The ECCO Research Group


ECCO, the Evolution, Complexity and COgnition group, is a multidisciplinary research group, directed by Francis Heylighen. It is part of the Center Leo Apostel at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), although our members are distributed across four continents. While founded under the present name in 2004, our informal history goes back many years earlier. In 2012, the Global Brain Institute has been founded as part of our larger group. We have recently started an education program, the School of Thinking Postgraduate, which teaches students to think across borders.

Our researchers come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from physical science and technology to the social sciences and humanities. 

Our philosophy is intrinsically transdisciplinary, transcending the traditional boundaries between "hard" and "soft" sciences, and between philosophical foundations and practical applications. 

Our research focuses on the emergence and evolution of organization:

  • how does a collection of autonomous, but interacting, agents self-organize?
  • how does it evolve to an increasingly coordinated, adaptive and intelligent system?
  • what does such spontaneous evolution imply for our scientific worldview?

Examples of such processes include the emergence of:

  • life from molecules
  • organisms from cells
  • ecosystems from interacting organisms or businesses
  • the mind from neurons
  • knowledge from concepts
  • language, culture, and institutions from individuals.
  • a "global brain" from the people and technological agents connected through the Internet

Understanding these processes allows us to design for self-organization: develop systems that spontaneously evolve towards synergy, adaptation and intelligence. Applications include:

  • algorithms for self-organizing intelligent systems,  
  • websites that mobilize collective intelligence and the self-organization of communities
  • tools, methods, and policies for: 
    • coping with complexity and information overload
    • problem-solving and conflict resolution
    • social and technological innovation
    • design of sustainable and resilient systems
    • enhancing individual well-being

We tackle these issues through a variety of research projects. ECCO members have published many papers and books on these subjects, and are regularly producing new working papers and computer simulations. We further provide a bibliography of recommended reading on the subject, and a list of related organizations

ECCO sometimes organizes international conferences on these issues, as well as weekly seminars at the VUB. We also provide teaching and consultancy about complexity and how to cope with it. 

If you are interested to collaborate with us, or apply to get a PhD or PostDoc here, check the FAQ on joining ECCO. Our FAQ on working in ECCO moreover provides useful tips on how to do academic research in general. Much of the information on this website is summarized in a PDF document for easy printing.

 ["zoacode" pictures courtesy of Ebon Fisher]

"ECCO ... mobilizing self-organization... "