Skip to main content

Francis Heylighen

Director, Directors, Human Energy Project, Templeton


I am a professor at the Free University of Brussels (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), where I direct the Center "Leo Apostel", and the associated research group "Evolution, Complexity and Cognition.  I am also affiliated with the Department of History, Art and Philosophy (HARP), where I teach in the program on philosophy and ethics (FILO). I have for long been an editor of the Principia Cybernetica Project, an international organization for the collaborative development of an evolutionary-systemic philosophy, which is now essentially dormant after the death of its founder, Valentin Turchin .

The main focus of my research is the origin and evolution of complex, and in particular intelligent, organization. How do systems emerge, self-organize, adapt and achieve some form of cognition? I approach these problems starting from an ontology of actions or processes: the building blocks of reality are not material particles or "things", but interactions. Systems are then merely self-maintaining networks of processes, as elegantly modelled by the formalism of COT. I have worked in particular on the development of collective intelligence or distributed cognition, and its application to the emerging "global brain". I have also been looking at how individual agents tackle challenges via action, exploration, and learning, and how their interactions become coordinated via connectionist networks and stigmergy.

I use the underlying action ontology as a foundation for the integration of ideas from different disciplines into an evolutionary-cybernetic "world view" , which is to replace the static and reductionist Newtonian worldview. This broad evolutionary view, together with its practical applications on the Internet, has helped me to develop a broad, but concrete vision on the future of the information society. The main idea is that humanity is undergoing a metasystem transition towards a higher level of organization and distributed intelligence that can be conceived as a "Global Brain".

The courses I teach at the VUB, mostly for philosophy students, summarize my broad understanding of these topics: Complexity and Evolution, Mind, Brain & Body, Technology & Society, and Effective Thinking. My freely available lecture notes can be used as textbooks on the domain.

As a true interdisciplinarian, I have moreover done research and published papers about a wide variety of subjects in a wide variety of disciplines, from mathematical physics, via computer science and life sciences to linguistics, economics, sociology, psychology, philosophy and the meeting of art and science, including:


My list of some 200 publications (almost all downloadable) is available on my Google Scholar page, starting with the most cited. This includes a numerical analysis of my citations (over 11000) and my H-index (56: getting better and better...). To check the newest work, here is the same Google Scholar page, starting with the most recent.

A little more about myself

For more about my work, check my biographical sketch, or my more detailed "Notes for an intellectual autobiography". I have produced some artwork and literary writing. Here is a selection of my best photos and my graphic work. To get an idea of my character, you can check my personality profile according to the "Big Five" psychological dimensions, and my Myers-Briggs personality type. For an idea of my tastes, here is a Youtube playlist of music I like. I am an enthusiastic adept of the paleolithic lifestyle: maximizing health and happiness by living more like our hunter-gatherer ancestors. The effect on my physical abilities is illustrated by my "athletic selfies".


Krijgskundestraat 33
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Campus Etterbeek
Pleinlaan 2
1050 Brussels