Seminars 2010-2011

Program of the 7th ECCO Seminar Series (2010-2011)

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.



(presentations will be added as dates become fixed):




Oct. 29

 Francis Heylighen (ECCO, VUB) 

   Evolutionary Well-Being: the paleolithic hunter-gatherer as model for health and happiness (slides)

Nov. 5

10 A.M

Richard Holzer & Hermann de Meer 

(University  of Passau)

 Evaluation of self-organizing systems using quantitative measures (slides)

Nov. 12 

 Karin Verelst (CLEA, VUB)

 A Note on the Categorical Nature of Causation

Nov. 19

 academic holiday

 no seminar

Nov. 26

  Jon Echanove (AoEC, China)

 Uncertainty and Personal Development (slides)

Dec. 3

 Clément Vidal (ECCO, VUB)

  Black Holes as Attractors for Intelligent Civilisations

Dec. 8


 Frank Tipler

(Tulane University)

  The ultimate future - Of the Universe, of Computers, and of Humanity

Dec 10

 Nathalie Gontier (CLWF, VUB)

  Identifying the units, levels and mechanisms of evolution: an epistemological approach

Dec. 17

 Bertin Martens (European  Commission)

 Economic exchange as a cognitive transmission channel in human soc

Jan 14 (in CLEA, not MOSI!)

Chris Exton (University of Limerick)


  Perspectives on Altruistic Internet Based Phenomena


Jan 21 (in CLEA, not MOSI!)

 Marco Fenici (University of Siena)

 Children's Understanding of Others' Minds: Empirical Research and Challenges Ahead


ECCO Seminar series 2010/2011 second session, May 6th - July 1st



  Speaker(s)   Topic

May 5


 Øyvind Vada (Memetor)  Memetic Governance in theory and practice
May 13

 Gerard Jagers op Akkerhuis (University of Wageningen)

 Exploring mechanisms for Closures
May 20

 Corina Ciechanow

May 27

 Mario Vaneechoutte and Marc Verhaegen (University of Gent)

 Was Man more aquatic in the past? Fifty years after Alister Hardy.

June 3

 Walter Dejonghe (University College of West-Flanders (Howest))

 Experiences with stigmergic prototyping
June 10

 Francis Heylighen (ECCO, VUB)

 Challenges, Agents and Coordination: how an action ontology can help us tackle both practical and foundational problems

June 17

 David R. Weinbaum (Weaver) (ECCO, VUB)

 Complexity and the philosophy of becoming.
June 24 (in CLEA, not MOSI!)  Viktoras Veitas (Economic Research Centre, Vilnius)  Public policy design: formulating a mess.
July 1 (10:30-12:30 the usual place)  Mixel Kiemen (ECCO, VUB)

Technological singularity as the emerging embodiment of the global brain: how losing degrees of freedom allows us to gain degrees of freedom


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.

If you are interested to present a seminar in our series, please contact Weaver  with your proposal.


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

A Note on the Categorical Nature of Causality (III)


A Note on the Categorical Nature of Causality (III)

Karin Verelst
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussels



Discussions on causality abound, but rare are the attempts at precise definition of what is meant. The reason might be that the concept in itself is intrinsically pluriform, but even then theories enclosing some kind of causation should exhibit certain common structural characteristics, otherwise the use of the common term would be absolutely pointless. I show that a fairly straightforward categorical characterisation of causation is possible when one takes both the history of the concept and Meyerson’s careful analysis of the relation between causation and time into account. Historically it has been seen (by Aristotle) that a causal relation between events is never simply straightforward, but always implies — explicitly or not — a connection between a universal (global) and a particular (local) level. This is why the idea of causecan be linked to the idea of lawfulness. But there is a difference between a law and a cause because of the asymmetry between space and time: space is actual everywhere but time only at this moment. Laws definethe identical, but identity as well is only unproblematic at this moment. Meyerson shows that causality  therefore somehow implies the conservation of identity through time. The idea of conservation is essential here. Now when causal connections are interpreted as order relations (as is the case in, e.g., relativistic theories), then causation appears as the Galois adjoint to identity, and causality will be aequivalent to the idea of physical law. This allows to formally characterise causality in this type of theories, without having to “explain” it any further. Given the functoriality of the derivative and the interconnection between symmetry and conservation, this approach might be generalisable to other physically viable notions of causation through the use of Noether’s Theorem.



[1]  F. Borceux, Handbook of Categorical Algebra I, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994.

[2]  E. Meyerson, Identit´e et R´ealit´e, F´elix Alcan, Paris, 1932.

[3]  E. Noether, “Invariante Variationsprobleme”, Nachr. d. K¨onig. Gesellsch. d. Wiss. zu G¨ottingen, Math-phys. Klasse, pp. 235–257, 1918.

[4]  K. Verelst, “On what Ontology Is and not-Is”, Foundations of Science, 13, 3, 2008.


Black Holes as Attractors for Intelligent Civilisations


Black Holes as Attractors for Intelligent Civilisations

Clément Vidal (ECCO, VUB)



The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) can probe into the existence of more advanced intelligent life. What kind of higher-level intelligent signatures can we seek?  We contend with scientific, societal, technological, computational, complexity and philosophical arguments that black holes are attractors for intelligence. Observing black holes is thus a new potentially successful SETI search strategy. More generally, testing this or other similar conjectures can guide the future of humanity in the universe.

Challenges, Agents and Coordination: how an action ontology can help us tackle both practical and foundational problems

Challenges, Agents and Coordination:
how an action ontology can help us tackle both practical and foundational problems
Francis Heylighen
The classical scientific worldview is founded on a materialist ontology: it reduces reality to the movement of particles in space and time. This static, reductionist view cannot explain emergent phenomena such as life, mind, society, purpose, meaning, consciousness, or cognition. Therefore, I propose a radically new ontology based on actions as constituents (Heylighen, 2011a0.
An action is an elementary process, transforming a state A into a state B: A -> B. Examples are chemical or physical reactions, but also actions performed by organisms or individuals. While actions are formulated as transformation of states, states can be defined as collections of potential actions (Turchin, 1991). Therefore, the actions are truly fundamental.
Starting from this simple notion of action, I will sketch how higher order physical concepts may be derived, including time, space, and causality. I will go into more detail about "mental" and "social" concepts by deriving the notions of agent (a stable catalyst of actions), challenge (a condition that elicits an action from an agent), and coordination (the synergetic combination of actions). This gives us a basis to tackle all major metaphysical questions about the nature of reality, intentionality and consciousness, epistemological questions about the nature of knowledge, and ethical questions about values, conflict and cooperation.
Finally, these basic concepts suggest a number of methods and tools for tackling real-world problems. These methods include stigmergy, connectionist networks, and mobilization systems. The general idea is to promote the self-organization of coordinated action via the propagation of challenges.
Slides of the presentation

More info:

Heylighen F. (2011) Self-organization of complex, intelligent systems:  an action ontology for transdisciplinary integration, Integral Review (in press)
Heylighen F. (2011) Self-organization in Communicating Groups: the emergence of coordination, shared references and collective intelligence,  in: Language and Complexity (Barcelona University Press)
Heylighen F. (2009): Life is an Adventure! An agent-based reconciliation of narrative and scientific worldviews (ECCO working paper 2009-11)
Turchin, V. (1993). The Cybernetic Ontology of Action. Kybernetes 22, p. 10-30. 


Children’s Understanding of Others’ Minds: Results Achieved and Challenges Ahead‏

Children’s Understanding of Others’ Minds: Results Achieved and Challenges Ahead

Marco Fenici (University of Sienna Italy)


In the Eighties, by employing the false belief test experimental paradigm, researchers showed that children become able to explicitly predict one’s behaviour based on the attribution of beliefs and desires to her only around age four. This was considered evidence that, at age four, children acquire a theory about the functioning of others’ minds—i.e., a “theory of mind”. Since then, several proposals correlating theory of mind acquisition to cognitive development have been advanced. By focusing the empirical literature, I will propose that the ability to attribute mental states to others to predict their behaviour depends on the acquisition of several cognitive competences provided by both modular and non-modular psychological processes. In particular, language and syntax acquisition play a pivotal role. Children master the fundamental dynamics underlying the attribution of mental states to others by starting understanding parental conversation about people’s reasons to act.

Web References:

·         Wikipedia, at the entry “theory of mind”:

·         Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, at the entry “Folk Psychology as a Theory”:

·         An updated discussion about the relation between theory of mind acquisition and different indices of linguistic competence is the paper by Karen Milligan, Janet Wilde Astington, and Lisa Ain Dack (2007), Language and Theory of Mind: Meta-Analysis of the Relation Between Language Ability and False-belief Understanding:



Short biography:

Marco Fenici graduated in logics at the University of Florence in 2005 with a dissertation about epistemic logics and the problem of logical omniscience. Since 2006, he is a student at the Doctoral School of Cognitive Sciences at the University of Siena. His research concerns theoretical and empirical issues about children’s acquisition of the concept of belief. He is also interested in the epistemology of psychology. On this topic, he edited Psychology and Psychologies: which Epistemology?, special issue of Humana.Mente, (n. 11, October 2009). He has been visiting student at the Technische Universitaet (Dresden), at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies (Rome), at the New Bulgarian University (Sofia), and at the Department of Linguistics of the University of Massachusetts (Amherst).


Affiliation: Doctoral School of Cognitive Sciences, University of Siena

Home Page:





Complexity and the philosophy of becoming


Complexity and the philosophy of becoming

David R. Weinbaum (Weaver)
ECCO, Vrije Universiteit Brussels

This talk introduces Deleuze’s philosophy of becoming in system theoretic terms and proposes an alternative ontological foundation to the study of systems and complex systems in particular. A brief critique of system theory and difficulties apparent in it is proposed as an initial motivation to the discussion. Following is an overview aiming to provide an access to the ‘big picture’ of Deleuze’s revolutionary philosophical system with emphasize on a system theoretic approach and terminology. The major concepts of Deleuze’s ontology - difference, virtuality, multiplicity, assemblages, becoming (individuation), intensity and progressive determination are introduced and discussed in some length.

Deleuze’s work is a radical departure from the dogma of western philosophy that also guides the foundations of science and system theory. It replaces identity with difference and being with becoming, in other words, it provides system theory with an ontological ground based on change, heterogeneity and inexhaustible novelty-producing process that underlies all phenomena. The conceptual tools made available by this philosophy seem to capture the fundamental aspects of complexity and complex systems much better than the current conceptual system that is based on static transcendental ontological entities. In conclusion a few implications and future directions are discussed.   


Link to the presentation: Complexity and the Philosopy of Becoming

Link to working paper: Complexity and the philosophy of becoming - working paper





Corina Ciechanow

Crowdsourcing is literally ‘outsourcing tasks to a crowd’. Although this could be done before, it is the widespread availability of high speed internet connectivity that has enabled us to reach millions of people, making crowdsourcing a practical and economically attractive option.  Anybody with an Internet connection can access a web-based crowd or community, and post a request to it.  I will describe the characteristics of crowdsourcing, its economical aspects, and present for discussion the impact Internet connectivity has in our society. What can the evolutionary approach teach us about our future?


Slides of the presentation.


The Speaker

Corina Ciechanow has a MS in Computer Science.  Owner of Waterloo Hills, she is currently managing the project to renew the passenger information system in all train stations for the SNCB/NMBS.  She has co-founded the Machine Learning research group at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina while working for UNDP, World Bank and other organizations to help economic development through IT.   She writes about machine learning, data privacy and its impacts in our society at


Economic exchange as an evolutionary transmission channel in human societies


Economic exchange as an evolutionary transmission channel in human societies

Bertin Martens (European  Commission)




This paper argues that the well-established channels of evolutionary transmission, such as (epi)genetic, cultural, symbolic and environmental transmission, are insufficient to explain the structure of modern human societies. Economic exchange of knowledge embodied in goods and services constitutes an additional transmission channel that makes more efficient use of limited human cognitive capacity.  Economic exchange pushes human societies into cognitive specialisation among individuals.  It also gradually shifts scarce cognitive resources away from production and into learning.  Cognitive specialisation may constitute another “major transition” towards a higher level of aggregation in human societies, with properties that differ from symbolic transmission. 



Bertin Martens is Deputy Chief Economist in the directorate-General for Trade in the European Commission. He has done various assignments in the European Commission, working extensively on international economic policy issues. He also worked as a consultant for the UN and other organisations. He holds a PhD in economics from the Free University of Brussels and has been a visiting research fellow at several universities including Stanford and George Mason. His research has focused on institutions, cognition and economic development.

Evaluation of self-organizing systems using quantitative measures


Evaluation of self-organizing systems using quantitative measures

Richard Holzer and Hermann de Meer -University of Passau


For analyzing properties of self-organizing systems, mathematical models
of the systems are considered desirable. Such models can be used for suggesting
improvements to a real system under investigation or for gaining confidence
in the purposeful behavior of self-organizing systems.
Global properties of interest that can be related to purposefulness, like
emergence or target orientation, may also be identified on the micro-level,
such that quantitative measures do provide a link from micro-level
to macro-level modeling.  Due to the high computational complexity of practical
systems, however, it is usually prohibitive to derive the exact values of the
measures. Therefore, approximations have been developed, which are
presented and discussed in this talk. Limits and potentials of the
new concepts are illustrated by means of some example applications.


About the Speaker:


Evolutionary Well-Being: the paleolithic hunter-gatherer as model for health and happiness

Evolutionary Well-Being:
the paleolithic hunter-gatherer as model for health and happiness
Francis Heylighen

Hominids have lived for millions of years as hunter-gatherers, and only thousands of years as farmers and later industrial workers. This means that evolution has shaped our body and mind for a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The modern lifestyle, while being in many aspects safer and more comfortable, is essentially ill-adapted to our genome. This explains the prevalence of so many "diseases of civilisation" that seem virtually absent in hunter-gatherer populations. These include  obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, allergies, ADHD, depression, anxiety and dementia.
A reconstruction of the paleolithic lifestyle suggests a number of guidelines for avoiding these physical and mental problems, by making relatively small adjustments to our present lifestyle. These include a shift to a "paleo" diet, based on meat, vegetables and fruit, a more varied, adventurous style of physical exercise, more frequent exposure to nature, sunlight, heat, and cold, a more playful, relaxed attitude, and a more nurturing approach to child care, combining close bodily contact with free play and exploration. This talk will survey these guidelines and some of the scientific evidence behind them.
More info and references: see Heylighen's paleo website


Evolutionary epistemology as a scientific method

Evolutionary epistemology as a scientific method

Nathalie Gontier (CLWF, VUB)



Evolutionary epistemology can provide a unified scientific methodology that enables scholars to study the evolution of life as well as the evolution of cognition, science, culture and any other phenomenon displayed by living organisms. 3 heuristics are presented that allow for a thorough search for the units, levels and mechanisms of evolution. Contrary to previous approaches, units, levels and mechanisms are not identified by pointing out essential features, but rather ostensive definitions are preferred. That is, units are considers as such if a level of evolution and a mechanism of evolution is identifiable. Levels are levels if one can point out units that evolve at that level according to evolutionary theories, and mechanisms are considered as such if one can point out units and levels where the mechanism is active.

More info on the talk:



Experiences with stigmergic prototyping

Experiences with stigmergic prototyping 

Dejonghe W. ; Detand J. ; De Couvreur L.

Industrial Design Center, HOWEST - University College of West-Flanders,

Associated member of University Ghent.



Designing is an activity that aims to change reality. The most challenging design assignments are wicked: the problem cannot be defined until the solution is found. Stigmergic prototyping is a method for handling wicked aspects in the development of new products, tools and services since it takes into account that not only will happen what was intended by the designers of the prototype but also something different that will emerge (express itself, organise itself) in the chosen context, embodied by the spontaneous behaviour of the interacting agents. The prototype will even make the unpredictable observable, because in the process of mutually adapting states it lets happen also something different of what was expected. The prototype is the changing mediator in the interaction, it is designed using time as a design aspect: as a changing trace of interactions. To achieve this, four mutually exclusive attitudes are distinguished giving rise to the adaptive loop of product development instead of the more traditional waterfall method. Examples are given that this method always results in solutions and exploitations. Moreover, these results could not be expected from the start.


Industrial Design, Stigmergy, Prototyping, Cybernetics, Co-Construction




Slides of the talk


Short biography of the team members

Lieven De Couvreur: (°1980) has a Master degree in design engineering. After his graduation he worked several years as a professional designer in the front-end of innovation and has build up a practical experience on participatory design and systematic innovation. Today Lieven is active at the Industrial Design Center as a research assistant. On the one hand he organizes design practicums and on the other hand he started a PhD on ability-centered design in cooperation with the TuDelft Medesign group. His research focuses on the role of open-design assistive devices within community-based rehabilitation contexts.

Jan Detand: (°1963) has a PhD and Master degree in mechanical engineering. He lectures in the domain of technological product development and production systems at undergraduate and postgraduate level (IDC Howest). Moreover, Jan is coordinator of the IDC research group. His research focuses on changing configuration and behaviour of flexible production systems and the role of prototyping in product development.

Walter Dejonghe: (°1952) has Master degrees in chemical engineering and general product development. He has a broad experience in the development of high quality products with an essential user interface and has worked in the industry during 25 years on a management level with high- and low-tech companies in an intercultural environment. He now lectures in design methodology and ergonomics at the undergraduate and postgraduate level (IDC Howest) realizing a synergy between academic research and industry. He conducts novel research on a non-deterministic and dynamic approach for designing products realizing different potentials in different contexts, opening a new road for the development of more sustainable systems and providing a formalism to handle the context dependence of truth. contact:


Exploring mechanisms for closures

Exploring the mechanisms that allowed the physical formation of the abstract closures that define the operator theory

Gerard Jagers op Akkerhuis (ECCO seminar, 13 Mai 2011)

The talk will focus on the mechanisms behind closures. Yet, and even though this may sound strange, the closures in the operator theory do in principle not require a functional justification. The reason is that the operator theory focuses predominantly on the topological options that are available for any operator at a given level to construct any next higher level operator. A simple illustration of how topology limits the possibilities for constructing system types is the following. Starting with two separate circles (in a two dimensional world), there exist precisely two topological options. Either, two circles can connect via their outer border (this yields a topology of the form ∞) or, one circle can be placed inside the other (this yields a topology of the form ©). Whatever the kind of processes that allow the formation of a given topology, the outcome is predetermined, in its type, by topological possibilities. Evolution, when analysed at this abstract level, may thus be much more predetermined and predictable than we normally are used to think. Despite the relative independence of the operator theory from real life processes, it remains an exciting challenge to find solid argumentation for the selforganization processes that have allowed the formation of all the subsequent closure steps that define the operators in the operator hierarchy. In the talk the different levels of the operator hierarchy will be presented one by one, and everyone will be invited to discuss about the most likely mechanisms for the emergence of the different levels.


For preparation of the discussions, information about the operator theory (graphs, publications and power points) can be found at

Seminar talk slides are here



Memetic governance in theory and practice

Memetic governance in theory and practice

Developing a theory and a replicable method for governance of social systems.

Øyvind Vada


Øyvind Vada’s work is about how governance can be executed in a world where the public, private and third sectors are changing rapidly due to globalization and increased complexity. How we, as individuals, think, talk, decide and act together in all types of social systems, both locally and globally, is a function of a more and more interwoven world.  Classical reductionist and hierarchical approaches to governance tend to fail due to these changes.

To reduce the gap between governance theory and governance practice, Vada argues that there is a need for new approaches that embrace complexity. He has developed a memetic approach for doing so, taking into account that we as individuals belong to different formal and informal social systems. These systems can be regarded as combinations of hierarchies, networks and markets.

Individuals and groups of individuals in social systems are, in Vada’s approach, treated as agents.  As agents, we are free and goal-directed entities that maximize utility, benefit and/or fitness. We often have local and limited knowledge, and cannot always foresee effects of our individual actions on larger collective wholes.  

Governing organizations includes governing agents. Vada argues that it is possible to design for a desired emergent outcome, where agents interpret predefined memes that influence how they perceive and process themselves, their surroundings and the tasks at hand. Different sets of predefined memes are created as tools and cognitive templates that form and process subjective thoughts, communications and actions, both individually and collectively.

Vada proposes an alternative way of allocating resources and exercising control and coordination in social systems – a new form of governance. He suggests a method where memes are instrumentally infused into social systems through processes where free and bounded rational agents are regarded as participants and players that impact their surroundings based on their own subjective agency. He shows how agents become carriers of shared memes in different arenas for diffusion and adaption. The predefined memes are formed as iconic and discrete models that can be applied to individual day-to-day situations as well as complex collective challenges. In the arenas, memes are woven into active exercises and assignments. Individual agents recognize the value of other agents’ viewpoints, make sense of the social systems they are part of and collectively create solutions that reduce the gap between the system’s strategic intent and its operational success.

The main task of Vada’s work is to merge an improved version of memetics with the intentions of classical governance. He has created a replicable method, which is potentially applicable in all organizations. The method seeks to balance a designed and planned approach to steering and coordination with emergent factors that are always present when human agency takes place.

Vada’s work is about design for emergence in organizations and other social systems.


Slides of the talk can be found here.



Perspectives on Altruistic Internet Based Phenomena


Perspectives on Altruistic Internet Based Phenomena

Chris Exton (University of Limerick)



Altruism as a concept has a long history in philosophical and ethical thought. The term was originally coined in the 19th century by the founding sociologist and philosopher of science, Auguste Comte, and has become a major topic for psychologists and in particular evolutionary psychologists. In this talk I will explore a variety of seemingly altruistic internet based phenomena such as "open source development" and "crowdsourcing" and their related communities from an evolutionary psychology perspective. My intention is to gain a better understanding of how they work and consider what underlying evolutionary psychology theories might best explain the phenomena. Altruism in the internet domain is of particular interest as it cannot simply be explained by the commonly cited kin selection theories as interactions are nearly exclusively with non-kin and often anonymous others.


Public Policy Design: Formulating a mess


Public Policy Design: Formulating a mess

Viktoras Veitas (



Communities and their governments need to understand that rising economic activity, international competitiveness, prosperity, high standards of living require more than following the pre-defined rules and strategies. It requires active creation of the future considering collective vision of community members about what that future should be. It requires “formulation of a mess” with suitable and well-chosen tools.

This talk presents Public Policy Design - the methodology for envisioning the future for a large community and mapping the steps to achieving it from the perspective of the initiator of the design process. The methodology joins (1) Social System Design paradigm (B.H. Banathy) with (2) conceptual modelling tools (E.M. Goldratt) and (3) qualitative data research methodologies and practices. Based on this methodology, Economic Research Centre offers Public Policy Design related consulting services. This talk also summarizes Economic Research Centre's experience in the business environment policy design, including detailed outline of the process, software tools and other practical issues.

Design (=“formulation of a mess”) is as a general approach to solving complex and ill-defined problems. Actually, it is a way of thinking about the problems and clearly formulating them in the first place. The talk also touches some philosophical aspects of this approach and presents ideas about how it can be used for thinking about such problems as emergence and conscious thought.

Slides of the presentation are here


Veitas, V. & Economic Research Centre. System thinking based municipal policy design for the improvement of local business environment: Šiauliai city case study. Economic Research Centre, 2007 (main text, annexes).

The speaker: Viktoras Veitas ( has a MS in Artificial Intelligence and MS in Management and Business Administration. He is consultant and partner at Economic Research Centre.

Technological singularity as the emerging embodiment of the global brain

Technological singularity as the emerging embodiment of the global brain:

how losing degrees of freedom allows us to gain degrees of freedom

Mixel Kiemen (ECCO, VUB)



The concept of the global brain has been around for more than fifteen years and much has changed in that period. The global brain has been used as a methodical description of how the Internet is interconnecting people into a higher-order living system. In this presentation we relate the global brain to the technological singularity. The singularity is a projection of the acceleration of technology that seemingly will lead to an asymptotical point around 2045, at which point predictions about technology become unpredictable. Our hypothesis is that the singularity is a point of closure for a meta-system transition that will embody the global brain.

The technological acceleration has a feature of scale. While at first things could be constructed on a smaller scale, we see a tendency to build things that normally require centuries to evolve. This is part of a feature we call mobilization. Mobilization is related to the innovation with-and-about people, organization and technology. In this process of increased mobilization we are entwining ourselves with technology so that it becomes impossible to survive without it.

We shall argue that the closure of the global living system is not a reduction of our humanity but just an amplification of our humanity: it is bringing the best out of people. It will be illustrated by cases and this is why people happily embrace a reduction of independence, as to become part of the global body.

Another pattern is recognized. What cells are for a multicellular being seems the same as what cities are becoming for our global living system. This transformation makes us question whether our view of the evolution of life may not need an update. In particular we ask if the current building blocks may have evolved under a pressure of "more with less". Basically a bootstrapping logic is needed to understand evolution. By learning more from the current meta-system transformation – the global living system and its cities – an understand may emerge that could help us understand prior major transitions in life.



The ultimate future - Of the Universe, of Computers, and of Humanity


The ultimate future - Of the Universe, of Computers, and of Humanity

Frank J. Tipler (Tulane University)



I show that the laws of physics — specifically, (1) quantum mechanics, (2) general relativity, and (3) the Standard Model — require that life expand out from the very few planets on which it first evolves to engulf the entire universe.    These same 3 laws will require life to guide the evolution of the universe into a very special form of end state, a final singularity that is a single point in the Penrose c-boundary topology. I term this state “the Omega Point.” I show that necessarily the computer capacity available to life in the universe will increase without limit as the Omega Point is approached, so that humans, downloaded into these computers, will be able to have an infinite number of remembered experiences before the Omega Point is reached, thereby “living forever.” I show that all of above 3 laws are merely special cases of classical mechanics, indicating that we need not fear these laws will be superseded by unknown laws of physics: in spite of our increased knowledge over the past three centuries, we have never left the physics of Newton, which is already a Theory of Everything. If the laws of physics be for us, who can be against us?

Uncertainty and personal development

Uncertainty and personal development

Jon Echanove (AoEC China)


Uncertainty has most frequently been associated with either the lack of complete information (or therefore lack of predictability) or as a driver for anxiety when referring to the individual experience of it. Meanwhile the former states that rational uncertainty is a consequence of our cognitive system and cannot be fully eliminated, the later has mainly focused on the human need to decrease uncertainty as a mean to well-being. Acknowledging that both capture part of the truth; on the one hand uncertainty is unavoidable and on the other hand that less uncertainty may offer more psychological comfort implies that human beings are thrown into a permanent struggle of wanting to be certain but not being able to guarantee that needed certainty.

However, the ability to embrace the unknown is a basic requirement for discovery and novelty. Uncertainty, from this perspective, is not only unavoidable but a source for learning and self-fulfilment. In this sense the hypothesis of this seminar is that anxiety is not the result of uncertainty. On the contrary it is anxiety which results in a negative experience of uncertainty; or curiosity which results in a positive experience of uncertainty. This individual appraisal is defined by three interrelated factors: the perceived level of uncertainty, the individual perceived competence and the novelty of the challenges faced.

Organisations are turning their eyes to coaching as the main tool for personal development. The identification and transformation of the individual appraisal to uncertainty is one of the sources to bring balance to managers in their leadership role.

Keywords: uncertainty, anxiety, curiosity, change, challenge, coaching


About the speaker:

Spanish by birth, settled in Belgium and married to a Chinese national, Jon Echanove has developed most of his professional management career under the umbrella of the European Commission, supporting and developing cooperation with non-European countries in the fields of industrial and trade policies. Over the years he has developed an outstanding record in building multicultural teams and implementing international cooperation and negotiation.

Jon is currently a member of ECCO, the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition group at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), conducting research on leadership and human experience in complex, uncertain environments.

As Managing Director of the AoEC China, Jon specialises in the development of executive coaches and in relational coaching in multicultural environments, supported by an ICF/EMCC accredited Advanced Executive Coaching Diploma from the Academy of Executive Coaching (AoEC).


Was Man more aquatic in the past? - Fifty years after Alister Hardy

Was Man more aquatic in the past? - Fifty years after Alister Hardy

Marc Verhaegen & Mario Vaneechoutte



Fifty years ago, the marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy argued that human ancestors might have been living along coasts, feeding on waterside and littoral foods such as cray- and shellfish. He based his hypothesis on the observation that, unlike all other primates, humans lack a fur and have extensive layers of white fat tissue underneath the skin, features that in combination are typically and exclusively seen in (semi)aquatic mammals.

Since then, Hardy’s hypothesis has been supported by a long list of other independent features indicative for a more aquatic past, such as our large brains, streamlined bodies (head-spine-legs on one line), voluntary breath control, small mouth and weak biting muscles, projecting nose, poor olfaction, flat feet, and high needs of water, sodium, iodine and poly-unsaturated fatty acids (DHA), all abundant in – easily accessible – sea food. 

In our view, Mio- and Pliocene apes (e.g. very clearly for Helio-, Austriaco-, Oreopithecus) and australopithecines typically lived in mangrove or swamp forests and wetlands, feeding partly on aquatic foods, like lowland gorillas still do one or two hours per day, a life-style that we have named ‘aquarboreal’. After the Homo/Pan split about 5 million years ago, and possibly mostly during glacials, when sea levels were up to 120 m below today's, Homo populations adapted to more littoral lives, spreading along coasts as far as Java (Mojokerto, Flores), England (Pakefield, Boxgrove) and South Africa (the Cape), and only more recently from the coasts inland along rivers and lakes, including into the savannas.

In summary, although during the last 200 000 years our species is re-adapting to a largely terrestrial life, the very unique characteristics of our species, as well as the pre-adaptations that enabled increased intelligence and the development of speech can best be understood as evolved to adapt to a coastal life, including wading, swimming and diving. As a consequence, also several of present day’s human diseases and illnesses could be better understood when the scientific society finally accepted to study the overwhelming and consistent evidence that Man was more aquatic in the past.



For more information, please google ‘aquarboreal’ and ‘econiche Homo’.

Cunnane S. 2005. Survival of the fattest. World Scientific.

Hardy. A. 1960. Was Man more aquatic in the past? New Scientist 7: 624-6.

Morgan E. 1997. The aquatic ape hypothesis. Souvenir.

Roede M. et al. 1991. The aquatic ape: Fact or fiction? Souvenir.

Vaneechoutte M, Kuliukas A, Verhaegen M (Eds). 2011. Was Man more aquatic in the past? Fifty years after Sir Alister Hardy - Waterside hypotheses of human evolution. e-book Bentham Science Publishers. In press.

Verhaegen M. 1997. In den beginne was het water. Hadewijch.


The speakers


1. Marc Verhaegen - Mechelbaan 338, 2580 Putte, Belgium.

2. Mario Vaneechoutte - Laboratory Bacteriology Research at the Faculty Medicine & Health Sciences, University of Ghent, Belgium.