Francis Heylighen

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Francis Heylighen, 2009.

Francis Paul Heylighen (born 1960) is a Belgian cyberneticist, best known for his contributions to the evolutionary-cybernetic worldview developed in the Principia Cybernetica Project, the modelling of the Internet as a Global brain, and the theories of memetics and self-organization.


  • (Systems science) does not aim to find the one true representation for a given type of systems (e.g. physical, chemical or biological systems), but to formulate general principles about how different representations of different systems can be constructed so as to be effective in problem-solving.
    • Heylighen, 1990, "Classical and non-classical representations in physics I." Cybernetics and Systems 21. p. 423; As cited by: Hieronymi, A. (2013), Understanding Systems Science: A Visual and Integrative Approach. Syst. Res.. doi: 10.1002/sres.2215
  • Holland's and Kauffman's work, together with Dawkins' simulations of evolution and Varela's models of autopoietic systems, provide essential inspiration for the new discipline of artificial life, This approach, initiated by Chris Langton (1989, 1992), tries to develop technological systems (computer programs and autonomous robots) that exhibit lifelike properties, such as reproduction, sexuality, swarming, and co-evolution.

Collective Intelligence and its Implementation on the Web (1999)[edit]

Heylighen (1999) "Collective Intelligence and its Implementation on the Web: algorithms to develop a collective mental map", In: Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory 5(3), p. 253-280.
  • With the growing interest in complex adaptive systems, artificial life, swarms and simulated societies, the concept of “collective intelligence” is coming more and more to the fore. The basic idea is that a group of individuals (e.g. people, insects, robots, or software agents) can be smart in a way that none of its members is. Complex, apparently intelligent behavior may emerge from the synergy created by simple interactions between individuals that follow simple rules.
    • p.253
  • The three basic mechanisms of averaging, feedback and division of labor give us a first idea of a how a CMM [Collective Mental Map] can be developed in the most efficient way, that is, how a given number of individuals can achieve a maximum of collective problem-solving competence. A collective mental map is developed basically by superposing a number of individual mental maps. There must be sufficient diversity among these individual maps to cover an as large as possible domain, yet sufficient redundancy so that the overlap between maps is large enough to make the resulting graph fully connected, and so that each preference in the map is the superposition of a number of individual preferences that is large enough to cancel out individual fluctuations. The best way to quickly expand and improve the map and fill in gaps is to use a positive feedback that encourages individuals to use high preference paths discovered by others, yet is not so strong that it discourages the exploration of new paths.
    • p.265

Cybernetics and Second-Order Cybernetics (2001)[edit]

Heylighen & Cliff Joslyn (2001). "Cybernetics and Second-Order Cybernetics". Encyclopedia of Physical Science & Technology, 3rd ed. R. A. Meyers. New York, Academic Press
  • Cybernetics as a specific field grew out of a series of interdisciplinary meetings held from 1944 to 1953 that brought together a number of noted post-war intellectuals, including Wiener, John von Neumann, Warren McCulloch, Claude Shannon, Heinz von Foerster, W. Ross Ashby, Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead. Hosted by the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, these became known as the Macy Conferences on Cybernetics. From its original focus on machines and animals, cybernetics quickly broadened to encompass minds (e.g. in the work of Bateson and Ashby) and social systems (e.g. Stafford Beer's management cybernetics), thus recovering Plato's original focus on the control relations in society.
    Through the 1950s, cybernetic thinkers came to cohere with the school of General Systems Theory (GST), founded at about the same time by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, as an attempt to build a unified science by uncovering the common principles that govern open, evolving systems. GST studies systems at all levels of generality, whereas Cybernetics focuses more specifically on goal-directed, functional systems which have some form of control relation.
  • Many of the core ideas of cybernetics have been assimilated by other disciplines, where they continue to influence scientific developments. Other important cybernetic principles seem to have been forgotten, though, only to be periodically rediscovered or reinvented in different domains. Some examples are the rebirth of neural networks, first invented by cyberneticists in the 1940's, in the late 1960's and again in the late 1980's; the rediscovery of the importance of autonomous interaction by robotics and AI in the 1990's; and the significance of positive feedback effects in complex systems, rediscovered by economists in the 1990's. Perhaps the most significant recent development is the growth of the complex adaptive systems movement, which, in the work of authors such as John Holland, Stuart Kauffman and Brian Arthur and the subfield of artificial life, has used the power of modern computers to simulate and thus experiment with and develop many of the ideas of cybernetics. It thus seems to have taken over the cybernetics banner in its mathematical modelling of complex systems across disciplinary boundaries, however, while largely ignoring the issues of goal-directedness and control.
    • p.5 : About the state of the art of contemporary cybenetics

The science of self-organization and adaptivity (2001)[edit]

Heylighen (2001) "The science of self-organization and adaptivity" in: The Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems 5 (3), p. 253-280
  • Science, and physics in particular, has developed out of the Newtonian paradigm of mechanics. In this world view, every phenomenon we observe can be reduced to a collection of atoms or particles, whose movement is governed by the deterministic laws of nature. Everything that exists now has already existed in some different arrangement in the past, and will continue to exist so in the future. In such a philosophy, there seems to be no place for novelty or creativity
    • p.253
  • [S]elf-organization [is] the appearance of structure or pattern without an external agent imposing it.
    • Cited in: Christoph Schmitz (2007) Self-Organized Collaborative Knowledge Management. p.9

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