Erich Jantsch

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Erich Jantsch (born January 8, 1929 in Vienna , † December 12, 1980 in Berkeley , California ) was an Austrian astrophysicist and co-founder of the Club of Rome .

His book on the paradigm of self-organization

Jantsch is the author of the popular book The Self-Organization of the Universe . It is an expanded version of the public Gaither Lectures in Systems Science that Jantsch gave in May 1979 at the invitation of the University of California at Berkeley. This book influenced many well-known authors from various fields (including Ken Wilber ) and for the first time offered a coherent understanding of holism , coevolution and self-organization as the driving, creative forces of evolution.

Through his consistently evolutionary worldview, which - as the subtitle suggests - at least extends from the Big Bang to the formation of the human mind, he tried to recognize a "total sense" in the development of the universe on a purely scientific basis on the basis of the self-organization of complex systems .

In doing so, he wanted to expressly distance himself from Jacques Monod's “meaningless world” , for example . In the book Chance and Necessity, Monod draws the following conclusion from his research on genetics: “If he accepts this message in its full meaning, then man [...] must recognize his total abandonment, his radical foreignness. He now knows that he has his place like a gypsy on the edge of the universe, deaf to his music and indifferent to his hopes, sufferings or crimes. Man is alone in the indifferent immensity of the universe from which he happened to emerge. "

When Jantsch's book appeared, it was the first of its kind in which the then completely new theories of self-organization (among others by Prigogine and Hermann Haken ) were presented as a new paradigm of science in connection with a new evolutionary cosmology and philosophy.

Attitude to life

Jantsch didn't just write theoretical books about his view of things. He also tried to organize his life according to what his books said. Instead of “curriculum vitae”, he preferred to talk about his various so-called “life structures”, of which he tried out around nine himself. I.a. he was an astrophysicist, music critic, urban planner, futurologist, one of the six founding members of the Club of Rome , author and lecturer.

Jantsch, who initially started out with astrophysics rather conservatively, apparently sensed that there are more important things in life than dealing with detailed questions of physics.

Due to his strong interdisciplinary thirst for research, he first landed in " futurology " and dealt with systems theory and the fundamentals of long-term planning within the framework of the OECD . But Jantsch realized that in practice rigid planning almost never leads to an appropriate description, forecast, or even design of the future. With this experience, Jantsch had no choice but to go deeper and deeper into the question of how the world, even without fixed objectives, under the influence of random fluctuations, could develop ever greater complexity and ever more refined shapes, and yes, evidently even had to develop it. But the ever faster destruction of the terrestrial biosphere and even the planetary climate points to a crisis in this "added value". Jantsch's thoughts on this were as follows: If it were now possible to understand the principles of the history of value creation and make them widely understandable, then it might be possible to organize people in such a way that a viable overall system is created. However, according to Jantsch, knowledge of the laws of nature alone could not be sufficient for this - after all, the breakdown of systems also obeys the laws of nature.

Jantsch was therefore concerned with finding the prerequisites and boundary conditions under which viable complex systems could develop. Building on the groundbreaking work of Ilya Prigogine , to whom he also dedicated his book, he reveals the infinitely diverse boundaries between order and chaos, which shows that even very simple systems with non-linear behavior can produce extremely complex structures.

To this end, Jantsch compiled a hitherto unknown wealth of illustrative material for the principles of self-organization - from the researchers of his time, with whom he made personal contact with great dedication. Some theories, such as B. the work of Prigogine at that time, had not yet reached the level of a generally valid theory. With a lot of speculative imagination, Jantsch therefore added the missing pieces of the puzzle in order to feel essential features of the various detailed processes and then to summarize them in higher-level terms. But nowhere did he ever claim to preach ultimate truths. Rather, with his groping he wanted above all to incite science to continue his work and to create even clearer concepts.


  1. The self-organization of the universe: From the Big Bang to the human spirit , ISBN 978-3446170377 ; Hanser-Verlag 1992 (first edition 1979)
  2. ^ The Self-Organizing Universe: Scientific and Human Implications of the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution , ISBN 978-0080243122 ; Pergamon-Verlag 1980
  • Technological Forecasting in Perspective. OECD, Paris 1967
  • Perspectives of Planning. OECD, Paris 1968
  • Technological Planning and Social Futures . London and New York 1972
  • Design for Evolution: Self-Organization and Planning in the Life of Human Systems . New York 1975
  • Evolving Images of Man. Dynamic Guidance for the Mankind Process . 1976
  • Evolution and Consciousness. Human Systems in Transition . London and Amsterdam 1976

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