Futures entitled "The Quantum of Evolution". MSTT is also being applied to computer science and the foundations of mathematics by Turchin and his colleagues. The bibliography of PCP includes most publications on MSTT.

Copyright© 1997 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

C. Joslyn, F. Heylighen, V. Turchin,

Jul 7, 1997 (modified)
Jan 1992 (created)


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Methodology for the Development of MSTT



Systems Concepts

Principles of Systems and Cybernetics

Evolutionary Theory


The Metasystem Transition

The History of Evolution

The Future of Humanity


Foundation of Mathematics

Evolutionary cybernetics


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