Seminars 2016-2017

  Program of the 13th ECCO/GBI Seminar Series (2016-2017)

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 20 seminars per year.

The seminars are in the VUB Campus Etterbeek, the room is specified below per seminar.

Videos of previous seminars are available at the GBI Channel on YouTube


Preliminary Program

Second series (spring):

Date Room Speaker Topic
Jan. 20
PL5.5.61 Dirk Bruin  A Memetic View on the Firm
Mar. 31 D.1.07 Cadell Last Consequences of the Symbolic-Imaginary for Big History
Apr. 7 D.1.07 Orion Maxted  THE MACHINE (pt. 1)
Apr. 14 D.1.07 Sharon Wohl Deploying CAS within the Urban Fabric: Conceptualizing how partitioning, stigmergic signaling, and mutability support emergent unfolding
Apr. 21 D.1.07 Tjorven Harmsen  Dancing Observer: An Introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Apr. 28 M.015 Marta Lenartowicz  United Humanity Ledger as a UN-laid bedrock for the fair, sustainable, and creative future: A case for a global existential opportunity investment
May 5 D.1.07 Orion Maxted   Patterns that connect: theatre and cybernetics
May 12 D.1.07 Mark Bukarev Creativity as an Ideal: Stochastic Notion of Creativity Under the Auspices of a Teleodynamical Ground of Reference
May 19 D.1.07 Daniel Schimmelpfennig A transdisciplinary impact assessment of the metasystem transitions
May 26 D.1.07 Marjorikka Ylisiurua  Seeking evolution from social sciences: Scientific abstracts on dynamic processes as machine learning material
June 2  D.1.07  Vincenzo De Florio Service-oriented communities: A novel architecture for smarter systems and organizations
June 9 Cancelled N/A N/A
June 16  D.1.07  Forrest Rosenblum From theory to action: leveraging the global brain
June 23  Cancelled N/A  N/A
June 30 D.1.07 Kris Verburgh  New developments in the science of aging and longevity: how to live longer, healthier?


















First series (autumn):

Date Room Speaker Topic
Sept. 23
D.1.05 Georgi Georgiev  Exponential Self-Organization: Measures and Mechanisms
Sept. 30 D.1.07 Carlos Gershenson  When Slower is Faster
Oct. 7 D.1.07 Clément Vidal  Organized Complexity: is big history a big computation?
Oct. 14 D.1.07 Jean-Louis Desalles  Information: Ultimate Notion Common to Computer Science, Biology and Human Cognition
Oct. 21 D.1.07 Evo Busseniers  What are the mechanisms of power, and how can we organize ourselves against it?
Nov. 4 D.1.07 Francis Heylighen Cybernetic Principles of Aging and Rejuvenation: the buffering-challenging strategy for life extension
Nov. 25 D.1.07 Shima Beigi Digital Literacy for Humanity in the State of Flux: An Urban Narrative
Dec. 2 D.1.07


Helene Finidori


Dec. 9 D.1.07 Sven Delariviere Demarcating mathematical understanding and the understanding subject
Dec. 16 D.1.07 De Couvreur Lieven

Adaptation by Product Hacking



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 Cadell  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 (Do not forget the power cord of your computer!). 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

Exponential Self-Organization: Measures and Mechanisms

Exponential Self-Organization: Measures and Mechanisms

Georgi Georgiev


The question how complex systems become more organized and efficient with time is open. Examples are, the formation of elementary particles from pure energy, the formation of atoms from particles, the formation of stars and galaxies, the formation of molecules from atoms, of organisms, and of the society. In this sequence, order appears inside complex systems and randomness (entropy) is expelled to their surroundings. Key features of self-organizing systems are that they are open and they are far away from equilibrium, with increasing energy flowing through them. This work searches for global measures of such self-organizing systems, that are predictable and do not depend on the substrate of the system studied. Our results will help to understand the existence of complex systems and mechanisms of self-organization. In part we also provide insights, in this work, about the underlying physical essence of the Moore's law and the multiple logistic growth observed in technological progress.


When Slower is Faster

When Slower is Faster

Carlos Gernshenson

(Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)


The slower is faster (SIF) effect occurs when a system performs worse as its components try to do better. Thus, a moderate individual efficiency actually leads to a better systemic performance. 
The SIF effect takes place in a variety of phenomena. We review studies and examples of the SIF effect in pedestrian dynamics, vehicle traffic, traffic light control, logistics, public transport, social dynamics, ecological systems, and adaptation. Drawing on these examples, we generalize common features of the SIF effect and suggest possible future lines of research. 
Gershenson, C. and Helbing, D. (2015). When slower is faster. Complexity, 21(2):9–15.


Organized Complexity: is big history a big computation?

Organized Complexity: is big history a big computation?

Clément Vidal

(Evolution, Cognition and Complexity (ECCO) Group, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB))


The concept of "logical depth" introduced by Charles H. Bennett (1988) seems to capture, at least partially, the notion of organized complexity, so central in big history. More precisely, the increase in organized complexity refers here to the wealth, variety and intricacy of structures, and should not be confused with the increase of random complexity, formalized by Kolmogorov (1965). If Bennett is right in proposing to assimilate organized complexity with "computational content", then the fundamental cause of the increase of complexity in the universe is the existence of computing mechanisms with memory, and able to cumulatively create and preserve computational contents. In this view, the universe computes, remembers its calculations, and reuses them to conduct further computations. Evolutionary mechanisms are such forms of cumulative computation with memory and we owe them the organized complexity of life. Language, writing, culture, science and technology can also be analyzed as computation mechanisms generating, preserving and accelerating the increase in organized complexity. The main unifying theme for big history is the energy rate density, a metric based on thermodynamics. However useful, this metric does not provide much insight into the role that information and computation play in our universe. The concept of "logical depth" provides a new lens to examine the increase of organized complexity. We argue in this paper that organized complexity is a valid and useful way to make sense of big history. Additionally, logical depth has a rigorous formal definition in theoretical computer science that hints at a broader research program to quantify complexity in the universe. 

Paper at:


Information: Ultimate Notion Common to Computer Science, Biology, and Human Cognition

 Information: ultimate notion common to computer science, biology and human cognition

Jean-Louis Dessalles

Telecom ParisTech - Université Paris Saclay


The notion of information is central to many separate domains, such as information technologies, biology, evolution science, ethology, neurosciences, language sciences, journalism and sociology. Information is transmitted through telecommunication networks, our DNA contains genetic information that strives to survive through generations, animal communication and human language convey information, news are called information and modern societies are built on informational foundations such as myths and law. Claiming that the same notion of information can be operational in all these sciences seems nowadays utopian. For instance, Shannonian information fails to account for newsworthiness. A random DNA molecule is wrongly predicted to be maximally informative if we base the decision on Shannon information or on Kolmogorov complexity. I will present Simplicity Theory as a new framework in which these issues can be addressed. I will show that notions like simplicity and complexity drop are close to being able to restore information as an “ultimate notion” that can serve as common ground in many scientific domains.



Dessalles, J.-L. (2008). La pertinence et ses origines cognitives - Nouvelles théories. Paris: Hermes Science.

Dessalles, J.-L. (2012). Simplicity Theory (Web Site). Accessible at:

Dessalles, J.-L., Gaucherel, C. & Gouyon, P.-H. (2016). Le fil de la vie - La face immatérielle du vivant. Paris: Odile Jacob. 


What are the mechanisms of power, and how can we organize ourselves against it?

 What are the mechanisms of power, and how can we organize ourselves against it?

Evo Busseniers

Evolution, Cognition, and COmplexity (ECCO) group


In this seminar I explain anarchist ideas in systems science language.  What is self-organization, and how can we organize ourselves without controlling others?  When does an organization become a higher-level control?  What does power mean when it is not simply a central trait?  Propaganda of the deed and diversity of tactics make coordination possible without a central controller, these can be explained through the mechanisms of stigmergy and variation and selection.  A revolution happens through cascading effects due to a positive feedback.  Anarchists strive for a coherence between thinking (aims) and acting (methods), and between struggles.  This can be contrasted with an (economic) determinism.  Autonomy is an important concept for anarchists, and one of the properties of life.  An analogy between life and struggle is proposed.  How can we make a movement more antifragile?


The Buffering-Challenging Strategy for Health, Fitness and Life-extension


The Buffering-Challenging Strategy for Health, Fitness and Life-extension

Francis Heylighen

Evolution, Cognition, and COmplexity (ECCO) group


This talk will present a practical approach to optimizing physical and mental health that is founded on evolutionary and cybernetic principles.  The human organism is a cybernetic system that has evolved to survive a wide range of physical and mental challenges by learning to effectively control perturbations.  According to Ashby's "Law of Requisite Variety", this control requires as wide as possible range or variety of actions to counter the perturbations, the knowledge to select the right actions, and a buffering capacity to absorb random fluctuations.  Maximizing such control maximizes the organism's health, fitness and life expectancy.  Evolutionary cybernetics suggest a two-pronged strategy to achieve this:


1) buffering: maintaining plentiful reserves of protective resources;


2) challenging: confronting the organism with a wide variety of challenges, thus forcing it to develop its action capabilities and knowledge.


Buffering requires sufficient rest, a healthy diet, and supplementary nutrients such as vitamins and antioxidants.  Challenging requires subjecting the organism to stressful stimuli, such as heat, cold, exertion, fasting, sunlight, germs, hometins, and intellectual problems.  Challenges are ideally brief, intense, unexpected, and as diverse as possible.  The presenter will summarize his personal program implementing this strategy, which includes sauna, yoga, paleo-style exercise and vibration training, as well as the results achieved.




Heylighen, F. (2014). Cybernetic Principles of Aging and Rejuvenation: the buffering-challenging strategy for life extension. Current aging science, 7(1), 60-75.

Heylighen, F. Evolutionary Well-Being: the paleolithic model.


Taleb, N. N. (2012). Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Random House.


Digital Literacy for Humanity in the State of Flux: An Urban Narrative


Digital Literacy for Humanity in the State of Flux: An Urban Narrative

Shima Beigi

Evolution, Cognition, and COmplexity (ECCO) group


Digital literacy is the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and analyze information using digital technology.  Combined with urbanization, the shift of population from rural areas to cities, digital literacy becomes more than mere the ability of one individual to engage with information.  As people start to engage with information flow, richer dimensions of human life start to permeate and extend into this field of information.  Information becomes richer.  But what about our lives?  Exploring the synthesis of urbanization and digitalization is an essential part of future generations of cities aka smart cities as they rely on ICT for their inherent functionality.  The relationship between technology, societal readiness for technological adoption is not linear.  Additionally, mass migration from developing to developed countries has challenged cities to rethink social integration and urban inclusion.  Therefore, it's not clear to what extent can the movement of ICT based cities, create a harmonic relationship between urbanization and digitalization without leaving the ever changing emotional landscape of people out of the equation?  Consequently, this short conversation style presentation revolves around this question: how to move digital literacy toward serving humanity in the state flux more than our devices?



Patterns that Connect: Exploring the Concept of Pattern in the Face of Growing Complexity


Patterns that Connect: Exploring the Concept of Pattern in the Face of Growing Complexity

Helene Finidori

The Schumacher Institute


The first part of the talk examines the challenges brought about by the exponential growth of information and dynamic complexity, and the types of responses needed in order to address these challenges from an agency perspective.  The second part outlines various functions and possibilities underlying the concept of pattern in the areas of cybernetics, semiotics, cognition, modeling, design and participative inquiry, and examines how they could be operationalized at the service of systemic literacy and collective intelligence.

Demarcating mathematical understanding and the understanding subject


Demarcating mathematical understanding and the understanding subject

Sven Delariviere

Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), CLWF


The aim of this presentation is to strengthen the functional reading of mathematical understanding and contribute a fruitful explicitation on the notion of an understanding subject.  The functional reading equates understanding with the possession of abilities, thereby sidelining the feeling of understanding so distrusted about the notion.  However, the functional account is open to a concern Searle raised with the Chinese Room Argument - here adapted to a Math Room Argument - and related concerns regarding rule-following (e.g. Skemp's "rules without reason") as instances of abilities without understanding.  In response, I argue that such concerns disappear once we specify the stability and scope of abilities (not to be mistaken with the seeming stability and scope of kludges), and demarcate the subject who possesses the understanding.  This demarcation, I will further argue (in the same vein as the Virtual Mind Reply to Searle's argument), is to be addressed in terms of a functional as well as virtual internal/external divide.  With this, the way is paved to consider unconventional entities (e.g. instances of extended, collective or artificial cognition) as relevant subjects for epistemology.


Adaptation by Product Hacking


Adaptation by Product Hacking: A cybernetic design perspective on the co-construction of Do-It-Yourself assistive technology

Lieven De Couvreur

Howest, Industrial Design Center


Whatever you may have heard about product hackers, the truth is they do something really, really well.  In short: "hackers build things, crackers break them."  Through their experiential and social approach product hackers discover new possibilities in a frugal manner with the local resources and skills at hand.  Within the context of design for disability this perspective opens-up a complementary alternative to universal design.  Today there are a lot of people with disabilities whose assistive devices have not yet come about, due to unique needs and challenges.  A new generation of makers and occupational therapists are seizing this opportunity by producing one of a kind product adaptations in people's homes, sheltered workshops and rehabilitation centers.  This dissertation explores the role of professional designers within this new design context.  In general the research focus is on the epistemic dynamics of hacking behaviour within the pursuit of making a tailored product adaptation for a single user.  Generally speaking collaborative hacking activities are a form of self-organizing co-design activities driven by participatory prototyping-interactions.  For this reason, the starting point of this thesis was the question: "How do specific prototyping-interactions influence general adaptation within participatory hacking behaviour?"  To answer this question we propose a framework which illustrates hacking entities as a self-regulating systems.  A cybernetic design approach was chosen to develop a framework to explain the circular causality and relationships within local hacking ecologies.  We list the minimum conditions and elements of an autonomous hacking entity in order for it to be able to adapt to changing circumstances and 'to get what it wants'.  With his holistic thinking, it integrates the surroundings as part of a self-regulating system by means of two adaptation types, namely single and double-loop adaptation.  Both loops enact respectively as an (1) active (agents actively change their environments through external adaptation) and (2) passive (agents compulsory change their internal construction of the environment through internal adaptation) component of adaptation.  Although both type of adaptations are strongly intertwined we tried to illustrated them through the variety of data from living lab practices and illustrate how they self-organize the hacking process.

A Mimetic View on the Firm


A Memetic View on the Firm

Dirk Bruin


The research concerns the behavior of people associated with firms and the behavior of the firms themselves.  In fact it is unclear what the substance of a firm is.  The research question is just that: 'What is a firm?'  The approach is to involve horizontal evolution of by way of memes.  Memes emerge from individuals' beliefs: what they are familiarized with, they can come to believe and their beliefs lend them rules for their decisions.
Memeplexes form becuase of the relational properties between memes.  As a result of the formation of memplexes, individuals can have access to the corresponding 'tools for thought'.  In the field of management science these tools can be rather experimental in a Popperian way.  When they are motivated by some meme, individuals can decide upon them and act, depending on the properties of the memes involved.  Individuals' behavior is affected by their belief system.  In addition their behavior in the aggregate (many individuals) can lead to correlated patterns of behavior.  This is the basis for the existence of firms.
In Western culture a body of beliefs and corresponding rules is established for econmic life, namely concerning the decisions of people interacting (transacting) with other people.  This body itself is the subject of many people's beliefs, vivid especially in the Anglo-saxon sphere, and so it coordinates individuals' behavior.  Bear in mind, however, that the future of the host is less important than the future of the meme itself.  This element of the wider Western culture leads to rules that can explain the existence of firms, their behavior on a macro-level, autonomous to some extent.
Firms in this sense co-evolve with elements in their environment in a monadic way.  The memeplexes that underpin firms transpose local behavior of individuals to global behavior of the entire system.  The middleware for understanding this operation is provided by game theory.  In this way firms can be seen as units of computation that both reflect and anticipate their environment at each point in time as best they can.



Dirk received an Msc in Financial Economics from the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam in 1993. He was active in Management Consulting in The Netherlands and in Southern Africa until 2006. Dirk acquired a textile production firm in 2006, transferred its production to Tunisia and branched its activities out to the United Kingdom. The entire business was divested in 2014. Until present he is engaged in a private research project into a more fundamental, namely memetic, approach to Firm theory, explaining the existence of firms and describing their behavior on a fundamental level.

He has finished a manuscript of a book on that topic, and considers developing it into a PhD for the ECCO research group.

More on Dirk's research blog:

Consequences of the Symbolic-Imaginary for Big History


Consequences of the Symbolic-Imaginary for Big History

Cadell Last


Big history is the most ambitious theoretical study today because it attempts to ground a grand unified narrative (story/symbolic) within a total vision of reality (picture/imaginary).  However, the dominant form of contemporary big historical discourse remains committed to scientific narratives and visions presented within the foundation of physical naturalist universality.  In this paper it is argued that this approach prevents big history from developing as a field capable of generating a novel research program and reflexively incorporating the symbolic-imaginary domain of observatinal interpretation into big historical theory itself.  Consequently, in this analysis big history theory is first deconstructed in relation to its grounding in first-order physical naturalist complexity science and cosmic evolutionary maps.  Secondly, this analysis proposes the first steps towards a big historical reconstruction project that takes on the structure of an inversion of standard theory that is still capable of approaching universality.  This is acheived by fundamentally grounding analysis in the phenomenal perception of subjective multiplicity in-itself overdetermined by big historical grand narrative structures and totalizing visionary frames that move within a higher-order domain of meaningful virtual spaces.  The truth value of these totalizing narrative structures and visionary frames is not legitimized by their correlation (or lack of correlation) with physical reality (i.e. scientific knowledge of the object) but rather with their ability to structure the motion of subjectivity and effect the becoming of the historical process itself in relation to actual social world transformations (i.e. historical truth of the subject).  From this analysis the study of big history becomes grounded in the domain of historicity and is capable of approaching the way big histories function for individuals and social systems in scientific, religious, political, artistic, and other thought communities within a dialectic structured by mortality and finitude.  Consequently, the "consequence" of inscribing the domain of symbolic-imaginary observational interpretation into big historical study is to focus attention on the subjective structuring properties and social world transformation effectiveness of big histories (grand narartives, totalizing visions) in relationship to the historical and future becoming of humanity.

For more about Cadell:




Orion Maxted


Orion Maxted is a theatre maker working at the intersection of language, improvisation, computation and complex sysetms, using live, embodied performance as a subtrate to make what he provacatively terms 'computers made of people'.  In this seminar Orion will lead an introduction to [THE MACHINE], an 'algorithmic theatre' performance that Orion and his collaborators began in 2014.  It is terms algorithmic, since there is no fixed script in a conventional theatrical sense, but rather a set of rules.  These rules involve copying language and gesture from one person to another, so that language is felt as a signal and then applying transformative operations to the language and gesture.  Each change of language in turn becomes a challenge to the next performers to infer the new rule state from the changes in language and apply it to the current language state, all in real time, thereby generating the next output and the next challenge.  From a relatively simple starting set of rules, highly complex structures emerge over time.  Thus the work exhibits some of the behaviours of evolutionary systems, cybernetic systems, challenge propagation, collective consciousness, and can also be thought of as a technology for thinking together once the group of performers have enough practice together to collectively generate questions and a form of goal-directedness, although this is quite challenging.

The goals of this seminar are to:

  •  Bridge theatre and scietnfic research;
  • To give researchers of the Global Brain Institute and the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition Group a hands-on introduction to the area of algorithmic/cybernetic theatre.  
  • To introduce the idea of using live performance/theatre as a viable subtrate for making experiments in complex systems, and distributed cognition.
  • To experience being part of such a system 'from the inside', and to gain an understanding of these types of exercises, and approaches that theatre provides to unable these kinds of experiments.
  • To hear feedback from the researchers, such as: what ideas does it spark in them; where one sees the connections with your own interests; pointers to help navigate research in the space of systemics/cybernetics; what developments and applications could we imagine.
  • The possibility to collectively generate new ideas through the operate of [THE MACHINE]

Orion Maxted holds a Master of Theatre from DAS Graduate School in Amsterdam, and is supported by Frascati Theatre, Amsterdam.  [THE MACHINE] has entertained and challenged audiences internationally, including at Frascati Theatre, Amsterdam; Theatre Aan Zee, Ostende; Batard Festival, Brussels; KAAI theatre, Brussels; MU Gallery, Eindhoven; Lyon Biennial de Dans; Camden People's Theatre, London.



Deploying CAS within the Urban Fabric: Conceptualizing how partitioning, stigmergic signaling, and mutability support emergent unfolding


Deploying CAS within the Urban Fabric: Conceptualizing how partitioning, stigmergic signaling, and mutability support emergent unfolding

Sharon Wohl


Given the growing pervasiveness of digital signals, information regarding 'fit' configurations can now easily be transmitted amongst human and non-human 'smart' entities.  These entities might well include physical urban elements, ones that could be designed and conceptualized so as to benefit from the 'wisdom of crowds', feedback, and bottom-up processes.  This work considers how urban elements or features might be designed in such a way so that they might be activated as Complex Sysetms.  Arguably, to do so one would need to:

  • Design urban features as agents ('smart' urban elements that have the capacity to be mobile and mutable);
  • Identify and monitor the resources or energy driving the system (pertaining to how an element is used or activated such that its capacities 'feed' or meet particular urban requirements);
  • Consider the nature of links or information flows amongst agents, that steer their behaviour/configuration in space (through sensors/apps and stigmergic signals).

The author will present a series of projects that demonstrate how, using these principles, non-linear interactions amongst agents could, in real time, and in accordance with feedback regarding each urban element's level of activation (and thereby its fitness), steer urban configurations such that fit patterns emerge.  The projects are predicated upon a rethinking of how urban infrastructures might be conceived in ways that permits these to behave more similarly to autonomous agents - conceptions that involve both a partitioning of large systems into independent sub-elements (decomposability), as well as incorporating mutability or mobility within the design of these sub-elements such that new kinds of behaviours or configurations are enabled.  Finally, each sub-element needs to have the capacity to process information, having the capacity to both relay and respond to stigmergic signals through 'smart' features.

While not all urban elements are easily conceptualized into such decomposable and 'agent-like' populations, together the speculative projects show a range of circumstances whereby such conceptualizations are feasible and would enable novel, emergent outcomes.  The projects build upon the capacities made possible by pervasive data for real-time and responsive deicision-making, where user inputs generate immediate signals regarding element configurations, and these configurations in turn shape new user patterns/inputs, iteratively generating new data.  Here, both the users of the system and the urban elements comprising the system are considered as co-evolving agents.

The projects provide provocative illustrations of how 'fit' urban configurations might viably manifest in the absence of top-down control.  The projects also identify the principles of CAS dynamics requires for such systems to unfold, principles that can enable these ideas to move from speculation to implementation.  These consider urban elements not to be passive artifacts, but rather to be physically situated computational devices that process information regarding user priorities and are able to both aggregate into meaningful emergent patterns - or partition to provide variable niches - ultimately responding to a plurality of needs in ways that remain resilient to evolving circumstances.

Dancing Observer: An Introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy


Dancing Observer: An Introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Tjorven Harmsen


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a psychotherapeutic approach focusing on psychological flexibility (Hayes et al. 2006).  It is based on the assumption, that mental suffering and its reproduction result from attempts of avoiding painful experiences and feelings (cf. Harris 2006: 4).  Therefore, ACT develops six core treatment processes in order to interrupt this "cycle of suffering from pain" and to make space for more flexible responses to whatever is experienced at present moment.

The upcoming seminar will try and introduce ACT more as a general, not necessarily psychotherapeutic strategy one can use if interested in questioning and flexibilizing the own world views and resulting behaviour.  The six core processes - acceptance, cognitive defusion, contact with the present moment, self as context, values and committed action (Hayes et al. 2006: 25) - might help provide general orientation for the development of a mindset characterized by more fluent, more vivid and fulfilling re-, de- and constructions.

With short reference to its theoretical framing, the seminar furthermore will try and relate ACT to different theoretical approaches like Niklas Luhmann's Systems Theory (Luhmann 1995).  Of both ACT and Systems Theory can be said they play with "aesthetics of uncertainty" (Nassehi 2003: 329) by raising awareness of mechanisms, which let constructions fuse with reality and such in the case of mental observation lead to an identification of the psychic self with its own thoughts.  ACT as well as Systems Theory seek to overcome this kind of dualistic elimination and strengthen positions that meet complexity with flexibility.


Harris, Russell (2006): Embracing Your Demons: An Overview of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.  In: Psychotherapy in Australia, Vol. 12 No. 4 2-8 //

Hayes, Steven C. / Smith, Spencer (2005): Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.  Oakland: New Harbiger Publications.

Hayes, S.C. / Luoma, J.B. / Bond, F.W. / Masuda, A. / Lillis, J.  (2006): Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Model, processes and outcomes.  Georgia State University: Psychology Faculty Publications, Paper 101 //

Luhmann, Niklas (1995): Social Systems.  Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Nassehi, Armin (2003): Closeness and Openness.  Studies on the Theory of Modern Society.  Frankfurt / Main: Suhrkamp (German title, translated: TH).

Powers, Mark B. / Zum Vorde Sive Vording, Maarten B. / Emmelkamp, Paul M. G. (2009): Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: A Meta-Analytic Review.  In: Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 78, 73-80 //

Wilson, Kellly G. / DuFrene, Troy (2008): Mindfulness for Two.  An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Approach to Mindfulness in Psychotherapy.  Oakland: New Harbinger Publications.

United Humanity Ledger as a bedrock for the fair, sustainable, and creative future: A case for an existential opportunity exploration


United Humanit Ledger as a bedrock for the fair, sustainable, and creative future: A case for an existential opportunity exploration

Marta Lenartowicz

(Global Brain Institute, social systems scientist)



Good questions are powerful.  One of them - called "A New Shape" challenge - has just demonstrated its power by propagating a brainstorming wave throughout global governance think thanks and research institutes around the world.  "The shape of the system will always determine the outcome it achieves.  The shape of our global governance system was decided after the second world war, when the world was very different.  Is this shape still suited for the risks we face today?  Is it the right shape to tackle climate change, and extreme poverty, and global conflict?" goads the video spot of the challenge.  What the organizers hope to attain is a new design for the global governance of the 21st century, "such that it can be implemented within the foreseeable future."  They formulate the task as if they were the proverbial someone who does not know what everybody else knows: "some things are simply impossible."  However, as Albert Einstein pointed out, since it is the one who does not know that, the organizers of the competition are probably right: presuming that there is no implementable design is a certain path to not finding it.  Therefore, engaging with the questions seems important and meaningful, if intimidating.

My talk will be an attempt at a response.  Perhaps it will be a bit non-compliant, as my response starts with a quite severe modification of the conceptual constraints that accompany the challenge.  Instead of equating global governance with the activity performed by a specific configuration of international and intergovernmental organizations and institutions, however complex and multipolar, I propose going back to the essence of the notion of governance and taking it as an activity defined by its effectuality, not locus of control.  Depending on which system one wishes to consider, its governance comprises this view of all effectual decision making, however positioned, which results in the arising persistence, transformation, or decline of anything that belongs to the global system.  The global system does not require the instigation of an institutional government of the world to arise; it exists anyway.  The system of global governance, consequently, does not need to be conventionally identified as global, or a system, to be continuously yielding effects throughout the planet.  It encompasses all selections that affect what happens on the planet.  That each such effect influences countless other selections made somewhere else, and that cascades of such influences spread around the entire globe in the 21st century, is already obvious and does not need to be argued.

The shifted definition of the system of global governance modifies the search space in which new potential designs for it may be found.  However, instead of expanding, the redefinition radically narrows our search space.  This is because the radical, if conceptual, enlargement of the global government does not automatically make its newly added decision-making nodes operable from any reformer's position.  Quite the contrary: the shift reveals that, even if a hypothetical political demiurge emerged able to overnight conduct any imaginable reform of all global institutions, IGOs, INGOs, all at once, a vast majority of impactful selections would continue to be made somewhere else.  This realization invites surrender to the condition other approaches may consider an undesirable anomaly: the actual global governance system is unsteerable.  It is inoperable from anywhere other than the myriad of locations among which it is distributed.  Consequently, the global governance system cannot be steered coherently in a conventional sense.  The shape of gridlock (Hale, Held & Young 2013), in which further progression towards an ever-greater executive capacity of a selected group of institutions has become nearly impossible, is not an anomaly to be overcome.  Gridlock is the only shape in which the global system could have settled.  It is the shape any system is bound to adopt when it is composed of a multitude of differently positioned, differently oriented, heterogenous selection-makers, operating in different dimensions and scales, none of them universally dominant, and all dependent and constrained by the others.  As each decision maker ceaselessly explores and exhausts the range of choices and interrelations available to them at any given time, the overall system is note static - it evolves.  There is no overall stagnation, then, even if an overwhelming number of participants may be continuously frustrated and held back, never facing an opportunity to make such choices and to forge such interrelations that would allow them to fulfill their basic needs, best interests, and greatest aspirations.

In this seminar, I present a draft response to the "New Shape" challenge that I am developing in adherence to the above-redefined views.  My point of departure consists of the following three propositions: (1) the actual government of the world is unreformable and unsteerable in any conventional, socio-politically positioned, manner (2) the actual government of the world has nonetheless proven to be remarkably successful in reaching an aspirational, symbolic agreement over a very broadly ranging understanding of what it needs to achieve, as a whole, regarding the life conditions of all its human participants (UN General Assembly, A/RES/70/1), and (3) the actual government of the world is currently more effective than ever in the pursuit of these goals (Hervey 2016).  Moving from there, I start with the (rather uncontroversial) argument that from the human perspective, despite all the above, the system of global governance is far from being effective enough.  I propose a definition of the "enough-ness" relevant int he context inspired by Donald Winnicott's (1971; Lenartowicz, Reichhart, & Zych 2010) psychoanalytic concept of the activity of good-enough mothering (care), whose presence is a threshold above which a human being becomes actually capable of making selections which are not, this way or another, hurtful for themselves.  Offering a simple criterion of the good-enough system of global governance, I propose an approach that I see as global governance's less traveled, yet feasible path of evolution: the conducting of systematic explorations of existential opportunities.

An existential opportunity itself is the flipside of existential risk, defined by Nick Bostrom (2013) as a risk "that threatens the entire future of humanity" - and argued to constitute the absolute global priority.  However, the existential opportunities, as I see them, reside in such enablers of future scenarios that have the potential to transfer the entirety of humanity, finally and permanently, beyond the threshold of universal enoughness.  While existential opportunity may be seen even as a special case of risk (the opportunity being interpreted as the risk of missing it), operationally and psychologically, as any entrepreneur knows, the containment of a risk and pursuit of an opportunity could not be further apart.  My proposal is thus two-layered: in its most abstract dimension, I seek to operationalize an organized mode in which humanity's existential opportunities would be systematically explored until exhaustion.  I envisage existential opportunity explorations as operational blends of philanthropreneurship, science, development, and social activism: non-institutionalized, self-styled, yet nonetheless intense, rigorous, and complete.

At a more concrete level, I seek to demonstrate a tangible existential opportunity, which perhaps could be explored as a combination of the following three potential enablers of the good-enough future:

(1) the postulate of unconditional basic income (UBI), which I approach through a dividend-based logic linked with increasing automation and operationalize independently of the existence of states.  (Thus, the instrument of the unconditional global dividend will serve to counterbalance the fundamental social inequality between human beings and their choice-making capacities that is produced by the institution of nationality),

(2) the technology of blockchain, a purely distributed peer-to-peer system of ledgers utilizing a combination of data structures, algorithms, and cryptographic and security technologies (Dresher 2017; Narayanan et al. 2016; Davidson, De Filippi, Potts 2016), which allows the achievement of an unprecedented integrity of social activity and interrelatedness of instances of autonomous decision-making without any socio-political positioning of the enabler of such coordination,

(3) and the concept known as the web of needs (Kleedorfer et al. 2014), offer networks Goertzel 2015), or the offer network protocol (Heylighen 2016, 2017), which is an idea for achieving a radical increase of the number of choices available to all participants of social and economic activity by means of the direct matching of values without the unifying mediation provided by money.

Devising a specific combination of the above three foundational concepts, I propose an existential opportunity scenario composed of nine instruments: universal global dividend, a "New Settlers" inclusion algorithm and social mobilization program, two blockchain authorization procedures called prove of sustainability and prove of humanity, a semi-penalty algorithm called dimmed economy, three techno-economical concepts linking offer networks to blockchain: wisps of currencywisps of value, and organizational patterning, and finally a concept of institutional anchoring, as the path of the institutional legitimization of this entire bundle.  Because currently most of these nine concepts are still formulated only tentatively, some being more speculative than others, the goal of the seminar from my perspective is to submit them for discussion against the general hypothesis of the seminar.

That general hypothesis is that the United Humanity Ledger composed of the above-mentioned nine building blocks, once used as an addition to and a technological mediator of anything that operates already, might be enough to provide humanity with a bedrock for a fair, sustainable, and creative future.


Bostrom, N.  (2013).  Existential Risk Prevention as Global Priority.  Global Policy, 4(1): 15-31.

Davidson, S., De Filippi, P. & Potts, J.  (2016).  Economics of Blockchain.  Url:

Drescher, D.  (2017).  Blockchain basics: A non-technical introduction in 25 steps.  Frankfurt am Main: Apres.

Goertzel, B.  (2015).  Beyond Money: Offer Networks, a Potential Infrastructure for a Post-Money Economy.  In: The End of the Beginning: Life, Society, and Economy on the Brink of the Singularity, edited by Ben Goertzel & Ted Goertzel.  Humanity+ Press.

Hale, T., Held, D., Young, K.  (2013).  Gridlock: Why Global Cooperation is Failing when We Need It Most.  John Wiley & Sons.

Hervey, A.  (2016).  99 Reasons 2016 Was a Good Year.  Url:

Heylighen, F.  (2016).  The offer network protocol: Mathematical foundations and a roadmap for the development of a global brain.  The European Physical Journal Special Topics.  226(2): 283-312.

Heylighen, F.  (2017).  Towards an Intelligent Network for Matching Offer and Demand: from the sharing economy to the Global Brain.  Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 114: 74-85.

Kleedorfer, F., Busch, C.M., Pichler, C., & Huemer, C.  (2014).  The Case for the Web of Needs.  2014 IEEE 16th Conference on Business Informatics (CBI), 1: 94-101, 2014.  doi: 10.1109/CBI.2014.55

Lenartowicz, M., Reichhart, W., Zych, B.  (2010).  Wystarczajaco dobra organizacja [EN.: "A good enough organization"].  Krakow: Advisio Press.

Narayanan, A. et al.  (2016).  Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies: A Comprehensive Introduction.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

UN General Assembly (A/RES/70/1).  Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Url:

Winnicott, D.W.  (1971)  Playing and reality.  New York: Routledge.


Patterns that connect: theatre and cybernetics


Patterns that connect: theatre and cybernetics

Orion Maxted


I am a theatre maker, and since 2017, an affiliate of ECCO. I work with Frascati Theatre in Amsterdam (where I am based), and Beursschouwburg in Brussels, and graduated from DAS Graduate School Amsterdam in 2016. 
My research crosses over between language-based performance, musicality and cybernetic / systemic and algorithmic theatre. For example -


  • The ways theatre can be a substrate for cybernetic / computational / biological systems, by connecting people together with rules and language; how these structures may allow participants and observers to think together in novel ways, and gain novel perspectives on existing systems.
  • How cybernetics and systems theory can provide a lens, poetics, or a set of tool for audiences perceive the patterns that connect language, subjectivity, nature, culture, politics, etc – by being inspired by systems to creating engaging, thought-provoking performances; 
  • The ways theatre is already deeply invested in understanding, modelling and modulating cognition – through the very action of engaging the minds and bodies of the audience; and already systemic / cybernetic / complex, for example, in the sense that a performance needs to find a way to ‘keep going’, to ‘survive’ both onstage, and, in the attention of the audience. And, in reverse, how systems / cybernetics are also intertwined into language, mystery, metaphor and art.


In this seminar I will suggest methodologies for creating cybernetic, algorithmic and systemic theatre, by presenting ideas, strands of research, and works in development drawn from examples in my own practice, as well as works I have inspired by, and ideas from cybernetics, systems theory and complexity.


Creativity as an Ideal: Stochastic Notion of Creativity Under the Auspices of a Teleodynamical Ground of Reference


Creativity as an Ideal:

Explicating the Constrained Stochastic Notion of Creativity Under the Auspices of a Teleodynamic Ground of Reference

Mark Bukarev


A clear-cut account on the nature of creativity is pending.  My approach in redefining the notion of creativity benefits from contemporary research on neurophenomenology and from a life scientific framework more generally.  In this regard, providing an interpretation of the notion of creativity that takes into account constraints and stochasticity (randomness) is simply a theoretical continuum, which is in harmony with modern theoretical developments.


Generally, moderns cience sympathizes with different approaches, which address their questions from a standpoint of nonlinear dynamics and complex (adaptive) systems.  In line with this trend, I believe that by studying how different things, events, outcomes, and occurrences emerge and evolve from a more up-to-date point of view (i.e. a complex stochastic approach) - and by converting this comprehension into a humanisitic discourse - it is possible to articulate more clearly the 'mechanism of creativity'.  Moreover, it seems that a life scientific approach may overcome the so-caleld Cartesian divide, which in turn is critical in the era of the Anthropocene.


To my knowledge there is no framework that would support different endeavours targeted at stretching boundaries in general.  To me it seems that both the scientific method and its outcome (i.e. scientific knowledge) could benefit from a theoretical tool that is tailored for dealing with different maturing occurrences.  Yet, currently it seems that my attempt leads to a certain idealized interpretation of creativity.  


A transdisciplinary impact assessment of the metasystem transitions

A transdisciplinary impact assessment of the metasystem transitions

Daniel Schimmelpfennig


The evolutionary paradigm shifts of the acceleration of digital information, transforming all spheres of our individual and collective life, demands a new understanding, in which we particularly incorporate an anticipation of future realities.  A transdisciplinary impact assessment of the metasystem transitions provides a holistic and coherent approach to delineate the fusion towards a bio-digital evolutionary emergence, where technological evolution will be experienced, due to its exponential development, wihtin single lifetimes.  This evolution of evolution itself embodied in the metasystem transitions is thus a reciprocal process.  As we start building systems that replicate what our brains can do, the research is consequently concerned with the actual development and role of our human brains in the future.  It focuses particularly on preferable images like the emergence of a neo-human, representing a new sense of individuality and consciousness.  How will the rise of this new consciousness (becoming conscious of one's concrete socio-historical place in time and its revolutionary potential to unleash novel possibilities) even further transform our external-impersonal socio-symbolic organization.  This crescendo or imbroglio is yet to be deciphered and subject of this partly autoethnographic, partly poststructuralist, but mostly constructionist futures research.  The transdisciplinarity of the studies, including anthropological, biological, cultural, and technological notions, anticipates a multi-causal, highly complex, hyper-abstract time-frame, where fragmented thought and solely one-dimensional research becomes an unsatisfying attempt to delineate a coherent and holistic picture.  Furthermore, the implementation of the Neurological Turn offers new insights into the ontological knowledge gap about our capacity of being the subject of scientific knowledge, and being the scientific agent of directional change and transformation.  The biological freedom to evolve implies therefore an emancipatory ambition in which we might occupy our thought process more consciously with the elucidating of the conceit that assumes reality is a fact.  The future oriented scenario work aims accordingly at illustrating that the knowledge about the future can be useless, if it is impossible to decipher its existing and emerging threats and risks as always already implicit in the present.  The same is valid for its opportunities.


Seeking evolution from social sciences: Scientific abstracts on dynamic processes as machine learning material


Seeking evolution from social sciences: Scientific abstracts on dynamic processes as machine learning material

Marjorikka Ylisiurua


Increasing number of scientific publications means any average researchers should, in principle, be familiar with a gargantuan pile of past research that is constantly growing rapidly.  In medical and biosciences especially, regular meta-analytical literature reviews on a topic have therefore become the norm.  These are summaries of past research, that may also reprocess and combine statistical findings from several experiments, thus improving reliability of conclusions.  To help in the labour-intensive task, computer scientists have developed tools and semi-automated machine learning methods.*  The benefits of machine learning are enabled by open access publishing, and even commercial publishers allowing (limited) access to their abstract databases via public APIs.  This has made it tempting for other disciplines to join in the trend.


For multidisciplinary field like consumer economics (subfield of economics with links to sociology, psychology, marketing, science & technology studies, culture studies, nutrition science etc.), the amount of potentially relevant abstracts is multiplied, making machine learning an even more tempting method to approach research literature.  Instead of a full-sized literature survey, a so-called scoping review is a lighter, more interpretive approach that seems more suitable for "soft" social scientists whose methods do not hinge on sample sizes and p-values.  However, different disciplines and sub-disciplinary theories often discuss recognizably similar concepts, but use different terms.  The subsequent need for contextual interpretation leads to a more conceptual problem at the heart of cogntiive science and language technology: how can a fuzzy concept such as "a dynamic process", discussed from various angles in different scientific traditions, be mapped between them all?  Technically, the question is already tackled by commercial start ups that engage in scientific artificial intelligence**, but their products admittedly work better with "harder" scientific fields where studied concepts are more rigid.  In the higher level of language and cognition, Google Neural Machine Translation is boldly leading the way.  So far, the results have sadly not been uniquely impressive***.


For my second PhD-article, I've prepared a python machine learning program to scrape Elsevier Scopus API for various disciplines where evolutionary processes are studied.  As the actual modeling and interpretation is a work in progress, I will also discuss my empirical experiences on using machine learning in a scoping review, and resulting musings possibly spanning from epistemological notions, to imagined potentials of artificial intelligence that may be capable of independent scientific problem-solving.


*e.g. rayyan:


**e.g. Iris AI:




Service-oriented communities: A novel architecture for smarter systems and organizations


Service-oriented communities: A novel organizational architecture for smarter systems and organizations

Vincenzo De Florio


Our turbulent and resource-scarce times force us to reconsider the design of our organizations and systems.  In the new context, traditional solutions reveal all their idiosyncrasies and fragility: they use up too many resources; do not scale well; are intolerable to changes; and fail to address novel aspects and requirements.  In addition, traditional organizations provide their users with products that are static, unevolving, close-data black boxes, which forces the user to accommodate their needs after the available immutable product types.  This is exemplified in this lecture by considering two classes of traditional organizations.  It is argued that much of the fragility of those classes stems from their adoption of a product-dominant logic.  This results in "local and static" operation [1] that does not match with the requirements of our global and highly dynamic societies.  My stance here is that "smarter" ways are possible and feasible.  Novel organizations should be built starting from a service-dominant logic and approaches such as self-servicing protocols and "metarchies".  This is exemplified in this seminar by considering the Service-oriented Community -- a novel organizational architecture for "smarter" systems and organizations.


[1] Richard Buckminster Fuller, "Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking."  Macmillan, 1975.  ISBN 9780025418707.


From theory to action: leveraging the global brain


From theory to action: leveraging the global brain

Forrest Rosenblum


Acknowledging the potential fora  "Global Brain" mediated utopian future, this talk will highlight the threats posed to this future by existing power structures.  It will be shown how these structures can actively counteract the process of self-organization (the process theorized to deliver humanity through its ongoing metasystem transition and to a stabilized, utopian state).  Centralized powers equipped with advanced technologies will be shown to pose a threat in their own right, as will the delay to self-organization that they impose.  To overcome such challenges, this talk proposes the applicaiton of Global Brain theory in order to both effectively construct alterantive socio-political structures, and to generate the social energy required to actually implement said strucutres.  Thus, Global Brain theory itself will be positioned as the Global Brain's saviour.


New developments in the science of aging and longevity: how to live longer, healthier?


New developments in the science of aging and longevity: how to live longer, healthier?

Kris Verburgh


This talk will focus on the latest developments in biogerontology, the science of aging. Recent studies will be discussed in which aging was not only retarded, but even partially reversed in lab animals. The reversibility of the aging process will be discussed, including hurdles to overcome. Senescent cells, epigenetics of the aging process, regenerative medicine, clinical trials with medications and interventions in humans that can slow down aging will be explored. A new update on nutrigerontology will be provided, which is a new scientific discipline that studies how nutrition can accelerate or slow down the aging process and the advent of aging-related diseases like cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, and macular degeneration. Also, new developments regarding start-ups and academic research groups that want to address and treat human aging will be explored.


Links: Nutrigerontology: why we need a new scientific discipline to develop diets and guidelines to reduce the risk of aging-related diseases, Kris Verburgh, Aging Cell, 2014 (link)