Principia Cybernetica Web

Methodology for the Development of MSTT

The methodology used by the Principia Cybernetica Project to build a complete philosophical system is based on a "bootstrapping" principle: the form through which the knowledge is expressed affects its content, and vice versa. Thus, our theories about the evolutionary development of systems are applied to the development of the theory itself, while the structuring of concepts in the form of an evolving semantic network suggests new theoretical concepts (see form and content). A first requirement to develop such concepts is semantic analysis and consensus building about the meaning of terms. This meaning is as much as possible expressed formally through the links between nodes, resulting in a semantic network structure for the web.

Yet, we wish to avoid an over-formalization of the semantic structures we create. The meaning of a term will be partially formal, determined by the network of semantic relations to which it belongs; and partially informal, determined by the personal interpretation of the user who reads the exposition, and who tries to understand the concept by making associations with the context. Such a format allows the adequate representation of precise, mathematical concepts, of vague, ambiguous, "literary" development, and of the whole continuum in between. The degree of "formality" can be used to measure the position of a text on that continuum.

Vague or ambiguous concepts can be incrementally refined and clarified through the process of progressive formalization. Formalization may go in rounds, or levels, becoming more intensive and extensive. In keeping with this strategy, nodes we are writing will be initially organized according to the usual notion of their conceptual dependency understood informally or semi-formally. As the collection of nodes grows, we give more time to the work on formal semantics and the structuring of this accumulated material.

Both semantic networks and progressive formalization avoid starting from a fixed set of primitives or foundational concepts. Instead, we use part of the concepts to clarify other concepts, and vice versa. Thus, by allowing multiple beginnings to exist in parallel we avoid the shortcomings of foundationalism. The resulting system can be read or understood in different orders, for example starting from "meaning" as a primitive concept to develop the concept of evolution, or starting from evolution to analyse the evolution of meaning.

Copyright© 1997 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen, C. Joslyn,

Oct 6, 1997 (modified)
Jul 2, 1997 (created)


Metasystem Transition Theory

Prev. Next

Form and Content

On Semantic Analysis and Consensus Building

Progressive formalization

Multiple Beginnings, Meta-Foundationalism

Meaning Goes First [empty]

Distinction foundations: evolution of meaning [empty]


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