Definition of Causality:
(or Causation) A process linking two or more events or states of affairs so that one brings about or produces the other. One event is the cause of another
if (a) the event occurs prior to the effect, (b) there is an INVARIANT conjunction of the two events and (c) there is an underlying MECHANISM or
physical STRUCTURE attesting to the necessity of the conjunction. Since (c) is not always demonstrable in empirical data the requirement may be
replaced by tests assuring that no third VARIABLE CONTROLs both or mediates between the two events. Without this weaker test, a cause may be
termed spurious and genuine otherwise. Social events are rarely uni-causal phenomena and as DETERMINISTIC as in the natural sciences. Causality in
the social sciences therefore tends to be multi-causal and PROBABILISTIC (see PROBABILITY, INFORMATION THEORY). Philosophy of science
has devoted much attention to the role of causality in scientific CONSTRUCTs. The theoretical importance of causal EXPLANATIONs is that one can
apply them to explain what happened and predict what will happen. Their practical importance is that they lead one to produce or to prevent causally
In practice, the causality principles mentioned above only make sense when equality or distinction can be interpreted macroscopically, by means of
boundaries between equivalence classes of causes and effects, so that microscopic differences between causes within one equivalence class can be ignored
and only the macroscopic differences between the classes need to be taken into account. This is "macroscopic causality". However, macroscopic causality
will only work in certain cases (e.g. when the dynamics is non-chaotic), and therefore cannot be seen as a universal principle.
"Systems Theory: the transdisciplinary study of the abstract organization of phenomena, independent of their substance,
type, or spatial or temporal scale of existence. It investigates both the principles common to all complex entities, and the
(usually mathematical) models which can be used to describe them".
Systems theory was proposed in the 1940's by the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy (: General Systems Theory, 1968), and furthered by Ross
Ashby (Introduction to Cybernetics, 1956). von Bertalanffy was both reacting agaInst reductionism and attempting to revive the unity of science. He
emphasized that real systems are open to, and interact with, their environments, and that they can acquire qualitatively new properties through
emergence, resulting in continual evolution. Rather than reducing an entity (e.g. the human body) to the properties of its parts or elements (e.g. organs
or cells), systems theory focuses on the arrangement of and relations between the parts which connect them into a whole (cf. holism). This particular
organization determines a system, which is independent of the concrete substance of the elements (e.g. particles, cells, transistors, people, etc). Thus,
the same concepts and principles of organization underlie the different disciplines (physics, biology, technology, sociology, etc.), providing a basis for
their unification. Systems concepts include: system-environment boundary, input, output, process, state, hierarchy, goal-directedness, and information.
The developments of systems theory are diverse (Klir, Facets of Systems Science, 1991), including conceptual foundations and philosophy (e.g. the
philosophies of Bunge, Bahm and Laszlo); mathematical modeling and information theory (e.g. the work of Mesarovic and Klir); and practical
applications. Mathematical systems theory arose from the development of isomorphies between the models of electrical circuits and other systems.
Applications include engineering, computing, ecology, management, and family psychotherapy. Systems analysis, developed independently of systems
theory, applies systems principles to aid a decisIon-maker with problems of identifying, reconstructing, optimizing, and controlling a system (usually a
socio-technical organization), while taking into account multiple objectives, constraints and resources. It aims to specify possible courses of action,
together with their risks, costs and benefits. Systems theory is closely connected to cybernetics, and also to system dynamics, which models changes in
a network of coupled variables (e.g. the "world dynamics" models of Jay Forrester and the Club of Rome). Related ideas are used in the emerging
"sciences of complexity", studying self-organization and heterogeneous networks of interacting actors, and associated domains such as
far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics, chaotic dynamics, artificial life, artificial intelligence, neural networks, and computer modeling and simulation.
Francis Heylighen and Cliff Joslyn
Prepared for the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy.(Copyright Cambridge University Press)
General System Theory; Foundations, Development, Applications.
One of the biggest problems of present society is the effect of overall change and acceleration on human psychology. Neither individual minds nor
collective culture seem able to cope with the unpredictable change and growing complexity. Stress, uncertainty and frustration increase, minds are
overloaded with information, knowledge fragments, values erode, negative developments are consistently overemphasized, while positive ones are
ignored. The resulting climate is one of nihilism, anxiety and despair. While the wisdom gathered in the past has lost much of its validity, we don't have
a clear vision of the future either. As a result, there does not seem to be anything left to guide our actions.
What we need is a framework that ties everything together, that allows us to understand society, the world, and our place in it, and that could help us to
make the critical decisions which will shape our future. It would synthesize the wisdom gathered in the different scientific disciplines, philosophies and
religions. Rather than focusing on small sections of reality, it would provide us with a picture of the whole. In particular, it would help us to
understand, and therefore cope with, complexity and change. Such a conceptual framework may be called a "world view".
The Belgian philosopher Leo Apostel has devoted his life to the development of such an integrating world view. As he quickly understood, the
complexity of this task is too great for one man. Therefore, a major part of Apostel's efforts were directed at gathering other people, with different
scientific and cultural backgrounds, to collaborate on this task. Only in the last years of his life, after several failed attempts, did he managed to create
such an organization: the "Worldviews" group, which includes people from disciplines as diverse as engineering, psychiatry, theology, theoretical
physics, sociology and biology.
Their first major product was a short book entitled "World views, from fragmentation to integration". This booklet is a call to arms, a program listing
objectives rather than achievements. Its main contribution is a clear definition of what a world view is, and which are its necessary components. The
"Worldviews" group has continued to work on different components and aspects of this general objective. Many of its members are also involved in a
new interdisciplinary research center at the Free University of Brussels, which is named after Leo Apostel: the "Center Leo Apostel".
The book lists seven fundamental components of a world view. I will discuss them one by one, using a formulation which is slightly different from the
one in the book, but which captures the main ideas.
A model of the world
It should allow us to understand how the world functions and how it is structured. "World" here means the totality, everything that exists
around us, including the physical universe, the Earth, life, mind, society and culture. We ourselves are an important part of that world.
Therefore, a world view should also answer the basic question: "Who are we?".
The second component is supposed to explain the first one. It should answer the questions: "Why is the world the way it is? Where does it all
come from? Where do we come from?". This is perhaps the most important part of a world view. If we can explain how and why a particular
phenomenon (say life or mind) has arisen, we will be able to better understand how that phenomenon functions. It will also help us to
understand how that phenomenon will continue to evolve.
This extrapolation of past evolution into the future defines a third component of a world view: futurology. It should answer the question
"Where are we going to?" It should give us a list of possibilities, of more or less probable future developments. But this will confront us with a
choice: which of the different alternatives should we promote and which should we avoid?
This is the more fundamental issue of value: "What is good and what is evil?" The theory of values defines the fourth component of a world
view. It includes morality or ethics, the system of rules which tells us how we should or should not behave. It also gives us a sense of purpose,
a direction or set of goals to guide our actions. Together with the answer to the question "why?", the answer to the question "what for?", may
help us to understand the real meaning of life.
Knowing what to strive for does not yet mean knowing how to get there, though. The next component must be a theory of action
(praxiology). It would answer the question "How should we act?" It would help us to solve practical problems and to implement plans of
Plans are based on knowledge and information, on theories and models describing the phenomena we encounter. Therefore, we need to
understand how we can construct reliable models. This is the component of knowledge acquisition. It is equivalent to what in philosophy is
called "epistemology" or "the theory of knowledge". It should allow us to distinguish better theories from worse theories. It should answer the
traditional philosophical question "What is true and what is false?"
The final point on the agenda of a world view builder is not meant to answer any fundamental question. It just reminds us that world views
cannot be developed from scratch. You need building blocks to start with. These building blocks can be found in existing theories, models,
concepts, guidelines and values, scattered over the different disciplines and ideologies. This defines the seventh component: fragments of
world views as a starting point.
The Principia Cybernetica Project has decided to build an evolutionary-systemic world view, which starts from the different concepts and principles
developed in cybernetics, systems theory and the theory of evolution. Its world view can be summarized in the form of answers to a list of eternal
The basic idea underlying PCP is that evolution leads to the spontaneous emergence of systems of higher and higher complexity or "intelligence": from
elementary particles, via atoms, molecules, living cells, multicellular organisms, plants, and animals to human beings, culture and society. This historical
development can be understood with the help of concepts such as self-organization, selection, adaptation, variety, chaos, hierarchy, autonomy, control,
cognition, and metasystem transition.
This perspective makes it possible to unify knowledge from presently separate disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, etc. We
thus wish to revive the transdisciplinary tradition of General Systems Theory, by adding recently developed insights around evolution and complexity. The
resulting scientific/philosophical framework should provide us with an answer to the basic questions: "Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are
we going to?"
The Principia Cybernetica Project (PCP) is a collaborative attempt to
develop a complete cybernetic and evolutionary philosophy. Such a
philosophical system should arise from a transdisciplinary unification and
foundation of the domain of Systems Theory and Cybernetics. Similar to the
metamathematical character of Whitehead and Russell's "Principia
Mathematica", PCP is meta-cybernetical in that we use cybernetic tools and
methods to analyze and develop cybernetic theory.
These include the computer-based tools of hypertext, electronic mail,
electronic publishing, and knowledge structuring software. They are meant
to support the process of collaborative theory-building by a variety of
contributors, with different backgrounds and living in different parts of
the world. PCP thus naturally develops in the "cyberspace" of interlinked
electronic networks, as implemented by the World-Wide Web distributed
PCP is being developed as a dynamic, multi-dimensional conceptual network.
The basic architecture consists of nodes, containing expositions and
definitions of concepts, connected by links, representing the associations
that exist between the concepts. Both nodes and links can belong to
different types, expressing different semantic and practical categories.
As its name implies, PCP focuses on the clarification of fundamental
concepts and principles of the broadly defined domain of cybernetics and
systems, which includes related disciplines such as the "sciences of
complexity", AI, ALife, Cognitive Science, Evolutionary Systems, etc.
Concepts include: Complexity, Information, Entropy, System, Freedom,
Control, Self-organization, Emergence, etc. Principles are for example
Natural Selection, "the whole is more than the sum of its parts", and the
Laws of Requisite Variety, of Requisite Hierarchy, and of Regulatory
The PCP philosophical system is to be seen as a clearly thought out and
well-formulated, global "world view", integrating the different domains of
knowledge and experience. It should provide an answer to the basic
questions: "Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going to?".
The PCP philosophy is systemic and evolutionary, based on the
self-organization of higher levels of organization or control (metasystem
transitions) through blind variation and natural selection. It includes:
a) a metaphysics, based on processes or actions as ontological primitives,
b) an epistemology, which understands knowledge as constructed by the
subject or group, but undergoing selection by the environment;
c) an ethics, with survival and the continuance of the process of
evolution as supreme values.
Philosophy and implementation of PCP are united by their common framework
based on cybernetic and evolutionary principles: the computer-support
system is intended to amplify the spontaneous development of knowledge
which forms the main theme of the philosophy.
PCP is managed by a board of editors (presently V. Turchin [City University
York], C. Joslyn [NASA] and F. Heylighen [Free Univ. of Brussels]).
Contributors are kept informed through the pcp-news and PRNCYB-L electronic
mailing lists, FTP and World-Wide Web servers. Further activities of PCP
are publications in journals or books, and the organization of meetings or
symposia. More information about PCP is available on the World-Wide Web at