The following is an overview of the main topics currently being investigated in ECCO, including the names of the most directly involved researchers and some representative references. Elswehere you can find a summary of previous research. For more details, check our publications or Working Papers.
This project in a sense provides the theoretical framework for all other, more specific ECCO projects. It tries to understand how initially independent or competing agents can form a cooperative system, through the evolution of "mediators". These are concrete or abstract systems that regulate the interactions between the agents, so as to minimize conflict or "friction", and to maximize synergy. The mediator scenario integrates several more specific models of self-organization and the evolution of cooperation. It helps us to understand evolutionary progress towards higher organization, complexity and adaptability. It further suggests concrete applications, e.g. in economic development or the regulation of self-organizing systems.
Researchers:, , , , Loengarov,
Here we investigate the new philosophy, including ontology, epistemology and ethics, implied by the science of complex, evolving systems. The resulting integrated world-view should allow us to address the age-old questions: What is? Who are we? Where do we come from? Where do we go to? What can we know? What is the meaning of life?...
Here we look at cosmology and the origin and development of the universe from an "evo-devo" perspective, which combines the unpredictable dynamics of variation and natural selection of cosmic laws and constants, with the more predictable "developmental" dynamics of an organism growing towards more mature organization.
The increase of complexity in our universe might already have appeared outside Earth, and possibly beyond our level of development. Yet, all high energy astrophysics models implicitly suppose that phenomena we observe are "natural" or simple, rather than "artificial" or complex. Here, we investigate if advanced intelligent life exists in the universe, and develop criteria to distinguish between natural and artificial systems. Vidal (2011) has argued that some close binary star systems in accretion might be extraterrestrial civilizations. This hypothesis needs to be further assessed.
This research applies general principes of self-organization and distributed cognition to design an "ambient intelligence" environment, in which several simple artefacts and/or sensors (e.g. traffic lights) communicate and coordinate to provide an integrated service.
This research is based on the discovery of similarity in self-organization and distributed cognitive systems to regulate novelty. Novelty is the common entity between discovery, creativity and innovation. The research aims at building a theory for novelty and make it applicable for regulating breakthrough innovation via the Internet
This a four-year project funded by the FWO, in collaboration with the Social Cognition Lab (Psychology Department, VUB). It tries to determine how individually learned concepts or categories can become consensual through communication between the individuals, and in what ways the consensual concept is different or "better" than the individual ones. The issue is investigated in parallel through computer simulation and experiments with groups.
Researchers:, , , Biebaut
This collaboration builds on the previous one to examine more generally how cognitive processes can be distributed over different individuals connected by communication media. It assumes that these connections are variable, adapting to the task by reinforcing successful ones and weakening the others. Computer simulations of such processes help us to understand how knowledge and information propagate and self-organize within groups and organizations.
This projects, now performed by the ECCO subgroup "The Global Brain Institute", extends the connectionist perspective to better understand the future evolution of world society. The emerging knowledge-, network- or information society is conceptualized in analogy with the human brain, which is an immensely complex, self-organizing network of neurons and synapses, where information is processed in a distributed way, and where knowledge is developed through connectionist learning mechanisms.
Researchers: Kiemen, Rodriguez, Weaver, Veitas, Busseniers,
Collective intelligence is the ability for a group to produce better decisions than the best of its members. This requires various methods for integrating the ideas and experiences of the members into a collective preference. These methods are most easily implemented on the web, leading to tools such as recommendation systems based on collaborative filtering, electronic democracies, prediction markets, wikis, and social networking systems. We are studying these various approaches to find out their benefits and shortcomings, and use these insights to propose more powerful, integrated systems.
Heylighen F. (1999): "Collective Intelligence and its Implementation on the Web: algorithms to develop a collective mental map", Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory 5(3), 253-280.
Watkins, J.H. and M. A. Rodriguez, “A Survey of Web-based Collective Decision Making Systems”, Lecture Notes in Computer Science: Evolution of Web in AI Environment, Eds. R. Nayak and L.C. Jain, Berlin: Springer-Verlag, LA-UR-07-2028, 2008. 245--279.
The concept of stigmergy explains how collaboration and cognition can self-organize with the support of a medium in which provisional results are recorded, so as to stimulate further improvements. We apply this perspective to the collaborative organization of knowledge, in the form of a shared semantic network of concepts and their relations. A computational medium for such knowledge organizartion would support all the functions of a true university: research, to develop new concepts; education, to help students assimilate existing concepts; and assessment, to test in how far an individual has effectively assimilated concepts. The medium is intended to guide users towards a better grasp of concepts, either by pointing them to the most relevant existing material, or by eliciting new insights from them.
From a cybernetic perspective, cognition is not limited to what happens inside the brain: it involves interaction with the environment via perception and action, and the use of tools to support thinking and memory. By redrawing the boundaries between mind and world, we hope to better understand fundamental cognitive processes (including consciousness). This will also help us to design external supports to augment individual and collective intelligence.
Here we try to understand and model the fundamental processes underlying intelligence (perception, inference, problem-solving, thinking, creativity, ...) as the spreading of activation through a network of concepts and associations. Major hypotheses are that such propagation is more efficient in more intelligent brains, that the essential function of cognition is anticipation, and that activation cycles "up" and "down" between percepts and concepts in a bootstrapping fashion. The framework is inspired by recurrent connectionist models and by the "memory-prediction" framework proposed by the brain theorist Jeff Hawkins in his book "On Intelligence".
This projects further develops and operationalizes the theory of memetics, which studies the propagation of memes, "idea viruses" or units of imitation as a process of variation and natural selection, and its implications for the evolution of culture. Practical applications include "memetic engineering", i.e. the design of effective vehicles to propagate positive ideas, and the creation of of an "immune system" at the socio-cultural level to minimize the spread of harmful memes or "viruses of the mind", such as fundamentalist ideologies, superstitions, and unfounded rumors.
Sheehan, E. L. 2006. The Mocking Memes. AuthorHouse
Principles of systems, cybernetics, non-linearity and self-organization help us to better understand the interaction between actors in the international community, the emergence of new actors, and the possibility for creating a flexible system of governance that involves all stakeholders, while transcending the rigidities of the traditional legal framework.
Happiness, quality-of-life, or well-being can be seen as the intrinsic value guiding personal and social development, providing the motivational equivalent of the evolutionary concept of "fitness". This projects tries to develop more accurate measures of this fundamentally subjective property, and to determine which basic factors promote the increase of social and individual well-being. The intention is to formulate guidelines that would most efficiently help us to augment overall well-being, individually, in the workplace, and in society at large. Such guidelines could be used to decide about policy at the global, national or organizational level, establishing a reliable standard for progress.
When two or more parties have to solve a problem together, their judgment is often clouded by avoidable conficts and emotional tensions. We try to develop methods that help them to reformulate the problem towards a win-win situation, using methods such as emotional management, empathetic understanding of the other's perspective, and systematic analysis of the cognitive preconceptions underlying the problem.
The general concepts and principles of complexity, evolution and cognition apply in particular to present-day business, which takes place in an ever evolving ecosystem of competitors, suppliers, customers, technologies, rules, etc. A successful business entreprise requires constant innovation to adapt to a rapidly changing environment, and a broad and deep understanding of future opportunities and risks. The concepts and mechanisms underlying complex, adaptive systems need to be developed into a concrete toolbox for the entrepreneur or manager, that would help him or her to see clearly through the web of non-linear interactions and dependencies, and to steer an efficient, goal-directed course through the unpredictable changes that accompany them, ready to exploit any novel idea or opportunity.
This project is focused on links between resilience, self-organisation, and evolution of agents in complex adaptive systems and pathways through which these agents can enhance their synergy, coordination and fitness. These dimensions are particularly important for the design processes and engineering methods of future urban structures and ecosystems.
Looking for GIFTED WOMEN to share their STORY with us for an ACADEMIC PAPER.
Giftedness is defined as a complex of traits that includes unusual intelligence, creativity, curiosity, sensitivity, emotional intensity, and a strong drive to learn and to tackle difficult challenges. If as a woman you recognize yourself in the typical profile of a gifted person please read further. If you know women who fit this profile, please forward this message on to them. Thank you
We, Dr. Kate Kingsbury (social anthropologist) and Prof. Francis Heylighen (cognitive scientist), are investigating the reasons that keep many gifted women from realizing their full potential. We are exploring the factors inherent to the social system that might cause gifted women to feel inadequate or excluded. Our aim is to develop an anthropological understanding of the difficulties that gifted women face, and support such women, so that they become aware that they are not alone in dealing with these difficulties.We are collecting personal testimonies from gifted women, which deal in particular with social and psychological factors, such as family expectations, shame, guilt, self-doubt, feeling abnormal, lonely, or excluded, that may have hindered you in fully realizing your potential. We are also interested in how you have surmounted such obstacles .
If you want to remain anonymous, you can send us your story via an anonymous mail service, such as http://anonymouse.org/anonemail.html or https://anonymousemail.me/ (which allows replies without identifying the receiver)
You may also contact us directly if you wish, with any questions or comments.
If you are interested, please take the time to reflect upon and write down your personal experiences, especially with respect to the social influences that may have caused you to doubt your capabilities or hindered you in fully realizing them. Feel free to write to us to get some examples of stories we have collected thus far. We may quote some of the stories we receive in the paper we are writing, but always in such a way that the person who wrote it cannot be identified.
Everyone who sends us a story will get a copy of the paper we are writing on our research when it is ready, as well as the whole collection of (anonymized) stories we received, so that you can compare your experience with others....
Thank you for your interest,
Kate & Francis
Prof. Dr. Francis Heylighen
Free University of Brussels
Dr. Kate Kingsbury
University of Oxford
Are you a good problem solver?
Can you concentrate for long periods of time?
Are you perfectionistic?
Do you persevere with your interests?
Are you an avid reader?
Do you have a vivid imagination?
Often connect seemingly unrelated ideas?
Do you enjoy paradoxes?
Do you set high standards for yourself?
Do you have a good long-term memory?
Are you deeply compassionate?
Do you have persistent curiosity?
Do you have an excellent sense of humor?
Are you a keen observer?
Do you have a love of mathematics?
Do you need periods of contemplation?
Do you search for meaning in your life?
Are you aware of things that others are not?
Are you fascinated by words?
Are you highly sensitive?
Do you have strong moral convictions?
Do you often feel out-of-sync with others?
Are you perceptive or insightful?
Do you often question rules or authority?
Do you thrive on challenge?
Do you have extraordinary abilities and deficits?
Do you learn new things rapidly?
Feel overwhelmed by many interests/abilities?
Do you have a great deal of energy?
Often take a stand against injustice?
Do you feel driven by your creativity?
Love ideas and ardent discussion?
Were you advanced developmentally in childhood?
Have unusual ideas or perceptions?
Are you a complex person?
If 75% of these characteristics fit you, you are probably a gifted adult. [adapted from the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development / Gifted Development Center]
* I have always had an insatiable curiosity
* I set very high standards for myself and can be my own worst critic
* I have a powerful need to know and am a seeker of ultimate truths
* I have been criticized for being 'too much' of just about everything
* I have always felt deeply wounded by injustice and human suffering
* I can see many sides to nearly every issue and love a good debate
* I have a lot of energy and often feel driven by my own creativity
* I am often seen as the 'idea person' in a group
* I love puzzles, mazes, paradoxes, complex ideas, and words
* I often feel responsible for problems that don't actually belong to me
* Many times I have felt 'different,' and sometimes I feel like a minority of one
* I am a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist
* I have been criticized for not 'sticking with one thing'
* Honesty, integrity, and authenticity are very important to me
* I have a history of questioning rules and challenging authority
* I seem to be bothered by bright lights, aromas, and noises that others ignore
* I have a well-developed sense of humor that is somewhat offbeat
* I have maintained my childlike sense of playfulness and wonder
Recognize Yourself or Someone You Know?
The vast majority of gifted adults are never identified in childhood and don't know they are gifted. If you see yourself in more than half of these traits you are probably one of them.
[excerpt from Jacobsen, Mary-Elaine: The Gifted Adult]
For more about gifted people and their problems, see:
This is a four-year project funded by the FWO, in collaboration with the Social Cognition Lab (Psychology Department, VUB). It tries to determine how individually learned concepts or categories can become consensual through communication between the individuals, and in what ways the consensual concept is different or "better" than the individual ones. The issue is investigated in parallel through computer simulation and experiments with groups.
Researchers: Heylighen, Gershenson, Van Overwalle, Biebaut