A very first attempt at a theory of metasystem transitions.
Argues that science, art, philosophy and mystical experiences each provide
complementary first steps towards a higher level of cognition, which would
transcend the present conceptual-symbolic way of thinking.
Sjödin T. & Heylighen F. (1985): "Tachyons Imply the Existence of a Privileged Frame", Lettere al Nuovo Cimento (now Europhysics Letters) 44, p. 617-623. (
It is shown that the existence of faster-than-light signals
(tachyons) would imply the existence and detectability of a privileged
inertial frame and that one can avoid all problems with reversed-time order
only by using absolute synchronization instead of the standard one. The
connection between these results and the EPR paradox is discussed.
"Equal causes have equal effects" is reformulated by defining
causality as a distinction-conserving relation. Unpredictable, respectively
irreversible, processes are analysed as processes in which distinctions
are created, respectively are destroyed. Different types of partially causal
and pseudo-causal relations are examined. Time order is derived from distinction
conservation. It is argued that the emergence of macroscopic distinctions
and causal relations is due to a self-organizing evolution, characterized
by natural selection. The relationship between "physical" and "observer-dependent"
factors in determining causal relations is discussed.
Heylighen F. (1989): "On a proposal for the creation of an international network for complexity research", Kybernetes: An International Journal of Cybernetics and General Systems 18,5, p. 56-70. (
Rational cognitive processes are defined as processes
controlled by an external system of rules. This control is represented
by the conservation of distinctions, where a distinction is conceived as
an element of cognitive structuration. Four classes of distinctions (patterns,
states, rules, and values) and four classes of distinction processes (conservation,
destruction, creation, and creation-and-destruction of distinctions) are
defined. The resulting 4 x 4 grid is used to classify cognitive processes.
This allows one to model "non-rational" phenomena, such as creativity,
emotions, mystical experiences, ..., in a relatively simple way, as incompletely
distinction conserving processes.
Heylighen F. (1990): "Classical and Non-classical Representations in Physics I", Cybernetics and Systems 21, p. 423-444. (PDF)
Dynamical representations used in physics are analysed
from a "second order" viewpoint, as distinction systems constructed by
an observer in interaction with an object. The creation, conservation and
destruction of distinctions can be understood on the basis of a distinction
dynamics. The fundamental mechanism is the variation through recombination
and selective retention of closed combinations. The conservation of all
distinctions is shown to provide a demarcation criterion, distinguishing
classical from non-classical representations. Different non-classical representations
(thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, relativity theory, ...) are classified
on the basis of which distinctions they do not conserve. It is argued that
the specific structures of these non-classical representations can be reconstructed
by studying the properties of non-trivial closure.
Heylighen F. (1990): "Classical and Non-classical Representations in Physics II: Quantum mechanics", Cybernetics and Systems 21, p. 477-502. (PDF)
The conceptual and formal structure of quantum mechanics
is analysed from the point of view of the dynamics of distinctions, occcuring
during the observation process. The Hilbert space formalism is simplified
with the help of the concept of closure: closure of an eigenstate under
an operator is generalized to the linear closure of a subset of states,
and this is further simplified to orthogonal closure, meaning that a set
of states can be distinguished by a single observation. Quantum states
can be seen as (overlapping) subsets of unobservable infra-states, with
the transition probability between two states proportional to the number
of infra-states they have in common. This makes it possible to reconstruct
the superposition principle. An analysis of the observation process leads
to the interpretation of closed sets of infra-states as attractors of the
dynamics induced by the interaction with the observation apparatus. This
interaction is always partially indeterminate, because of the unobservable
micro-state of the apparatus.
Heylighen F. (1990): "A Structural Language for the Foundations of Physics", International Journal of General Systems 18, p. 93-112. (PDF)
It is argued that the difficulties to establish foundations
for a unified physical theory are due to the predicative structure of traditional
scientific languages, whose descriptions reduce all phenomena to static,
independent elements. A new language is therefore proposed, whose descriptions
are fundamentally dynamic and holistic. It is based on the concept of the
"arrow": a relational entity which is completely determined in a bootstrapping
fashion by the other arrows it is connected with, so that it has no independent
meaning> An arrow represents a n elementary process, and connected assemblies
of arrows represent physical structures. It is shown how the fundamentals
of space-time geometry can be expressed in this extremely simple, "structural"
language. It is argued that this description could be extended to the observation
process, and thus to the fundamentals of quantum mechanics, by introducing
Heylighen F., Joslyn C. & Turchin V. (1991) : "A Short Introduction to the Principia Cybernetica Project", Journal of Ideas 2, #1 p. 26--29. (
Emergence is defined as a process which cannot be described
by a fixed model, consisting of invariant distinctions. Hence emergence
must be described by a metamodel, representing the transition of one model
to another one by means of a distinction dynamics. The dynamics of distinctions
is based on the processes of variation and selection, resulting in an invariant
distinction, which constrains the variety of and thus defines a new system.
A classification of emergence processes is proposed, based on the following
criteria: amount of variety, internality/ externality of variation and
selection, number of levels, and contingency of constraint. It is argued
that traditional formal and computational models are incapable of representing
the more general types of emergence, but that it is possible to generalize
them on the basis of the dynamics of distinctions.
Heylighen F. (1991): "Coping with Complexity. Concepts and principles for a support system", Systemica 8, part 1 (special issue on Mutual Uses of Cybernetics and Science, edited by Glanville R. & de Zeeuw G.), p. 39-55.
It is argued that in order to efficiently tackle complex
problems, user and support system should intimately interact, complementing
each other's weaknesses. Strengths and limitations of human intelligence,
respectively computer intelligence, can be derived from the mechanism of
associative, respectively "chunk-based", memory. A good interactive interface
should hence allow one to translate between associative (context-dependent)
and chunk-based (formal) representations. Associative knowledge can be
expressed more explicitly through hypermedia, consisting of a network of
connected chunks. Different mechanisms for supporting the creation of networks
are reviewed: check-lists, outlining, graphic representations, search functions,
... These mechanisms can be complemented by looking for "closed" subnetworks,
which define invariant, formal constraints, which can be used to guide
inferences. A prototype implementation of an interactive interface, the
CONCEPTORGANIZER, is sketched, and some potential applications in the areas
of idea processing, knowledge elicitation, decision support, and CSCW are
Heylighen F. (1992): "A Cognitive-Systemic Reconstruction of Maslow's Theory of Self-Actualization", Behavioral Science 37, p. 39-58. (
Maslow's need hierarchy and model of the self-actualizing
personality are reviewed and criticized. The definition of self-actualization
is found to be confusing, and the gratification of all needs is concluded
to be insufficient to explain self-actualization. Therefore the theory
is reconstructed on the basis of a second-order, cognitive-systemic framework.
A hierarchy of basic needs is derived from the urgency of perturbations
which an autonomous system must compensate in order to maintain its identity.
It comprises the needs for homeostasis, safety, protection, feedback and
exploration. Self-actualization is redefined as the perceived competence
to satisfy these basic needs in due time. This competence has three components:
material, cognitive and subjective. Material and/or cognitive incompetence
during childhood create subjective incompetence, which in turn inhibits
the further development of cognitive competence, and thus of self-actualization.
Heylighen F. (1992) : "Evolution, Selfishness and Cooperation", Journal of Ideas, Vol 2, # 4, pp 70-76. (
It is argued that replicators evolving through natural
selection on the basis of fitness are intrinsically selfish. Though the
synergy resulting from cooperation is generally advantageous, selfish or
subsystem optimization precludes the reaching of a globally optimal cooperative
arrangement. This predicament is exemplified by the "Prisoner's dilemma".
Different proposals to explain the evolution of cooperation are reviewed:
kin selection, group selection, reciprocal altruism ("tit for tat"), and
moralism. It is concluded that the proposed mechanisms are either too limited
in scope, unstable, or insufficiently detailed, and that the analysis must
therefore go beyond the level of purely genetic evolution if human "ultrasociality"
is to be explained.
Heylighen F. (1992) : "Selfish Memes and the Evolution of Cooperation", Journal of Ideas , Vol. 2, #4, pp 77-84. (
A new, integrated model for the evolution of cooperation
is proposed, based on the concept of a meme, as replicating unit of culture.
Meme evolution is much faster and more flexible than genetic evolution.
Some basic selection criteria for memes are listed, with an emphasis on
the difference between memetic and genetic fitness, and the issue of memetic
units is discussed. The selfishness of memes leads to conformity pressures
in cultural groups, that share the same meme. This keeps group cooperation
conventions (ethical systems), resulting from reciprocal agreements, from
being invaded by selfish strategies. The emergence of cooperative systems
is discussed in general as a "metasystem transition", where interaction
patterns between competing systems tend to develop into shared replicators,
which tend to coordinate the actions of their vehicles into an integrated
Heylighen F. (1992): "From Complementarity to Bootstrapping of Distinctions: A Reply to Löfgren's Comments on my Proposed 'Structural Language", International Journal of General Systems 21, no. 1, p. 99. (
Löfgren's criticisms of the "structural language",
based on his "linguistic complementarity", are considered. Though the impossibility
of complete description and the "non-detachability" of language are acknowledged,
it is argued that a complementaristic conception does not provide a sufficiently
clear understanding of the limitations encountered when determining the
meaning of a representation. In the structural language, meaning is represented
by distinctions, which are determined in a bootstrapping way by the other
distinctions to which they are connected. The number of distinctions that
can be included in the description is open-ended. That makes it possible
to continuously adapt or extend the description, thus overcoming some of
the limitations imposed by languages based on combinations of primitive
Van Overwalle F.J., Heylighen F., Casaer S. & Daniels M. (1992): "Preattributional and Attributional Determinants of Emotions and Expectations", European Journal of Social Psychology 20, p. 313-329. (
Similar to the "Notes on the Principia Cybernetica Project"
This paper examines the proposition that covariation information
guides judgments about the dimensionality of attributions on the basis
of causal principles of contrast and invariance, which are derived from
Mill's methods of difference and agreement respectively. It is argued that
the standard attribution categories specified in earlier research
(e.g., person, occasion and stimulus) represent just
one extreme of the attributional dimensions and require the principle of
contrast, whereas additional attributional categories reflecting the opposite
extreme of the dimensions (e.g., external, stable, general)
require the principle of invariance. In three studies, subjects were given
covariation information, and were asked to rate the properties of the likely
cause along the dimensions of locus, stability, globality and control.
In line with the predictions, consensus with others, consistency
in time, distinctiveness between stimuli and contingency
of one's actions showed the strongest effects on judgments of locus,
and control respectively. Similar results were obtained in a fourth
study, where subjects had to judge the influence of eight causes with varying
dimensional properties. Moreover, these judgments were rated somewhat higher
given causes requiring the principle of invariance rather than the principle
Heylighen F. (1995): "(Meta)systems as Constraints on Variation: a classification and natural history of metasystem transitions", World Futures: the Journal of General Evolution 45, p. 59-85. (
A new conceptual framework is proposed to situate and
integrate the parallel theories of Turchin, Powers, Campbell and Simon.
A system is defined as a constraint on variety. This entails a 2 x 2 x
2 classification scheme for "higher-order" systems, using the dimensions
of constraint, (static) variety, and (dynamic) variation. The scheme distinguishes
two classes of metasystems from supersystems and other types of emergent
phenomena. Metasystems are defined as constrained variations of constrained
variety. Control is characterized as a constraint exerted by a separate
system. The emergence of hierarchical systems is motivated by evolutionary
principles. The positive feedback between variety and constraint, which
underlies the "branching growth of the penultimate level", leads to the
interpretation of metasystem transitions as phases of accelerated change
in a continuous evolutionary progression toward increasing variety. The
most important MST's in the history of evolution are reinterpreted in this
framework: mechanical motion, dissipative structuration, life, multicellular
differentiation, sexuality, simple reflex, complex reflex, associating,
thinking, metarationality and social interaction
Heylighen F. & Campbell D.T. (1995): "Selection of Organization at the Social Level: obstacles and facilitators of metasystem transitions ", World Futures: the Journal of General Evolution 45, p. 181-212. (PDF)
This paper examines in how far Turchin's concept of metasystem
transition, as the evolutionary integration and control of individual systems,
can be applied to the development of social systems. Principles of collective
evolution are reviewed, and different types of competitive or synergetic
configurations are distinguished. Similar systems tend to get involved
in negative sum competition, and this precludes optimization at the group
level. The development of shared controls (e.g. through conformist transmission)
may overcome the erosion of group level cooperation, and thus facilitate
the emergence of a division-of-labor organization. The resulting social
metasystem transition is exemplified by the emergence of multicellularity,
insect societies and human sociality. For humans, however, the on-going
competition between the cooperators produces an ambivalent sociality, and
a weakly integrated social metasystem. Strengths and weaknesses of the
main social control mechanisms are reviewed: mutual monitoring, internalized
restraint, legal control and market mechanisms. Competition between individuals
and (fuzzily defined) groups at different levels of aggregation very much
complicates evolutionary optimization of society. Some suggestions are
made for a more effective social organization, but it is noted that the
possible path to social integration at the world level will be long and
Heylighen F. & Joslyn C. (1995): "Towards a Theory of Metasystem Transitions", World Futures: the Journal of General Evolution 45, p. 1-4. (
Preface to "The Quantum of Evolution".
Heylighen F. (1992): "Making Thoughts Explicit: advantages and drawbacks of formal expression", submitted to Journal of Applied Philosophy. (
Formality, arguably the most important dimension of stylistic
variation, is subdivided into "deep" formality and "surface" formality,
which inherits most stylistic features from the more fundamental deep variant.
Deep formality is defined as avoidance of ambiguity by minimizing the context-dependence
and fuzziness of expressions. This is achieved by explicit and precise
description of the elements of the context needed to disambiguate the expression.
A formal style is characterized by detachment, accuracy, rigidity and heaviness;
an informal style is more flexible, direct, subjective, and involved, but
less informative. An empirical measure of formality, the F-score, is proposed,
based on the frequencies of different word classes in the corpus. Nouns,
adjectives, articles and prepositions are more frequent in formal expressions;
pronouns, adverbs, verbs and interjections are more frequent in contextual
expressions. It is shown that this measure (and related ones), though coarse-grained,
adequately distinguishes more from less formal genres of language production,
for some available corpora in Dutch, French, Italian, and English. A factor
similar to the F-score automatically emerges as the most important one
from a factor analysis of different language samples.
Dewaele J-M. & Heylighen F.: "Formality of Language II: linguistic, situational and personality variable correlated with formality", submitted to Applied Linguistics. (
Deep formality, measured on the basis of the frequencies
of different word categories, is correlated with several variables. Deeply
formal language appears to be characterized by high richness of distinctions,
but low fluency (and thus diminished surface formality) at the level of
unprepared speech. This can be measured as an increase in lexical richness,
word length, utterance length, frequency of filled pauses, and a decrease
in speech accuracy and speech rate. Among the causes of formality are need
for unambiguous understanding, lack of feedback, and lack of shared context.
The latter entails positive correlations between formality and the situational
variables of audience size, difference in setting and in background between
senders and receivers, and time span between sending and receiving. At
the level of personality, formality appears to be correlated with gender
(women tend to speak less formally), introversion, and academic level.
Preliminary empirical evidence and theoretical explanations for these propositions
Heylighen F. & Bollen J.: "Development and Publication of Systems Knowledge on the Internet: the Principia Cybernetica Web", Cybernetics and Systems: an International Journal [submitted] (
It is argued that the Internet computer network provides
an almost ideal communication medium for systems researchers. Different
Internet services are reviewed, with an emphasis on the World-Wide Web
(WWW), a recently very popular distributed hypermedia system. WWW allows
researchers to publish complex, integrated knowledge systems electronically
over the network. This knowledge can be interactively consulted, extended
and edited by users anywhere in the world. The Principia Cybernetica Project,
which aims at the collaborative development of an evolutionary-systemic
philosophy, has set up such a WWW server: Principia Cybernetica Web. The
architecture, contents and use of this system are described, with an emphasis
on the tools (annotation, editing) available for co-operative development.
Evolutionary methods for automatically reorganizing such a system are discussed,
and the first results of an experiment with an adaptive hypertext web,
that learns from its users, are reported.
Heylighen F. (1997): "The Economy as a Distributed, Learning Control System", Communication & Cognition- AI 13, nos. 2-3, p. 207-224. (
On the basis of the perceptual control theory of Powers,
the market mechanism is analysed as a negative feedback loop which controls
the deviation between demand (goal) and supply (perception) by adjusting
the amount of effort invested in the production process (action), through
the setting of the price. The interconnection of distributed control loops
for the different products and services facilitates the allocation of production
factors over the different products. The resulting global control system
becomes more efficient by learning how to be more sensitive to deviations
from the goal, and less dependent on the availability of resources. In
that way, it resembles the nervous system of a supra-individual organism,
characterized by socially distributed cognition.
Heylighen F. (1997): "Classic Publications on Complex, Evolving Systems: a citation-based survey, Complexity 2 (5), p. 31-36. (
A list of the most relevant publications on complex, evolving
systems is produced by counting the number of times each publication is
cited in a collection of texts on the domain. The importance of these books
and papers is summarized and put into its historical context by noting
the main contribution to the field of their authors, categorized by the
research tradition they originated from. These include biology, physics,
chemistry, mathematics, cybernetics, systems theory, economy and complex
Heylighen F. (1997): "Objective, subjective and intersubjective selectors of knowledge",Evolution and Cognition 3:1, p. 63-67. (
It is argued that the acceptance of knowledge in a community
depends on several, approximately independent selection "criteria". The
objective criteria are distinctiveness, invariance and controllability,
the subjective ones are individual utility, coherence, simplicity and novelty,
and the intersubjective ones are publicity, expressivity, formality, collective
utility, conformity and authority. Science demarcates itself from other
forms of knowledge by explicitly controlling for the objective criteria.
Heylighen F. (2001): "Bootstrapping knowledge representations: from entailment meshes via semantic nets to learning webs", Kybernetes 30 (5/6)[in press](
The symbol-based, correspondence epistemology used in
AI is contrasted with the constructivist, coherence epistemology promoted
by cybernetics. The latter leads to bootstrapping knowledge representations,
in which different parts of the cognitive system mutually support each
other. Gordon Pask's entailment meshes and their implementation in the
ThoughtSticker program are reviewed as a basic application of this methodology.
Entailment meshes are then extended to entailment nets: directed graph
representations governed by the "bootstrapping axiom", determining which
concepts are to be distinguished or merged. This allows a constant restructuring
and elicitation of the conceptual network. Semantic networks and frame-like
representations with inheritance can be expressed in this very general
scheme by introducing a basic ontology of node and link types. Entailment
nets are then generalized to associative nets characterized by weighted
links. Learning algorithms are presented which can adapt the link strengths,
based on the frequency with which links are selected by hypertext browsers.
It is argued that these different bootstrapping methods could be applied
to make the World-Wide Web more intelligent, by allowing it to self-organize
and support inferences through spreading activation.
Heylighen F. (1998): "Editorial: the memetics community is coming of age", Journal of Memetics 2:2, p. 1-3.
Collective intelligence is defined as the ability of a
group to solve more problems than its individual members. It is argued
that the obstacles created by individual cognitive limits and the difficulty
of coordination can be overcome by using a collective mental map (CMM).
A CMM is defined as an external memory with shared read/write access, that
represents problem states, actions and preferences for actions. It can
be formalized as a weighted, directed graph. The creation of a network
of pheromone trails by ant colonies points us to some basic mechanisms
of CMM development: averaging of individual preferences, amplification
of weak links by positive feedback, and integration of specialised subnetworks
through division of labor. Similar mechanisms can be used to transform
the World-Wide Web into a CMM, by supplementing it with weighted links.
Two types of algorithms are explored: 1) the co-occurrence of links in
web pages or user selections can be used to compute a matrix of link strengths,
thus generalizing the technique of "collaborative filtering"; 2) learning
web rules extract information from a userÕs sequential path through
the web in order to change link strengths and create new links. The resulting
weighted web can be used to facilitate problem-solving by suggesting related
links to the user, or, more powerfully, by supporting a software agent
that discovers relevant documents through spreading activation.
a theoretical, philosophical discussion of the formality
concept expounded in a more empirical paper, with
emphasis on the intrinsic limitations of scientific modelling, such as
the Gödel theorem and the Uncertainty principle.
two subsequent papers arguing on first empirical then
theoretical grounds that the state of humanity as a whole is progressing.
Progress is defined as increase in subjective Quality-Of-Life (QOL) or
happiness. QOL is found to correlate with a range of socio-economic indicators
that turn out to represent the basic values or human rights: health, wealth,
security, knowledge, freedom and equality. Statistics are gathered to show
that each of these indicators has progressed over the last half century.
This provides a very strong indication that progress objectively occurs.
The second paper examines the evolutionary reasons for this progress: natural
selection leads to increasing fitness of people and ideas, and is further
boosted by knowledge and virtuous cycles. Negative side-effects and apparently
negative developments are discussed, including exhaustion, pollution, overshoot,
parasitism, and information overload. It is concluded that they can be
tackled without really endangering progress, but that there exists a "bad
news bias" in the media which creates a needlessly pessimistic mood.
A joint review of 5 books (by Pettersson, Maynard
Smith & Szathmary, Coren, Stewart and Turchin) discussing the
evolution of complexity levels.
a summary of PCP's philosophical assumptions, as discussed
in more detail on its website, and of their
implications for the practical development of the project.
a detailed exposition of the superorganism/global brain
view of society, and an examination of the underlying evolutionary mechanisms,
with applications to the on-going and future developments in a globalizing
a slighty shorter version of our unpublished paper on formality of language
An "adaptive representation" is defined as the information-proicessing
structure a system uses to anticipate environmental changes. To understand
this mechanism, we need an adaptive metarepresentation. This can be based
on thebconcept of "distinction", which leads to a Boolean algebra structure.
Dynamics is represented in this framework by morphisms between Boolean
algebras. "Classical" processes are represented by automorphisms, which
conserve all distinctions, "non-classical" processes by general morphisms,
which delete or create distinctions. [Abstract of the main results of "Representation
Heylighen F. (1988): "Building a Science of Complexity", in: Proc. 1988 Annual Conference of the Cybernetics Society, H.A. Fatmi (ed.), (Cybernetics Society, King's College, London), p. 1-22. (PDF)
It is argued that in order to solve complex problems we
need a new approach, which is neither reductionistic nor holistic, but
based on the entanglement of distinction and connection, of disorder and
order, thus defining a science of complexity. A model of complex evolution
proposed, based on distributed variation through recombination and mutation,
and selective retention of internally stable systems. Internal stability
is then analysed through a generalized mathematical closure property. Examples
of closure in self-organizing and cognitive systems are discussed.
Heylighen F. (1988): "Formulating the Problem of Problem-Formulation", in: Cybernetics and Systems '88, Trappl R. (ed.), (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht), p. 949-957. (PDF)
It is argued that in order to tackle a complex problem
domain the first thing to do is to construct a well-structured problem
formulation, i.e. a "representation". Representations are analysed as systems
of distinctions, hierarchically organized towards securing the survival
of an agent with respect to his situation. A preliminary variation-selection
model is proposed for the generation of new distinctions. A research project
for building a general model of representation construction is outlined,
combining theoretical, computational and empirical-psychological approaches.
Heylighen F. (1989): "Self-Organization, Emergence and the Architecture of Complexity", in: Proceedings of the 1st European Conference on System Science, (AFCET, Paris), p. 23-32. (
It is argued that the problems of emergence and the architecture
of complexity can be solved by analysing the self-organizing evolution
of complex systems. A generalized, distributed variation-selection model
is proposed, in which internal and external aspects of selection and variation
are contrasted. "Relational closure" is introduced as an internal selection
criterion. A possible application of the theory in the form of a pattern
directed computer system for supporting complex problem-solving is sketched.
Heylighen F. (1989): "A Support System for Structuring Complex Problem Domains", in: Proc. 12th Int. Congress on Cybernetics (Assoc. Intern. de Cybernétique, Namur), p. 1025-1032. (
Shorter version of the IJMMS paper
on hypermedia interfaces.
Heylighen F. (1990): "A New Transdisciplinary Paradigm for the Study of Complex Systems?", in: Self-Steering and Cognition in Complex Systems, Heylighen F., Rosseel E. & Demeyere F. (ed.), (Gordon and Breach, New York), p. 1-16. (
Two paradigms for studying the relation between autonomy
and cognition are reviewed and contrasted: the "artificial" paradigm, which
sees autonomous systems as linear, information-processing organizations,
and the "autopoietic" paradigm, which sees them as circular, self-producing
organizations. It is argued that these two paradigms are not inconsistent
but complementary, and that they can be synthesized in an encompassing
paradigm based on the self-organization of complex systems through variation-and-selective
retention, leading to the emergence of relatively autonomous subsystems.
Some implications of such an encompassing paradigm on the level of science,
technology, individual persons and society are outlined, with reference
to the papers in this collection. It is argued that the further development
of such a transdisciplinary approach will lead to a new "science of complexity".
Boden M., Geyer F., Maturana H., Pask G. & Heylighen F. (1990): "Old and New Cybernetics: a panel discussion", in: Self-Steering and Cognition in Complex Systems, Heylighen F., Rosseel E. & Demeyere F. (ed.), (Gordon and Breach, New York), p. 33-46. (
New cybernetics is characterized by its concern for autonomous
and cognitive systems, in contrast to classical cybernetics, which studies
mechanistic systems. The latter systems are basically causal, i.e. they
conserve distinctions, and can hence be easily controlled. The former systems,
however, intrinsically destroy and create distinction. Autonomy implies
the active maintenance of the system-environment boundary, by compensating
external perturbations. In order to do this efficiently, the autonomous
system must formulate and solve adaptation problems, by making the adequate
distinctions. It is proposed to study this dynamics of distinctions by
means of an "adaptive metarepresentation", characterized by a hierarchy
of adaptation levels, and a variation-selection type of process.
Heylighen F. (1990): "Relational Closure: a mathematical concept for distinction-making and complexity analysis", in: Cybernetics and Systems '90, R. Trappl (ed.), (World Science, Singapore), p. 335-342. (PDF)
Complexity is defined as the combination of distinction
and connection. Analysing a complex problem hence demands making the most
adequate distinctions, taking into account connections existing between
them. The concept of closure in mathematics and cybernetics is reviewed.
A generalized formal concept is introduced by reformulating closure in
a relational language based on connections. The resulting "relational closure"
allows to reduce low level, internal distinctions and to highlight high
level, external distinctions in a network of connections, thus diminishing
the complexity of the description.
Van Overwalle F.J. & Heylighen F. (1991): "Invariantiekenmerken bij antecedente condities en attributionele dimensies: waarnemen van oorzaken, verwachtingen en emoties"(Dutch for "Invariance Features associated with Antecedent Conditions and Attributional Dimensions: perception of causes, expectations and emotions"), in: Fundamentele Sociale Psychologie (deel 5), J. van der Pligt, W. van der Kloot, A. van Knippenberg & M. Poppe (eds.) (Tilburg University Press, Netherlands), p. 44-60. (
The principle of natural selection is taken as a starting
point for an analysis of evolutionary levels. Knowledge and values are
conceived as vicarious selectors of actions from a repertoire. The concept
of metasystem transition is derived from the law of requisite variety and
the principle of hierarchy. It is defined as the increase of variety at
the object level, accompanied by the emergence of a situation-dependent
control at a metalevel. It produces a new level of evolution, with a much
higher capacity for adaptation. The most important levels are discussed,
with an emphasis on the level characterizing man as distinct from the animals.
An analysis of the shortcomings of this "rational" system of cognition
leads to a first sketch of how the next higher "meta-rational" level would
Heylighen F. (1992): "Non-Rational Cognitive Processes as Changes of Distinctions", in: New Perspectives on Cybernetics. Self-Organization, Autonomy and Connectionism, G. Van de Vijver (ed.), (Synthese Library v. 220, Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht), p. 77-94. (
reprint of journal paper.
Heylighen F. (1992): "Principles of Systems and Cybernetics: an evolutionary perspective", in: Cybernetics and Systems '92, R. Trappl (ed.), (World Science, Singapore), p. 3-10. (
A set of fundamental principles for the cybernetics domain
is sketched, based on the spontaneous emergence of systems through variation
and selection. The (mostly self-evident) principles are: selective retention,
autocatalytic growth, asymmetric transitions, blind variation, recursive
systems construction, selective variety, requisite knowledge and incomplete
knowledge. Existing systems principles, such as self-organization, "the
whole is more than the sum of its parts", and order from noise can be reduced
to implications of these more primitive laws. Others, such as the law of
requisite variety, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and the law of maximum
entropy production are clarified, or restricted in their scope.
Heylighen F. (1992): "Distinction Dynamics: from mechanical to self-organizing evolution", in: Proc. of the Int. Workshop "Analysis and Control of Dynamical Systems", E. Gindev (ed.), (CLCS, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia). [in press] (
It is argued that the analysis and control of complex
systems demands a completely new, non-classical framework, based on a distinction
dynamics. Dynamical representations are analysed as distinction systems.
Classical representations are characterized by the fact that all distinctions
are conserved. The creation, conservation and destruction of distinctions
can be understood on the basis of a distinction dynamics. The fundamental
mechanism is the variation through recombination and selective retention
of closed combinations. The fact that the same process may be constrained
by several independent closures is emphasized. Complex dynamics is analysed
as an example of a theory with a limited dynamics of distinctions: distinctions
can be destroyed but not created. It is sketched how a more general theory
might be applied in solving complex problems in the form of a computer
program based on variation and selection
Joslyn C., Heylighen F. & Turchin V. (1993): "Synopsis of the Principia Cybernetica Project", in: Proc. 13th Int. Congress on Cybernetics (Association Internationale de Cybernétique, Namur), p. 509-513. (
Short exposition of the principles underlying a cybernetic-evolutionary
epistemology: function, units and development of knowledge. Overview of
the main criteria that select newly generated knowledge units: distinctiveness,
invariance, learnability, survival, reproduction, salience, formality,
ease of expression, contagiousness, consensus.
Heylighen F. & Joslyn C. (1995): "Systems Theory", in: The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, R. Audi (ed.) (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge). [in press] (
Given that knowledge consists of finite models of an infinitely
complex reality, how can we explain that it is still most of the time reliable?
Survival in a variable environment requires an internal model whose complexity
(variety) matches the complexity of the environment that is to be controlled.
The reduction of the infinite complexity of the sensed environment to a
finite map requires a strong mechanism of categorization. A measure of
cognitive complexity (C) is defined, which quantifies the average
amount of trial-and-error needed to find the adequate category. C
can be minimized by "probability ordering" of the possible categories,
where the most probable alternatives ("defaults") are explored first. The
reduction of complexity by such ordering requires a low statistical entropy
for the cognized environment. This entropy is automatically kept down by
the natural selection of "fit" configurations. The high probability, "default"
cognitive categorizations are then merely mappings of environmentally "fit"
Heylighen F. (1994): "World-Wide Web: a distributed hypermedia paradigm for global networking", in: Proceedings of SHARE Europe, Spring 1994, "The Changing Role of IT in Business" (SHARE Europe, Geneva), p. 355-368. (
If society is viewed as a super-organism, communication
networks play the role of its brain. This metaphor is developed into a
model for the design of a more intelligent global network. The World-Wide
Web, through its distributed hypermedia architecture, functions as an "associative
memory", which may "learn" by the strengthening of frequently used links.
Software agents, exploring the Web through spreading activation, function
as problem-solving "thoughts". Users are integrated into this "super-brain"
through direct man-machine interfaces and the reciprocal exchange of knowledge
between individual and Web.
Heylighen F. (1996): "Application of the World-Wide Web for the Development and Publication of a Systems Encyclopedia", in: Proc. 14th Int. Congress on Cybernetics (Association Internat. de Cybernétique, Namur) p. 256-260. (
Shorter version of Development and
Publication of Systems Knowledge on the Internet
Bollen J. & Heylighen F. (1996) "Algorithms for the self-organisation of distributed, multi-user networks. Possible application to the future World Wide Web", in: Cybernetics and Systems '96 R. Trappl (ed.), (Austrian Society for Cybernetics), p. 911-916. (
This paper describes our attempts to devise a number of
algorithms that can make distributed hypertext networks such as the World
Wide Web self-organise according to their users' knowledge. A number of
experiments were conducted in which experimental networks of English nouns
were being browsed via the Internet by several thousands of participants.
These experimental networks evolved into a stable state which represented
the participants shared knowledge structure and associations.
Heylighen F. (1996): "Evolution of Memes on the Network: from chain-letters to the global brain", in: Ars Electronica Festival 96. Memesis: the future of evolution, G. Stocker & C. Schöpf (eds.) (Springer, Vienna/New York), p. 48-57. (
Although the growth of complexity during evolution seems
obvious to most observers, it has recently been questioned whether such
increase objectively exists. The present paper tries to clarify the issue
by analysing the concept of complexity as a combination of variety and
dependency. It is argued that variation and selection automatically produce
differentiation (variety) and integration (dependency), for living as well
as non-living systems. Structural complexification is produced by spatial
differentiation and the selection of fit linkages between components. Functional
complexification follows from the need to increase the variety of actions
in order to cope with more diverse environmental perturbations, and the
need to integrate actions into higher-order complexes in order to minimize
the difficulty of decision-making. Both processes produce a hierarchy of
nested supersystems or metasystems, and tend to be self-reinforcing. Though
simplicity is a selective factor, it does not tend to arrest or reverse
overall complexification. Increase in the absolute components of fitness,
which is associated with complexification, defines a preferred direction
for evolution, although the process remains wholly unpredictable.
Heylighen F. (1997): "Evolution and Complexity: an introduction to the book", in: F. Heylighen (ed.) The Evolution of Complexity (Kluwer, Dordrecht). [in press] (
It is argued that the future of the senses should best
be studied through the metaphor of society as a superorganism. The precise
correspondence of functions between society and a multicellular organism
is outlined. The information processing functions (nervous system) of the
social superorganism are strongly enhanced by the on-going network revolution.
This leads to the view of the future world-wide web as a "global brain",
encompassing many individuals.
Bollen J. & Heylighen F. (1997): "Dynamic and adaptive structuring of the World Wide Web based on user navigation patterns", Proceedings of the Flexible Hypertext Workshop (Macquarie Computing Reports, Sydney), p. 13-17.
an extensive, non-technical review of the basic concepts
and principles developed in theories of self-organization, such as order
from noise, attractors, entropy, fitness landscapes, bifurcations, feedback,
Heylighen F. (2001): "Mining Associative Meanings from the Web: from word disambiguation to the global brain", in: Proceedings of the International Colloquium: Trends in Special Language & Language Technology, R. Temmerman & M. Lutjeharms (eds.) (Standaard Editions, Antwerpen), p. 15-44.
applications of associative networks, which learn associations through Hebbian-style rules either by measuring co-occurrence of words in text or patterns of usage, to problems of ambiguity and meaning in language.
shorter version of Global Progress I, with some additional material on why the measurement of subjective well-being or happiness is prone to "relativistic" distortions, and how these could be minimized
an dense introduction to and review of the basic ideas of cybernetics, including relational concepts, information and entropy, cyclical processes such as feedback, self-organization and autopoiesis, goal-directedness and control, the laws of requisite variety, requisite hierarchy and requisite knowledge, and a constructivist view of cognition and model-building.