Planning and Complexity


11th meeting: Self-organization and spatial planning: in-depth analysis



Professor Francis Heylighen

Faculty of Arts, Languages and Literature, Free University of Brussels

Professor Francis Heylighen is a key scholar in the field of complexity science, specialized in self-organization, cybernetics and memetics. His publications are used by many scholars since Heylighen explains and relates concepts of complexity science across various disciplines.

Francis Heylighen 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. He is presently a tenured research professor at the Free University of Brussels, where he is co-director of the Center "Leo Apostel" for transdisciplinary research. During his first years as academic his research concentrated 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. The theoretical framework being developed by Heylighen intends to integrate knowledge from different disciplines into an encompassing "world view".

In his work Heylighen amongst others focuses on ‘learning’. For example 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, Heylighen founded the ‘Global Brain Group’ in 1996, 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.

He is author or coauthor of more than 100 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.