PCP-news digest 1996-98
Principia Cybernetica Web

PCP-news digest 1996-98

The following is a digest of the main news sent every two month as part of the newsletter to the PCP-news mailing list, chronologically ordered.

News - May/June 1996

The last two months have been relatively quiet on the front of new nodes or email discussions. On the other hand, there has been an important meeting of the Principia Cybernetica editorial board in Washington DC, accompanied by some seminars, discussions and a "cybernetics party" (see http://gwis2.circ.gwu.edu/~joslyn/96summer.html for a program of the events). The most important result of the meeting was a new consensual definition of the central concept of "control" together with a number of related concepts. A draft node has already been put on the Web (see below), but it will be elaborated with many more details and related nodes in the coming two It may be of interest to note that a new mailing list, j-memetics, has been created, which is to some degree a "spin-off" of PRNCYB-L. Its aim is to discuss the creation of a peer-reviewed, electronic journal devoted to memetics or "evolutionary models of information transmission". For more info, contact hanss[at]sepa.tudelft.nl (Hans-Cees Speel) or b.edmonds [ at ] mmu.ac.uk (Bruce

News- July/August

Last August, a new study group, associated with PCP, has been started, to discuss the emergence of a "global brain" out of the computer network, which would function as a nervous system for the human "superorganism". Participation is limited to people who have been doing active research and published books or papers on this subject. Present members are: Peter Russell, Gottfried Mayer-Kress, Gregory Stock, Lee Chen, Johan Bollen, Ben Goertzel, Joel de Rosnay, Valentin Turchin and Francis Heylighen. For more info, see http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/suporgli.html or contact Francis

News- Sept/Oct 1996

A first part of the new results, reached during the PCP board meeting in June, on the definition of control have now been incorporated into PCP Web (http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/control.html). Moreover, our programs for self-organizing hypertext and retrieval of words through spreading activation can now be permanently consulted on the web, via a new node devoted to our research on learning, "brain-like" webs (http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/learnweb.html). The PCP editor Cliff Joslyn has moved from Goddard Space Center, NASA, to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. His new address is:
  • Mail Stop B265
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Los Alamos, NM 87545 USA
  • joslyn[ at ]lanl.gov
  • http://gwis2.circ.gwu.edu/~joslyn

The groups associated with PCP have also been quite active. The people involved with the electronic "Journal of Memetics" have reached consensus on an introductory text describing the aims of the journal, a general editorial policy, a managing editor (Hans-Cees Speel, hanss[ at ]sepa.tudelft.nl), and the constitution of an advisory board (presently Daniel Dennett, Aaron Lynch, David Hull and Gary Cziko). At the moment, they are looking for authors wishing to contribute to the first issue, which is scheduled for 1997. If you are interested to write a paper or take part in the reviewing process, please contact Hans-Cees Speel.

The "Global Brain" group (see http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/gbrain-l.html) has started its discussions on superorganisms and networks playing the role of nervous systems. Thanks again to Bruce Edmonds (who already created the PRNCYB-L archive, and the Journal of Memetics list and web site), an archive of the discussions can now be consulted at http://www.fmb.mmu.ac.uk:80/~majordom/gbrain/

News- Nov/Dec 1996

We are happy to announce that Joel de Rosnay is joining PCP as a new "associate" (see http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/masthead.html). Joel is a systems theorist, futurologist, molecular biologist and prolific writer of popular science books on topics related to the cybernetic world view. He is presently Director of Strategy of the Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie at La Villette (Paris, France). His book "The Macroscope", a systemic view of the world as whole, will soon be made available on the Web with the support of PCP. Joel is in particular interested in the "cybernetic organism" formed by global society and its "planetary brain" emerging out of the computer networks. His home page, with interviews and excerpts from his work can be found at http://www.cite-sciences.fr/derosnay/e-index.html

The people involved with the electronic "Journal of Memetics", associated with PCP, have set up their (still experimental) web site for the publication of memetics related articles. The first papers should be published in the next few months.

News- Jan/Feb 1997

The most important development was the publication on PCP Web of a complete book on the system's approach, "The Macroscope", by PCP associate Joel de Rosnay.

News- March-April 1997

After the very successful Web publication of Joel de Rosnay's book "The Macroscope" (which has drawn many positive responses), we are preparing a Web version of another difficult-to-find classic book on cybernetics and systems thinking: "The Phenomenon of Science. A cybernetic approach to human evolution" by PCP editor Valentin Turchin. The book should be available on PCP Web in the coming weeks.

We are preparing the annual meeting of the Principia Cybernetica Editorial Board (F. Heylighen, C. Joslyn, V. Turchin and J. Bollen) in Brussels. It is likely to take place during the last week of June, and to include a visit to Paris for discussions with PCP associate Joel de Rosnay. It might also be accompanied by a seminar on Metasystem Transition Theory at the Free University of Brussels.

The "Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission", associated with PCP, is ready to go on-line with its first issue. After peer review, four papers and a book review have been accepted for publication. Once the website has been thoroughly tested, its URL will be announced through this and other mailing lists. Richard Dawkins has agreed to join the Journal's advisory board.

News- July/August 1997

As could be expected, there was not much activity during the summer months. As announced earlier, the PCP office has moved to a different building within the Free University of Brussels, and is now housed together with the associated Center Leo Apostel. New phone, fax, mail etc. addresses are listed on PCP's masthead (http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/MASTHEAD.html). The move of the project's web server to the new physical location, which is connected to the network by a microwave antenna, went surprisingly smoothly. An increase in the number of system crashes after the move seems now to have been solved by updating the network software.


The opening up of the mailing list of the Global Brain Group to selected non-members has produced a lot of additional discussions. About a dozen new subscribers with diverse backgrounds have joined the list. The archive of messages can be consulted at http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/~majordom/gbrain/

During a stay in Jan's summer house in the (French) Provence, Jan Bernheim and Francis Heylighen have further developed their ideas for a study group that would focus on an evolutionary analysis of social progress. It starts from the observation that practically all indicators for average quality of life (wealth, life expectancy, level of education, equality, democracy, literacy, IQ, life satisfaction, ...) have undergone a spectacular increase during the last half century. ( see http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/Groups/Progress.html). This undeniable progress for humanity as a whole stands in sharp contrast with the prevailing pessimism of many commentators or the relativism of the postmodernists. The main aim of the group is to analyse these trends critically, and to explain them on the basis of evolutionary principles. This may lead to practical and ethical guidelines for future developments.

This group would be associated with PCP, in a way similar to the "Global Brain Group". This means that the group works on a more specific subject within the larger evolutionary-systemic world view which PCP is developing, thus providing a more specialised focus, while including both PCP members and others. People interested in participating in this study group may contact Francis Heylighen .

News- May/June 1997


In the period June 20-30, the annual meeting of the Principia Cybernetica Editorial Board (F. Heylighen, C. Joslyn, V. Turchin and J. Bollen) took place in Brussels. It included a visit to Paris for discussions with PCP associate Joel de Rosnay, and a meeting at the Center Leo Apostel of the Free University of Brussels. The discussions centered on a whole range of issues concerning the organization of the project and its philosophical content. The general state of the project, its web server and associated groups were reviewed.

Some of the practical issues discussed were the editing of nodes by editors at a distance (e.g. using Netscape Gold), and the conversion of LaTeX formatted texts (including a number of PCP papers by Turchin and Joslyn) to HTML. It was decided to try to program a simple converter in Perl, rather than install one of the cumbersome conversion packages that already exist. It was also decided to develop an animated version of the PCP logo, which would illustrate the process of metasystem transition as an infinite recurrence. More advanced interface issues for the organization of Principia Cybernetica Web were discussed, such as the use of frames or Java applets, but no concrete decisions were as yet taken.

At the content level, we focused on the central node about Metasystem Transition Theory, rewriting its text and reorganizing its child nodes. In particular, we decided to add a new "methodology" node. We further discussed different topics, including ethics, the global brain and the idea of progress. Cliff Joslyn proposed a new representation for the central concept of "control", thus extending the one developed at last year's board meeting in Washington DC.

We further discussed a number of recent developments in intelligent computer networking, such as the use of ontologies, semantic webs, link types in hypertext, groupware, multidimensional clustering to develop higher level concepts, graphical representations of complex web structures, agents, and spreading activation. All these technologies are potentially useful to make PCP web more intelligent and user-friendly. Moreover, they are likely to be included in one of the different research proposals being prepared by PCP members and others at the Los Alamos National Research Laboratory, the "Global Brain" study group, and the Free University of Brussels. It was concluded that we need to get a good grasp of the present "state of the art" for these technologies. This will help us to clarify, integrate and strenghten the different proposals.

The meeting with a number of researchers of the Center Leo Apostel (CLEA, see http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/) replaced a planned seminar on Metasystem Transition Theory (MSTT), which was cancelled for practical reasons. The discussion confronted PCP's MSTT with CLEA's research project on transitions between layers of reality. The parallels between both approaches were clear, and it was decided to try and integrate the "control levels" of MSTT and CLEA's "reality layers". This would entail an extension of the known sequence of metasystem transitions down to the level of quantum mechanics, according to the formula: classical mechanics = control (constrained variation) of quantum non-locality. Thus, the hypothesized MST would reduce the infinite dimensional Hilbert space of quantum phenomena to the three dimensional Euclidean space of classical mechanics.

The meeting with Joel de Rosnay at the "Cite des Sciences" in Paris focused mainly on the development of the "Global Brain" theme. de Rosnay suggested to organize a conference on the subject, and to arrange funding for research through various institutions with which he has good contacts. He told us that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, with whom he is acquainted, expressed particular interest in PCP. We agreed that if de Rosnay does not find a publisher for the English translation of his 1995 book "L'homme symbiotique" (Symbiotic Man), we would publish it on PCP web, like we did with his 1975 book "The Macroscope". de Rosnay said he would send us a representation of his own "spiral" model of transitions to higher level of complexity, for inclusion in PCP web.


In the last week of May, the "Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission", associated with PCP, went on-line with its first issue (http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit/). The website is getting more and more popular, and the associated mailing list for memetics discussions has become very active, with 500 messages in its first 5 weeks (see the archive at http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/~majordom/memetics/). However, there are not as yet many new proposals for papers, and authors are still solicited to submit manuscripts.

The "Global Brain" study group has decided to open up its mailing list to selected subscribers ( see http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/gbrain-l.html ). The reason is that the founding members were too busy and their number was too small to sustain active discussions. However, since the global brain topic is bound to attract many mudheads and crackpots, while we wish to keep the intellectual level and signal-to-noise ratio of the discussion high, we agreed about a selection procedure on the basis of the submissions of prospective new members.

News- Sept/Oct 1997

Alex Riegler, an Austrian cognitive scientist, has applied for a postdoctoral visiting fellowship at the Brussels office of PCP. If the application is accepted by the funding agency, he will start to work here on Feb. 1 for a period of one year (and possibly longer). Alex has been doing research on cognitive constructivism and the systems theory of evolution, applied to the design of autonomous agents. For further details and publications about this quite interesting work, see his home page: http://www.ifi.unizh.ch/~riegler/

Valentin Turchin's book "The Phenomenon of Science" has finally been completely scanned in. (the work was delayed because An Vranckx, who was working on the scanning, has been abroad for several months). Once the text has been converted to HTML and integrated with all the figures, the book will be made available on PCP web. We hope to make the official announcement within the next few days.

The study group on "Progress" associated with PCP has had its first informal meeting in Brussels, just before a seminar on "Understanding Happiness" by Ruut Veenhoven, a Dutch sociologist who has done extensive research on the social, economic and psychological factors involved in life-satisfaction. (see his World Database of Happiness: http://www.eur.nl/fsw/soc/happiness.html) Veenhoven himself was enthusiastic to join the group and to collaborate on a joint research proposal. It was agreed to start preparing an edited book, in which different contributors would discuss the different aspects and mechanisms of global progress, such as economic growth, increase in life expectancy, raise in education level and IQ, and improvement in the overall the quality of life. The book is planned to be ready by the year the 2000. Veenhoven suggested the title "The Optimistic Manifesto", but this is of course still open for discussion.

News- Nov/Dec 1997


In spite of the intervening holidays, November and December were quite busy months for the PCP team. PCP editor Val Turchin's book "The Phenomenon of Science" was finally published on the web, and attracted quite some interest.

Two meetings were announced, a "Symposium on Memetics" (http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/MEMETSY.html) chaired by PCP editor F. Heylighen and PRNCYB member Mario Vaneechoutte, and a Special Session on "Semiotics of Autonomous Information Systems" (http://www.c3.lanl.gov/~joslyn/ISAS98/) chaired by PCP editor Cliff Joslyn and PCP associate Luis Rocha. Though the meetings concern different topics, they fall in about the same period, respectively August and September 1998. The first is organized by the "Journal of Memetics" associated with PCP and is part of the 15th Int. Congress on Cybernetics, the second is part of the 1998 Conference on Intelligent Systems and Semiotics.

Although not officially associated with PCP, it is worth mentioning the creation of the new "Journal of Complex Systems" (http://www.santafe.edu/~bonabeau/), edited by our friend Eric Bonabeau from the Santa Fe Institute. The general subject is close to PCP themes, and PCP editor Cliff Joslyn is member of its editorial board.

It has now been confirmed that Alex Riegler, an Austrian cognitive scientist, will come to work at the Brussels PCP office in February. Although his application to the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research was not accepted, he managed to get money for a year's stay from the Austrian National Bank.

The study group on "Progress", associated with PCP has submitted a research project entitled "Progress in global quality of life and its indicators: an interdisciplinary approach" for funding. The aim is to analyse a host of statistical data in order to study in how far the on-going development and modernization of society is associated with increase in happiness, and thus to test the evolutionary theory underlying PCP in the domain most relevant to our present situation. If the project is accepted, this will add another researcher to the PCP team in Brussels, and provide us with some more money. The promoters of the project are Francis Heylighen, Jan Bernheim, Ruut Veenhoven and Robert Scott Gassler.


The last part of 1997 was quite unlucky for PCP's technical infrastructure. First, the PRNCYB-L mailing list in Binghamton, NY, broke down for several weeks. Then, the PRNCYB-L archive in Manchester, UK, suffered a disk crash, so that several messages got lost. Finally, on Dec. 5, the main PCP web server in Brussels, Belgium, had a hard disk crash, caused by an electricity cut-off. Because of poor backing-up procedures (which will be remedied soon), the most recent copy of the material we had was 6 months old, so that lots of files were missing.

Happily, a call for help to this mailing list produced a deluge of reactions from people who had kept copies of PCP files. Two of them even had used a web robot to gather a complete copy of PCP web, which was not more than two weeks old. This allowed us to restore all lost files, though the robot produced a number of small formatting changes, which had to be undone. Because of that, you may still find a few errors in URL's in different PCP nodes. Please let us know if you find one, so that we can correct everything.

Thanks again to all those who offered their help. Because of you, PCP web could be restored with a minimum of delay. Your massive response showed how PCP has gathered a wide audience of people actively interested in our project. This group continues to grow, as shown by the 3 to 4 new subscribers this mailing list gains every week (while very few people ever unsubscribe), and by the many email reactions we receive.

It seems that the number of people actively interested grows more quickly than the number of hits on our server (at present inching towards 8000/day). This is probably caused by the massive increase in servers and web pages on the net, which compete for the attention of a more slowly increasing number of web surfers. The result is that the new users PCP web attracts will be lower in number, but higher in their interest for the specific PCP themes. When PCP web was created, there were only some 200 servers in existence, and practically every server was interesting for those exploring the new medium. Nowadays there is such an overkill in available information, that only those really motivated to study cybernetic philosophy are likely to discover, and do the effort to explore, PCP web.

News- Jan/Feb 1998

After the busy activities at the end of 1997, the beginning of 1998 was relatively quiet. Alex Riegler has started to work at the Brussels PCP office at the end of January. He has joined the project as an editorial assistant. The new address of his home page is http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/riegler/ He has also submitted a research project on "Evolutionary Complexification of Knowledge Systems". If this application is accepted, he will get a 3 year postdoc research contract to work with us.

Contributions for two PCP co-organized sessions are being collected. (see http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/act.html) If you consider submitting an abstract to the symposium on memetics (http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/MEMETSY.html), let me remind you that the deadline for submission is March 10, that is, next week. (the deadline for the session on Semiotics of Autonomous Information Systems has already passed).

Some of you may remember the symposium on "The Evolution of Complexity", organized by PCP in 1995 in Brussels (see http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/EINMAGSY.html). The most important papers presented at this symposium, plus a few other selected papers, have been bundled into a book. This volume (the "violet book" in the 8 volume series Proceedings of the interdisciplinary conference "Einstein meets Magritte", see http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/publications.html) has finally been typeset, and proofs have been sent for correction to the authors. This means that in a few months, it should be available from the publisher, Kluwer Academic.

Since we regularly get questions about the existence of study programs in the domain of cybernetics and systems, it seems worth noting the organization of the 5th European School of Systems Science, in Neuchatel, Switzerland, Sept. 7-11, 1998 (see http://www.unine.ch/CIESYS/ECOLE.html), although this is independent of PCP.

News- March/April 1998

The editorial board of the Principia Cybernetica Project has been preparing its annual board meeting, which will take place this year in Santa Fe, New Mexico, around August 10-20. This meeting will take place together with an informal, invited workshop involving, in addition to the PCP board, some people from the Santa Fe Institute, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the New Mexico State University. The topic is "Emergent Semantic and Computational Processes in Distributed Information Systems" (see http://www.c3.lanl.gov/~joslyn/pcp/workshop98.html). This ties in with our work on self-organizing networks and the global brain.

The Brussels PCP group has received an extensive visit by Mark Bickhard, a cognitive scientist/philosopher/psychologist from Lehigh University, where he has been working with the recently deceased Donald T. Campbell, a PCP associate. Bickhard has developed a philosophy very close to the one we call "Metasystem Transition Theory". Starting from a process ontology, Bickhard develops the theme of variation and selection and emergent organization at the different levels of reality, from quantum fields, via crystals, to living organisms and knowledge, with a specific emphasis on persons. His "interactivist" theory of representation is very close to our view of knowledge based on models, where correspondence is replaced by construction, constrained by selection on the basis of predictions. Bickhard is likely to join the project as an "associate". More info about his work is available at his home page: http://www.lehigh.edu/~mhb0/mhb0.html

The full program of the symposium on memetics, organized by PCP and the Journal of Memetics, including the abstracts of all accepted contributions is now available on the web: http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/MEMETSY.html. Some 23 contributions have been selected for presentation.

News - May/June 1998

Our plans for the annual board meeting of PCP in Santa Fe, New Mexico, have become more concrete. Johan Bollen, Alex Riegler, Cliff Joslyn and Francis Heylighen will meet during the period August 1 to 20, and will be joined by Valentin Turchin from August 9. The accompanying workshop on "Emergent Semantic and Computational Processes in Distributed Information Systems" (see http://www.c3.lanl.gov/~joslyn/pcp/workshop98.html) on August 10-11 is now taking concrete shape, with most abstracts available on the web. This workshop wil hopefully be the start for a fruitful collaboration between PCP and the "Symbiotic Intelligence Project" (http://ishi.lanl.gov/symintel.html), which groups researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Santa Fe Institute. The subject would be the application of self-organizing systems to support collective intelligence on the web.

The Brussels PCP group has received another extensive visit, this time by Liane Gabora, an artificial life/memetics researcher from UCLA, and member of the editorial board of the Journal of Memetics. There is a good chance that she will join us to do research at the Center "Leo Apostel" (CLEA) on the emergence of culture during evolution. Liane has developed an "autocatalytic" model for the emergence of culture or thought, inspired by Stuart Kauffman's work on the origin of life and sparse distributed memory models of cognition. This fits in both with PCP's theory of metasystem transitions, and CLEA's project on "transitions between hard and soft layers of reality". More info on her work can be found at http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/seminars/Gabora.txt . A recent paper is available at http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit/1997/vol1/gabora_l.html

Most papers to be presented at the symposium on memetics, organized by PCP and the Journal of Memetics, are now available on the web: http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/MEMETSY.html. The symposium will take place for two and a half days, from August 26 (afternoon) to August 28. The latest issue (June) of the Journal of Memetics has been published at http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit/1998/vol2/index.html

The project on progress in global quality of life which we submitted was unfortunately not accepted by the funding agency. Neither was Alex Riegler's application for a 3 year Postdoc research contract at CLEA. We'll have to try again next year, or find alternative sources of funding. Johan Bollen has carried out extensive psychological experiments, in collaboration with people from the Catholic University of Leuven, to test the basic assumptions that underly our "learning web" methodology (http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/LEARNWEB.html). At first sights, the results seem positive, but the data need much further processing.

After a year of relatively low level activity, the discussions on our PRNCYB-L mailing list have become very intensive again. Especially the topics of "non-physical experience", "mind and body", "reductionism, holism and complexity" and "will and free will" have produced dozens of messages each. John J. Kineman is presently exploring the possibility to create a two-way gateway between the PRNCYB-L emailing list, and a HyperNews discussion system on the web, that could be used also by non-PRNCYB subscribers. HyperNews was originally developed by another PRNCYB member, Daniel LaLiberte. You can try out a first prototype at http://HyperNews.ngdc.noaa.gov/HyperNews/get/ecosci/1.html

News - July/August 1998


PCP has had had a successfull annual meeting of the editorial board in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in which outstanding issues were discussed, and contacts were made with different researchers working in New Mexico.

The meeting was organized together with a workshop on "Emergent Semantic and Computational Processes in Distributed Information Systems" at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), in which all PCP visitors and local residents participated, together with a number of researchers from LANL, the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), and New Mexico State University (NMSU). The workshop was well attended and aroused quite some interest and discussion about the newly emerging domain of self-organization and complexity models applied to information networks, such as the web.

Texts of the contributions are being collected, and will be gradually made available on the workshop's website (http://www.c3.lanl.gov/~joslyn/pcp/workshop98.html). Afterwards, workshop proceedings will be published, most likely as a LANL internal report at first, and as a book or special issue of a journal in a second stage. This second stage is likely to propose a selection of the most relevant papers, rewritten to take into account the other contributions, together with some newly invited papers from people who did not attend the workshop but who are experts in the domain.

In addition, the PCP group had several interesting discussions with researchers working in the New Mexico area, including Norman Johnson, the driving force behing the LANL "Symbiotic Intelligence Project" (http://ishi.lanl.gov/symintel.html), John Casti from SFI, who was interested to publish a report of the workshop in the journal "Complexity" which he edits, Eric Bonabeau, another SFI resident and editor of "Complex Systems", who is a world authority on the collective intelligence exhibited by insect societies, and Liane Gabora, a memetics researcher affiliated to UCLA.

Liane confirmed that she has accepted our invitation to come to work in Brussels on a two year research contract, starting on Oct. 1. This will allow her to finish her PhD and continue her research on the emergence of culture, while collaborating with the Brussels PCP group at the Center "Leo Apostel". Inversely, a possibility was discussed for Johan Bollen from the Brussels group to come and work at LANL for a one year period, in order to collaborate more closely with Luis Rocha and Cliff Joslyn, the representatives of PCP in New Mexico. Other possibilities for collaboration were discussed with Bonabeau and Johnson, although no concrete decisions have been made as yet.

Because of these different side-activities, together with the not-to-be missed opportunities for sight-seeing and hiking in the spectacular New Mexico surroundings, we had perhaps not as much time for the board meeting itself as we had hoped. In particular, we did not manage to have in-depth discussions on fundamental theoretical issues, although we did discuss some interesting implications of the emergence of collective intelligence in animal and human societies for developing a more detailed model of large scale metasystem transitions. On the other hand, the meeting concluded with a long list of concrete plans for the further development of the project organization in general, and PCP web in particular. These objectives are summarized below.

On the organizational level, it was decided to create an American office for the project ("PCP West"), to complement the present European office in Brussels. This permanent PCP presence at LANL has been made possible by the recent promotion of PCP editor Cliff Joslyn to a tenured "staff" position at the Los Alamos lab. The PCP editorial assistants, Johan Bollen and Alex Riegler, were formally 'promoted' to "assistant editors". We also reiterated our aim to more closely involve the different "associates" of the project in the writing of nodes, and suggested some names of new people to invite as associates or authors of nodes. Finally, we decided to renew contacts with the International Society for Systems Science, which through Bela A. Banathy expressed their interest to collaborate with PCP.


During the meeting we received a final confirmation from Mick Ashby, grandson of the famous cybernetician W. Ross Ashby, that he had received permission from the publishers of his grandfather's classic book, "Introduction to Cybernetics", to publish the book in an electronic version on PCP Web. Since this will be the third "out of print" book which we republish on the Web, we decided to create a special "library" section on PCP web, with electronic versions of important books. The Ashby book will be scanned in during the coming weeks and converted to PDF and HTML for easy printing and browsing.

Moreover, we decided to produce an easy-to-print "book" version of all PCP nodes, so that people don't need to browse between the hundreds of nodes, but can read a more or less complete version of PCP web on paper. A more ambitious aim, which may not be realized soon, is to provide PCP web users with a "shopping basket", in which they can gather a list of only those nodes ("pages") they are interested in, and then receive all these nodes at once in an easy-to-print file format, without the navigational formatting (menu bar, child nodes, etc.) that is only useful for web browsing.

PCP web itself is scheduled for a major overhaul, to improve both its organization and its appearance, so that it would become more easy to browse and to edit. Structurally, the idea is to clearly distinguish all database fields (author, date, title, content, etc.) within the HTML code, by introducing new tags such as Name. These should if possible comply with the newly emerging XML standard, which proposes and open-ended extension to HTML. In particular, a new field will be created for the "synopsys" (summary or definition) of a node. This new representation will make it much easier to reorganize and edit the whole of the web. "Modularizing" the separate entries that make up a node should also make it easier to change the layout of PCP-web.

We have been experimenting with a number of new layouts, which should be both esthetically pleasing and help the user to navigate more efficiently. We would be curious to hear your reactions and suggestions with respect to these different options. Some trial layouts can be seen at the subsequent URLs http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/layout/Default1.html, ..., Default12.html. Apart from purely esthetical issues such as color schemes, icons and logos, the main issue is whether we should put the navigational structure of parent ("up") and child ("down") nodes in a vertical side bar (e.g http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/layout/Default7.html), or in a horizontal box at the bottom of the page (e.g. http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/layout/Default12.html). Please let us know which features or layouts you prefer.

For PCP web as a whole, it was decided to create, together with the New Mexico office, a New Mexico mirror of the main Brussels server, so as to facilitate access from America and provide a permanently available backup in case of server problems. Moreover, if a NSF proposal submitted by the LANL group and a group at NMSU would be accepted, money would become available to create a "collaborative knowledge space", at NMSU. This would contain an experimental version of PCP Web, the SFI web and perhaps others, so as to allow experiments with different algorithms for web self-organization or information retrieval, as they were developed by Luis Rocha, Johan Bollen and other PCP contributors. It was also decided to try and reserve some alternative domain names for the PCP server(s), in particular: pcp.vub.ac.be, pcp.lanl.gov and cybernetica.org (pcp.org, pcp.com and pcp.net are already taken by organizations that have nothing to do with Principia Cybernetica).


The Brussels PCP people had hardly recovered from the jetlag of the journey back to Europe, or we had to go to the 3-yearly Cybernetics congress in Namur, Belgium, for the first ever symposium on Memetics. The symposium was organized and chaired by Mario Vaneechoutte and myself. It was quite successful, with attendance ranging between 15 and 40 people during the two and a half days. The discussions after each talk were particularly animated, showing that memetics has developed into a topic that receives a lot of interest, especially among young researchers. The average age of the contributors was quite low (most of them did not have a PhD yet), and about a generation younger than the age of the attendant to other symposia. The congress president, Jean Ramaekers, told me that he was very happy with this "rejuvenation" of a congress that has taken place without interruption since 1956.

By the way, Jean Ramaekers and me also discussed the possibility to create a Belgian association for cybernetics and systems science. This informal association, for which WOSC president Robert Vallee suggested the name "Systemica Belgica", would be used as a communication channel between researchers in Belgium, to inform each other about cybernetics related activities, such as seminars, conferences, projects, etc. If you work in or around Belgium and would be interested to participate, please send me a message with your address, domain of interest and suggestions about the organization.

From the scheduled symposium program (http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/MEMETSY.html), only 3 contributors did not make it: Liane Gabora, who had apologized because she was too busy preparing her long term visit to Belgium, Thomas Quinn and Koen Bruynseels. On the other hand, a guy whose name I don't remember (?Rosdeitcher?) presented an improvised, but entertaining talk in which he sketched his own "conversion" from being a follower of Ayn Rand's "objectivist" philosophy to becoming an advocate of the memetic/cybernetic paradigm.

From the other, scheduled talks, I particularly appreciated my co-chair Mario Vaneechoutte's speculations on the origin of life as a model for memetics, Michael Best's simulation of cultural vs. genetic evolution, Szabolcs Szamado's analysis of fundamental memetic replication processes, John Evers' application of memetics to explain altruism and Paul Marsden's review of research on "social contagion" as an existing body of empirical data that cries out for a memetic reinterpretation. The talk by my PCP collaborator Johan Bollen about our learning web algorithms also generated a very positive response, although I am of course not in an objective position to judge about its quality (;-). Practically all papers should by now be available on the web via the above symposium URL. They will be published by the end of this year as part of the congress proceedings.

The symposium was concluded with a lively panel discussion, chaired by Gary Boyd, in which the absent panel member Gabora was replaced by Paul Marsden, and a short brain storming session with all remaining participants to generate a list of suggestions for us to advance the field of memetics. One of the concrete decisions was to steer the Journal of Memetics more in the direction of the system of commentary used by "Behavioral and Brain Sciences". This requires us setting up a list of commentators.

News - Sep/Oct 1998


After the board meeting in August, the last two months have basically been used to start implementing the many activities planned during that meeting.

We are still working on an extensive overhaul of the layout of PCP-web. This has been facilitated by the creation of a layout template approach, where the placeholders for items such as "author", "date", "title", are automatically replaced by the appropriate fields in the database that holds all PCP documents. Thus, we only need to edit the single template file in order to change the layout of the hundreds of PCP pages all at once. As announced previously, the database fields have also been separated more clearly in the HTML documents, using fieldtext tags. A new "synopsys" field has been created to hold a 1 sentence summary of the document (see http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/chaos.html for an example).

Several proposed layouts have been circulating, including some proposed by subscribers to this mailing list. Most usefully, Katie Lucas suggested to include a complete hierarchical pathname on each web page, e.g.

Home : Metasystem Transition Theory : Epistemology : Evolutionary Epistemology

This should alleviate the feeling of "lost in hyperspace" which many people experience when browsing through such a large and complex site as PCP Web. If you see immediately how the present page fits into the overall hierarchy, you will find other pages more easily. It is our intention to integrate this hierarchical path, which lists the documents that are"above" the present document in the hierarchy, with the present list of "child nodes", the documents that are "below" the present document. With a better graphical layout, we hope to convey this hierarchical up-down structure more intuitively than by the present list of "parent" and "child" nodes.

Since many people have asked us whether they can download the PCP-web as a whole, we now have provided a zip-compressed version of all the main documents. It can be downloaded as a single file, and then be uncompressed to produce a local version of PCP web on your hard disk. The file is available at http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/PCP-Web.zip

Getting this single file is much to be preferred to the presently ever more frequent procedure of using a robot to download the whole site page by page. This procedure results in a heavy load on the server, slowing down its response to other users. This is particularly true when the robot activates all kinds of cgi scripts, that are used e.g. for annotations or search, but that don't produce any new information. So, please, stop using robots to suck in the whole site! (or at least program them to be polite, that is, collect files slowly and ignore files that end in ".cgi" or ".acgi").

We have also produced an experimental HTML file which contains the main documents as a single *printable* document, rather than a collection of hundreds of cross-linked pages. This is meant for users who would like to have a printout of all the basic material, so that they can read at leisure. This "book-like" version of PCP-web is available at http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/PCP-book.html


The first steps have been taken to create a mirror of PCP web on the Los Alamos site.

Ashby's book "Introduction to Cybernetics" has been completely scanned in. We just need to finish some formatting details (tables, formulas, etc.) and then will make the book available as a single PDF file on the web. We plan to stick as closely as possible to the original layout of the book.

As announced in the previous newsletter, Liane Gabora, a memetics researcher, has joined the PCP team at the Center "Leo Apostel" in Brussels. Her newly created home page can be consulted at http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/gabora/

Inversely, PCP researcher Johan Bollen, whose new home page is at http://pespmc2.vub.ac.be/, is preparing to move from Brussels to join the PCP group in Los Alamos.

A summary of the panel discussion which concluded the Memetics Symposium, co-organized by PCP, is now available at http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit/1998/vol2/panel_discussion.html

Copyright© 2000 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen,

Mar 1, 2000


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