Seminars 2009-2010

 Program of the 6th ECCO Seminar Series (2009-2010)

Speakers present their on-going research on various topics within the broad Evolution, Complexity and Cognition (ECCO) domain, and then get feedback from the audience. The intention is to discuss in depth the ideas and issues proposed, and to look for transdisciplinary connections with other topics. Speakers are requested to avoid technicalities, so that people from different backgrounds can follow their presentation.

For whom?
Everybody interested in complex systems, evolution, cognition, and their practical and philosophical implications. The discussions are informal and very interactive, with small groups (about 8-10 people). Most participants are researchers, but we regularly welcome students and people from outside academia. Free entrance!

This series is listed in the PhD seminars approved by the VUB Doctoral School of the Human Sciences. On request, you can get a proof of your participation. 

Unless noted otherwise, seminars take place on Fridays at 2 pm. The seminars last about two hours with approximatively one hour of presentation, and one hour of discussion. New series start in the beginning of each academic year, with about 15 seminars per year.

Unless noted otherwise, the seminar room is B 0.036 (building B, level 0, close to the human sciences computer rooms), in the VUB Campus Etterbeek. Coffee is available for free. Seminar room provided in collaboration with MOSI.



Date Speaker(s) Topic
22 Sep. (Tuesday!)

Carlos Gershenson (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)

Self-organizing urban transportation systems
1 Oct.

Wilfried Elmenreich 

Christian Bettstetter

(University of Klagenfurt)

Dependability and Robustness (slides)

Synchronization and Dissemination in Self-Organizing Communication Networks (slides)

8 Oct. Jean-Paul Delahaye (Université des Sciences et Technologies de Lille) Complexité de Kolmogorov et profondeur logique de Bennett
15 Oct.

Francis Heylighen (VUB)

Life is an adventure! An evolutionary-cybernetic unification of narrative and scientific worldviews (slides)

22 Oct.

Clément Vidal (VUB)

Metaphilosophical criteria for worldview comparison (working paper)

29 Oct.

Jon Echanove (EASE)

Leadership and human experience (slides)

4 Nov. (Wednesday!)

David R. Weinbaum (Tel Aviv Univ.)

Thoughts on the future of human evolution (slides - text)

12 Nov.

Petter Braathen (Memetix, Oslo)

 How do social systems relate to and resolve a paradox? 

19 Nov. Hector Zenil (University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) Is algorithmic the nature of Nature?

26 Nov.

no seminar


2 Dec. (Wednesday!)

Solomon Marcus (Romanian Academy of Sciences)

Mistakes and Failures as a Source of Creativity

(date to be set)

 Mehmet Tezcan (IES, VUB)

 Autopoiesis in the EU: ‘Governance by committee’




Final announcements with an abstract and additional information are distributed by email about 4 days before the seminar. People outside of ECCO who wish to receive these can subscribe to the Brussels Complexity mailing list.


Instructions for people preparing to present a seminar

Please send the abstract of your talk (about 200 words - 1 paragraph) at least 5 days before the lecture to Weaver, so that he can distribute it via our mailing list. This should include your affiliation, a link to your home page, and possibly 1-3 (web) references, where interested people can find more information about the topic of your talk. If you are not a member of ECCO we would also appreciate a short biography including your present affiliation and what you are working on.

The seminar room has an in-built computer projector and screen, so you can easily show PowerPoint or other presentations from your laptop. If you don't bring a laptop with you, send us your file, and we'll save it on another laptop and bring it to the seminar room. You can also use transparencies with the overhead projector, or simply write notes on the blackboard.

You should prepare enough material for a one-hour talk, not more. With questions and discussions during and after the talk, this should result in a total seminar duration of about 2 hours.

After the seminar we would appreciate getting the outline or text of your presentation (PowerPoint, pdf, text or other format) to make available for downloading on this page. Even better would be if, taking into account the reactions you got at the seminar, you would elaborate your notes into a full paper, for our Working Papers archive. 


Previous seminar series




Seminar Carlos Gershenson: Self-organizing urban transportation systems

Self-organizing urban transportation systems

Carlos Gershenson
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México & Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009.

Urban transportation is a complex phenomenon. Since many agents are interacting in parallel, it is difficult to predict the future state of a transportation system. Because of this, optimization techniques tend to give obsolete solutions, as the problem changes before it can be optimized. An alternative lies in seeking adaptive solutions. This adaptation can be achieved with self-organization. In a self-organizing transportation system, the elements of the system follow local rules to achieve a global solution. Like this, when the problem changes the system can adapt by itself to the new configuration.
In this talk, I will review recent, current, and future work on self-organizing transportation systems. Self-organizing traffic lights have proven to improve traffic flow considerably over traditional methods. In public transportation systems, simple rules are being explored to prevent the "equal headway instability" phenomenon. The methods we have used can be also applied to other urban transportation systems and their generality will be discussed.



Seminar Christian Betstetter: Synchronization

Synchronization and Dissemination in Self-Organizing Communication Networks




Christian Bettstetter
University of Klagenfurt and Lakeside Labs GmbH


ECCO Seminars: Thu Oct. 1, 2009, 2 pm,

Duration: 35-40 minutes



Communication networks interconnect an increasing number and diversity of entities, such as mobile devices, wearable computers, sensors, and embedded systems. This trend poses new challenges to the design and operation of networking algorithms and protocols. In particular, the increased system dynamics demands for adaptability, distributed operation, and autoconfiguration. One approach to these challenges is to increase the level of self-organization in networks, i.e. to design network functions in a way that centralized control is avoided and the desired behavior of the overall system emerges from local interactions between the individual entities. In this talk, we present two issues in self-organizing communication networks: synchronization and information dissemination.

The first part of the talk is about synchronization in wireless networks, more precisely on the synchronization of periodically repeating “time slots”. Such slot synchronization is an essential building block for medium access, scheduling of sleep phases, and collaborative sensing, to give some examples. Having been inspired by the biological phenomenon of synchronous flashing of fireflies, we have developed a method for self-organizing slot synchronization in wireless systems. It is based on the theory of pulse-coupled oscillators, but goes beyond this theory — from an engineering perspective — by taking into account inherent characteristics and capabilities of radio communications. The talk presents the basic ideas and shows some performance results.

The second part of the talk is about information dissemination in networks. A fundamental technique for information dissemination is flooding, used e.g. in wireless ad hoc networks and peer-to-peer networks. In its most simple form, flooding leads to many redundant and unnecessary transmissions. An optimization goal is to minimize the number of transmissions while still achieving “global outreach” of the sent message. Modeling a network as a random graph with given link probability between nodes, we ask: What is the minimum message forwarding probability of the nodes such that a flooding message reaches each network node with high probability? We show how to derive this probability using techniques from stochastics and graph theory.


Speaker bio:

Christian Bettstetter is professor and head of the Networked and Embedded Systems institute at the University of Klagenfurt. His main interests are in mobile wireless networking, network theory, and self-organization. He is also scientific director and founder of Lakeside Labs GmbH, a research and technology platform on self-organizing networked systems.

He studied electrical engineering and information technology at the Technische Universität München (TUM), receiving the Dipl.-Ing. degree in 1998. After a research stay at the University of Notre Dame, Christian joined the institute of communication networks at TUM, where he was a staff member until 2003. His doctoral thesis on ad hoc networks was awarded the Dr.-Ing (summa cum laude) degree in 2004. Before becoming a professor, Christian was a senior researcher at DoCoMo Euro-Labs for two years, doing research on medium access and ad hoc networks. Publications received the 2008 best paper award at the IEEE Vehicular Technology Conference and the 2004 outstanding paper award from the German ITG. He also co-authored the Wiley textbook 'GSM - Architecture, protocols and services.'


Five most relevant publications:

Alexander Tyrrell, Gunther Auer, and Christian Bettstetter. Emergent Slot Synchronization in Wireless Networks. Accepted for publication in IEEE Transactions on Mobile Computing.

Sérgio Crisóstomo, Udo Schilcher, Christian Bettstetter, and João Barros. Analysis of Probabilistic Flooding: How do we Choose the Right Coin? In Proc. IEEE Intern. Conf. on Communications (ICC), Dresden, Germany, June 14-18, 2009.

Alexander Tyrrell, Gunther Auer, and Christian Bettstetter. Biologically Inspired Synchronization for Wireless Networks. In Advances in Biologically Inspired Information Systems: Models, Methods, and Tools, Eds. Falko Dressler and Iacopo Carreras, in Series: Studies in Computational Intelligence, Springer, vol. 69, pp. 47-62, 2007.

Christian Prehofer and Christian Bettstetter. Self-Organization in Communication Networks: Principles and Design Paradigms. IEEE Communications Magazine, Feature Topic on Advances in Self-Organizing Networks, vol. 43, no. 7, pp. 78-85, July 2005.

Christian Bettstetter. On the Connectivity of Ad Hoc Networks. The Computer Journal, Special Issue on Mobile and Pervasive Computing, vol. 47, no. 4, pp. 432-447, Oxford University Press, July 2004.



Seminar Weinbaum: future evolution


Thoughts on the future of human evolution

ECCO Seminars, Nov. 5, 2009,

David R. Weinbaum (Weaver)


The Noetic perspective (from Greek:  noetikos- mental; nous- mind) identifies the [human] mind as the nexus of the future evolution of humanity. At present, human evolution is a mental process rather than biological or technological process.


The Noetic model describes mind as a relation generating complex system arising as a product of biological evolution and manifesting certain defining characteristics such as systemic closure, self reference, plasticity, etc. This model aims to integrate a systemic view with the mental constructs of the subjective plane. According to the Noetic model, human identity is a dynamic constructive process that brings forth the human observer as the subject of its perceptive and mental states. This process is identified as mind. Images and narratives are the elements encompassing the experiential and mental aspects of the identity process as they appear to the human observer.


The idea of mind as the theater of evolutionary processes is further explored: Mind as a complex system can essentially be disassociated from the historical conditions of its emergence; therefore it is virtually unbound in its evolutionary potential. This has deep implications on the understanding of human nature and the human condition.  Finally, the ideas of openness and freedom beyond utility are proposed as futuristic directives of consciously guided evolution of mind.

Seminar Francis Heylighen: Life is an adventure

 Life is an Adventure!

An evolutionary-cybernetic unification of narrative and scientific worldviews


ECCO Seminar, Sept. 2009

Francis Heylighen


The worldview of science is based on laws. Laws are supposed to be certain, independent of time, context or agent. The worldview found in literature, myth and religion, on the other hand, is based on stories. These relate a temporal sequence of actions taking place in a particular context with an uncertain outcome. While laws have the advantage of apparent universality and objectivity, stories are more intuitive and easier to assimilate and remember.

This talk argues that recent insights in the theories of evolution, cybernetics and complex adaptive systems [Heylighen, 2008] can help us to bridge scientific and narrative perspectives. These approaches are founded on the concept of agent, an autonomous system that acts on its environment in order to achieve its goals. Given the inevitable uncertainties (dangers, opportunities, surprises...) that a complex environment proposes, an agent's course of action can be conceived as an adventure. The agent can be seen to play the role of the hero in a tale of challenge and exploration that is very similar to the "monomyth", the basic storyline that underlies all myths, legends and fairy tales according to [Campbell, 1949].



Campbell, J. (1949): The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton University Press.  

Heylighen F. (2008): Complexity and Self-organization, in: Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, eds. M. J. Bates & M. N. Maack (Taylor & Francis)


Speaker bio


Seminar Braathen: Paradox in Social Systems

 How do social systems relate to and resolve a paradox?

Petter Braathen (Memetix, Oslo)


Many of the problems facing organizations contain paradoxes or the experience of a paradox. Managers, for example, are asked to increase efficiency and foster creativity, build individualistic teams, and think globally while acting locally. "It's a paradox," however, is rapidly becoming the management cliche of our time--overused and underspecified.

The experience of a paradox can lead to confusion and apathy, and limits the individual and/or the organization from acting upon the situation. Concurrently, a paradox is the source of tremendous power for substantial change and learning.

Most often, researchers in organization theory use paradox to describe conflicting demands, opposing perspectives, or seemingly illogical findings. Yet, labeling paradox does not necessarily foster understanding, and few explore them at greater depths.

My objective is to bring insight from complex systems theory, evolutionary theory and theory on semiotics/pragmatism to understand how paradoxes emerge and can be resolved in social systems. Further, I will present a framework and a tool to be applied for practical organization.  

Seminar Jon Echanove


Leadership and Human Experience


ECCO Seminar: 29 Oct. 2009

Jon Echanove (EASE)




In the last 20 years a new society structure is emerging; global, interconnected and informational. Its immediate future shape is beyond our knowledge today.

How are organizations and leaders experiencing this new society? The new economic environment is characterised for high levels of uncertainty and unpredictability, emptying the efficacy of the classical management tools and challenging the traditional understanding of organizations and leadership principles.

Evolutionary economists have pointed out the need to generate internal diversity in order to increase the chances for survival. With that in mind management science has turn its eyes towards human beings as the ultimate driver for success of organizations. However, structures and managers are still far away from enabling the necessary freedom to explore in order to stimulate the internal diversity and creativity. What is making it so hard?

In order to enable the discovery, it is probably time to abandon the search for the fundamental and absolute laws of management that detach themselves from the actual human beings experience. New leadership principles are needed based in an open-experience of approaching the world that enables a permanent focus on the unexpected, the unsaid, the unplanned and the so called anomalies amongst people and processes.

Seminar Marcus: Mistakes and creativity

 Mistakes and Failures as a Source of Creativity:



Solomon Marcus

 Romanian Academy


 Mistakes and failures are generally seen as something bad, negative. The whole system of assessment, from the elementary school until the level of scientific research, is based on this mentality. There is however a positive face of mistakes and of failures, because they are the unavoidable price we have to pay in order to give a chance to personal and critical thinking, to invention and to discovery. In contrast to chess and to tennis, the game of  science and of art, of good learning and of good teaching, is not based on pre-existent rules; it is a game based mainly on the freedom to explore in all possible directions (see the Latin etymology of 'error'), with the right to be wrong and to fail repeatedly: the number of trials can be much larger than the number of successes and even when we don't reach a success, we learn a lot from our mistakes and failures. The right proof of the Four Color Conjecture used some parts of previous unsuccessful attempts of proof.

   In this order of ideas, we show that:   

a) Many mistakes and failures by famous authors were the origin of new scientific fields or of important new results;   

b) Many, if not most pioneering scientific articles included mistakes (sometimes malign, other times only benign) having an important stimulating function.  

Correctness, understood as conformity to some pre-established, explicit rules, is a binary predicate, but it should be correlated to meaning, which is not a binary predicate, but a matter of typology and of degree. In this respect, the relation correctness-meaning can be interpreted as a relation between syntax and semantics. If sometimes they help each other, other times they are in conflict. When meaning is excluded or marginalized, correctness is fruitless.


Seminar Tezcan: Autopoiesis in the EU

Autopoiesis in the EU: ‘Governance by committee’ 

 Mehmet Y. Tezcan,

Institute for European Studies, VUB



Autopoiesis is by now a well-established scientific principle. It refers to the ability of a living organism to produce and maintain itself. The founding fathers of the concept, Maturana and Varela identify autopoiesis as the distinctive feature of living beings and consider ‘the emergence of autopoietic unities on the face of the Earth’ as ‘a landmark in the history of our solar system’. A number of complexity scientists, e.g., Kauffman with his discussion of autocatalytic sets, discuss the issues of self-organization and emergence with clear reference to autopoiesis. Nevertheless, the concept of autopoiesis was seldom (and not necessarily correctly) applied in the study of society (see, e.g., the works of Niklas Luhmann and Bob Jessop). In any case, we still don’t know much if and how autopoiesis happens in the higher emergent systems than biological systems with irreducible properties, e.g., social and political economic systems. This presentation will be an attempt in this direction.   

There is now a consensus in the EU Studies literature and among the European public that the EU suffers from a ‘democratic deficit’. The latter in general refers to the present situation in which there is a perceived and frustrating lack of accessibility and accountability of the EU institutions to its citizens and substantial limits to the full representation of the citizens in the EU decision-making. This presentation is about the origin, nature and dynamics of the EU’s democratic deficit. It argues that the mechanism of social autopoiesis at work in the EU is responsible for this sorry state of things.