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Systemic Modeling and Applications

One of the most important challenges of this century is the integration of worldviews. CLEA has dedicated to this problem for several decades (see other working groups to know more). When it comes to scientific and quantitative oriented aspects of this challenge, we confront with a number of issues. For the sake of clarity, suppose we want to study a complex-enough phenomena which needs several perspectives to be even partially understood (e.g. global warming or social inequality) such as:

  • Different variables are differetly relevant for different specialization areas 
  • Same concepts might refer to different things
  • Operations at different time-scales are relevant
  • Top-down and bottom-up influences are in play. 
  • Etc.

Examples of such kind of phenomena happen not only in relation to human problems, but also in biochemistry, developmental and evolutionary biology, ecology, psychology, economics, sociology, political science, etc.

Most importantly, our future knowledge requires interdisciplinary mixes of all these perspectives to produce integrative views on reality.

There is an abstract representation of all these situations as instances of a single form called Complex Adaptive Systems. This research group attempts to better understand such, from an interdisciplinary perspective. Below you can find more about history and motivation.

What We Do

We develop conceptual frameworks, mathematical models, and applied cases of phenomena where the reductionist paradigm fails due to the systemic nature of the object of study. Of special interest are interdisciplinary phenomena with several entities and complex contextual interactions, such as metabolic and ecological systems, human-environment relations, socio-technological adaptations, or creativity-able systems.

The Systemic Modeling and Applications Group

This group functions as an International Joint Research Group (IJRG) based at the VUB and is under the supervision of Prof. Francis Heylighen, director of CLEA. 

Chair: Dr. Tomas Veloz 

Senior members:

  • Prof. Christian Jendreiko (Faculty of Design, HSD University of Applied Sciences, Duesseldorf, Germany, IJRG Partner 1)
  • Prof. Peter Dittrich (BioSystems Analysis Group, Jena Center for BioInformatics, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Germany, IJRG Partner 2)
  • Prof. Diederik Aerts (CLEA, Belgium)
  • Prof. Jorge Soto Andrade (Universidad de Chile)
  • Prof. Aura Reggiani (University of Bologna, Italy)
  • Dr. Vincenzo de Florio (CLEA, Belgium)
  • Stan Bundervoet (CLEA, Belgium)


  • Dr(c). Daniela Flores (Universidad de Chile)
  • Marcus Wetzler (Berlin University of the Arts, Germany) 
  • Gabriel Herrera (Universidad de la República, Uruguay)

History and Motivation

The Centre Leo Apostel has been involved in the development of interdisciplinary research for more than 25 years. In the last years, due to the acquired grants and the postdoctoral researchers involved in these projects, the collaboration along the lines of systemic modeling has steadily grown. In particular, the framework of Chemical Organization Theory, developed by the group of Prof. Peter Dittrich in the mid 2000’s, has caught the attention and has been applied in CLEA for nearly 10 years, and is central to the current CLEA research grant “THE ORIGINS OF GOAL-DIRECTEDNESS: A FORMAL SCENARIO BASED ON CHEMICAL ORGANIZATION THEORY AND CYBERNETICS” (a.k.a. Origins grant), funded  by the Templeton Foundation between December 2020 and October 2023 (whose co-PI’s are the current director of CLEA, Francis Heylighen, and the postdoctoral researcher Dr. Tomas Veloz), which seeks to develop a scenario for the self-organization of goal-directedness from a systemic perspective applying Chemical Organization Theory as a systemic modeling framework. This grant has driven the  publication of articles in well-reputed scientific journals by the Origins grant group, and has implied strong exchange of ideas with Prof. Peter Dittrich’s group, motivating developments at the theoretical and applied levels.  

Additionally, the Origins grant involves a work-package related to goal-directedness in creativity. In this vein, and in coincidence with previous exchanges around the application of Systemic Modeling for creative processes between Dr. Tomas Veloz, Dr. Vincenzo de Florio, Stan Bundervoet (from CLEA), Prof. Christian Jendreiko (from HSD University of Applied Sciences, partner in this IJRG application) and his students, a parallel project involving teaching and research of systemic modeling applied to design and arts has been in course since May 2021. 

The above described collaborations between CLEA researchers, together with Peter Dittrich’s and Christian Jendreiko’s groups, over the 2021 period have opened the mutual interest of these two groups to exchange ideas in a tripartite way instead of as two separate research streams centralized by CLEA. Therefore, creating a research group will foster the interdisciplinary character of the two current research streams, will give a chance to students of the three groups involved to collaborate and exchange knowledge relevant for their theses.