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William P. (Bill) Hall

Personal website - Evolutionary Biology of Species and Organizations

William (Bill) Hall is currently an honorary Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne School of Engineering where he does the odd lecture and tutorial in engineering knowledge management and prosecutes his multidisciplinary studies of the evolutionary emergence and interactions of knowledge and organization in hierarchically complex systems from cells to human social systems. He is also a Principal of EA Principals, international consultants and trainers in the area of enterprise architecture, and President of Kororoit Institute Proponents and Supporters Association, Inc., trading as Kororoit Institute. As surveyed in the Institute's Inaugural Symposium: "Living Spaces for Change", among their many other interests relating to complexity and emergence, its members are concerned to apply complex systems thinking to basic and applied research related to real-world problems such as learning how to sustainably managing urban and regional living spaces.

A semi-complete biography is provided here to explain his broad interdisciplinary interests as documented in his professional resume. Bill's Google Citations Author Page automatically maintains an up-to-date listing of his work.


Bill's current research crosses the disciplines of physics, evolutionary biology, epistemology, organization theory, and organizational knowledge management. He is attempting to develop a body of theory applicable to several levels of biological organization from cells to social systems, unifying concepts of life, information and knowledge across the paradigmatic disciplines of epistemology, biology, and the sciences of cognition, organization, information and knowledge management. To do this he is addressing foundation problems in each of these disciplines and working develop a language that can be rationally understood in all of them.

Evolutionary Biology

Bill's experiences as a child watching living marine and fresh water microorganisms through the microscope and teaching general and invertebrate biology in the 1960s led him to ask "What is life?" and "How does life evolve?" As illustrated in his first scientific paper (Hall 1966), Bill's PhD research at Harvard University based on field work in the US and Mexico focused on roles species' genetic systems might play in regulating speciation and the evolution of species through time (Hall 1973). An invitation to contribute to a 2010 special issue of Cytogenetic and Genome Research provided Bill with the opportunity to review the extensive body of research following on from his PhD work (Hall 2010). In the late 1970's, responding to critics of his use of the comparative approach to study speciation, Bill spent most of a two year postdoc in Australia studying the history and philosophy of science and epistemology to evaluate his research methodology (Hall 1983).

Organizational Knowledge Management

Failing to find an academic position where he could prosecute his interests in genetic systems, speciation and evolution, in the early 1980s Bill moved into industry where he became a document, content and organizational knowledge management systems analyst and designer. From 1990 until his retirement mid 2007, Bill worked for the company that became known as Tenix Defence. His work for Tenix paralleled most of the 17+ year life-cycle of the $5 billion ANZAC Ship Project - the largest, most successful defense project in Australian history. Each of the 10 frigates constructed under this project were delivered on time and on budget against a fixed price negotiated 1989, leaving the company with a significant profit. Bill's approach to understand how organizations formed and used knowledge to succeed was based on his evolutionary thinking and studies of epistemology. Arguably, the knowledge creation and management systems Bill designed enabled the support engineering division to save enough against the negotiated price in the contract to cover all other cost overruns in the project, to leave Tenix with a significant profit at the end of the project. Several published works from this period are relevant:

  • Hall, W.P. 2001. How Melbourne is contributing to the contracts standards effort. Legal XML & Electronic Filing: The Australian Focus - A joint conference between the AIJA and VSCL, Melbourne, 25/10/2001. (Presentation, AIJA is the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration and VSCL is the Victorian Society for Computers in the Law).

Theories of Emergence, Organization and Knowledge

In 2000-2001 Bill began thinking about how to combine the threads of his disparate careers into a hypertext book under the working title: Application Holy Wars or a New Reformation: A Fugue on the Theory of Knowledge. The book explores the co-evolution of human cognition and cognitive technologies, as punctuated by major technologically driven cognitive revolutions. Bill found it easy to draft the first two thirds of the book, but found that his ideas about the biological nature of organizations and organizational knowledge were incommensurable any of the existing literature. He thought there was no choice but to return to the academic world to research the incommensurability. Honorary fellowships with Monash University from 2002 to 2005 and The University of Melbourne from late 2005 provided access to academic research libraries and discussion that had been absent in his industrial career up to then. Several papers were written towards developing a theory of emergent organization and organizational knowledge:

Current Research Problems

As noted elsewhere Bill is working to unify the diverse threads in his intellectual career into a unified theory of organization, knowledge and life. The approach to unification combines

  • evolutionary epistemology and three worlds ontology (Campbell 1960, 1990; Popper 1972, 1978, 1994),
  • autopoietic theory of life and cognition (Varela et al. 1974; Maturana & Varela 1980; Varela 1979; Lyon 2004),
  • emergence (Kauffman 1993, 2000),
  • theory of hierarchically complex dynamic systems (Simon 1962, 1973, 2002; Pattee 1973, 2000; Salthe 1985, 1993, 2004),
  • thermodynamics of dissipative systems (Prigogine 1955, 1981, 1999; Prigogine & Antoniou 2000; Morowitz 1968; Kay 1984, 2000; Schneider & Kay 1994, 1994a, 1995),
  • time and downward causation (Emmeche et al. 2000; Pattee 2000; Elitzur & Dolev 2005; Hulswit 2005, Ellis 2006, 2006b, 2008; Auletta et al. 2008; Lobo 2008);
  • biosemiotics and communication (Ong 1982; Pattee 2001, 2001a, 2007, 2007a, 2008; Corning 2001),
  • organization theory (Simon 1957, 1979; Nelson & Winter 1982; Maula 2000, 2005), and
  • cognitive science my weakest area.

Several collaborations are in progress dealing with topics leading to partial unifications. All of these have the difficulty that they cross several paradigmatic boundaries, and to expand explanations to make them understandable across the paradigms makes them too large to be acceptable to many journals. He is also working on a monographic book to cover the entire unification.

To help with the work Bill has established a closed WIKI site called TOMOK (Theory, Ontology and Management of Organizational Knowledge), comparable in many ways to EvoDevo Universe. It is supported by a reference library of several thousand electronic source documents. He would particularly welcome additional collaborators with special skills/interests in any of the above disciplinary areas able to devote some time to help complete papers for publication.

Bill Hall may be contacted on whall@unimelb.edu.au.


Born in 1939, Bill lived on a boat in the Southern California littoral with his family from the age of 5 until he went away to University. Summers and out of school hours Bill spent most of his time in the water or watching animals he collected in aquaria or through a good quality compound microscope. Because of their overwhelming diversity, microorganisms and invertebrates were always more interesting than fish. Following an early interest in astronomy, Bill studied university level physics for 3½ years. This also gave him a chance to play with first generation computers and learn analysis and flow charting, before changing his major to zoology. While studying part time he worked in a sensory and developmental physiology research lab and explored an early interest in systems ecology. Bill's first serious attempt to write an academic paper proved the endosymbiotic origin of chloroplasts a year before Lynn Margulis (then Sagan) published her first paper on endosymbiosis (Sagan 1967; Margules 1968, 1970). Bill completed his PhD in evolutionary biology at Harvard in 1973 on Comparative population cytogenetics, speciation and evolution of the iguanid lizard genus Sceloporus. His teaching career in biology extended between 1965 and 1980 where he taught a wide variety of university subjects from molecular genetics and cytogenetics through invertebrate biology and comparative vertebrate anatomy, to systems level courses such as evolution, biogeography and marine biology.

A two year postdoc in genetics from 1977-1979 at the University of Melbourne gave Bill an opportunity to start writing up ideas from his PhD thesis for formal publication. However, a respected reviewer's accusation that the comparative approach Bill used was "not scientific", led Bill to spend most of the two years studying the history and philosophy of science and epistemology to test the scientific validity of his approach, the results of which were published in 1983.

In the immediate post Baby Boom demography of the late 1970's early 1980's Bill failed to find a continuing academic position that either wanted to or was able to support his multidisciplinary research and teaching interests, so he had no practical choice but to abandon his academic career. Although Bill was unable to continue his ground breaking work on the cytogenetics of speciation, other researchers were better placed to follow it up as detailed in a review he published in 2010.

In 1981 Bill purchased his first personal computer and built a new career in the ferment of evolving computer technology enabled by Moore's Law. Beginning with an academic word-processing bureau specialized in typing science and technology theses, he soon found himself chief author and documentation manager for a software house and then a business analyst and documentation manager for a small commercial bank.

From 1990 through his retirement in mid 2007 Bill worked for what was then Australia's largest defence project management company - in a range of documentation management and content and knowledge management systems analysis and design roles. He joined the company just after it won a $US 7 BN fixed price contract to build 10 ships for two nations, and he retired just as the last ship was completing its warranty period, with the project still on schedule and on budget for the delivery of each ship together with all the documentation and logistic support materials. Arguably, the content and knowledge management systems Bill architected and helped implement enabled a large enough profit to be generated against the project budet to leave a substantial profit for the company after covering all other cost overruns. Unfortunately, the company failed to transfer its project management knowledge the successful project to the next major one, and now no longer exists.

As his major intellectual effort in the management project information and knowledge began to wind down in 2000, Bill began pulling the threads of his career together in the form of a hypertext book on the revolutions and co-evolution of human cognition and our cognitive tools under the working title, Application Holy Wars or a New Reformation: A Fugue on the Theory of Knowledge. An impasse in the writing led Bill to start his return to academia in 2002 with an honorary fellowship in the Faculty of Information Technology at Monash University. In late 2005 he moved to The University of Melbourne where he holds a National Fellowship in the Australian Centre for Science, Innovation and Society, resides in the Engineering Learning Unit of the Melbourne University School of Engineering, and gives occasional guest lectures and tutorials on engineering knowledge management. Bill has served as an external adviser for three PhD students who became interested in Bill's approach to knowledge: Steven Else bounded rationality and the limits to organization in the US Department of Defense, Peter Dalmaris who studied how to improve knowledge intensive business processes, and Susu Nousala who studied how tacit knowledge is transferred in organizational frameworks.

Bill, his students and several other interested parties formed an invisible college they called the TOMOK group interested in the Theory, Ontology and Management of Organizational knowledge. Over several years this has grown stronger and is now formalized as the Kororoit Institute. Bill has also joined a US-based group of Enterprise Architects, EA Principals established by his student Steve Else, where he is participating in developing theory-based courseware for Enterprise Knowledge Architecture.


  • Hall, W.P. (1966). Is the Plastid an Endosymbiont? 26 pp. [The manuscript was first submitted in Hampton L. Carson's Genetics and Evolution course at Washington University, St. Louis., May 3, 1966. It was revised Summer, 1966, in hopes of finding a sponsor for its publication. Although it was finished too late to be presented, the paper was shown at the cell biology meetings in Ames, Iowa, with no result, and has not been updated from this version. The 1966 MS has been converted for publication on the Web. The paper is historically important because one of the first anywhere to review the molecular, cytological and genetic evidence in support of the theory that the cellular structure of single-celled algae arose from a symbiotic association between a non-photosynthetic protozoan and blue-green algae - a thesis that is now accepted by most biologists but was highly revolutionary when it was first made famous by Lynn (Sagan) Margulis in her 1968 article in Science (161:1020-2) and her 1970 book, Origin of Eukaryotic Cells, Yale Univ. Press.
  • Kauffman, S.A. 1993. The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Kauffman, S.A. 2000. Investigations. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Margulis, L. (1970) Origin of Eukaryotic Cells. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Morowitz, H.J. 1968. Energy Flow in Biology: Biological Organization as a Problem in Thermal Physics. New York: Academic Press, 179 pp.
  • Nelson, R.R. & Winter, S.G. 1982. An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Ong, W.J. 1982. Orality & Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Routledge, London.
  • Popper, K.R. 1972. Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. London, Oxford Univ. Press
  • Popper, K.R. 1994. Knowledge and the Body-Mind Problem: In Defence of Interaction. Routledge, London.
  • Prigogine, I. 1955. Introduction to the Thermodynamics of Irreversible Processes. C.C. Thomas, Springfield, Illinois.
  • Prigogine, I. 1981. From Being to Becoming: Time and Complexity in the Physical Sciences, Freeman, New York 272 pp.
  • Prigogine, I. and Antoniou, I. 2000. [www.tyrrhenum.unisi.it/prigogine.doc Science, Evolution and Complexity]. In: "Genetics in Europe - Open days 2000 (GEOD 2000)", Sommet européen, Bruxelles, 16 novembre 2000, p. 21-36.
  • Salthe, S. 1985. Evolving Hierarchical Systems: Their Structure And Representation. Columbia University Press, New York. 343 pp.
  • Salthe, S. 1993. Development and Evolution: Complexity and Change in Biology. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. 357 pp.
  • Simon, H.A. 1957. Models of Man. Wiley, New York.
  • Varela, F.J. 1979. Principles of Biological Autonomy. New York: Elsevier-North Holland.

Recommended Readings

  • Simon, H.A. 1962. The architecture of complexity. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 106(6):467-482
  • Popper, K.R. 1972. Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. London, Oxford Univ. Press
  • Popper, K.R. 1978. Three Worlds: The Tanner Lecture on Human Values. Delivered at The University of Michigan April 7, 1978.
  • Popper, K.R. 1994. Knowledge and the Body-Mind Problem: In Defence of Interaction. Routledge, London.
  • Varela, F.J. 1979. Principles of Biological Autonomy. New York: Elsevier-North Holland
  • Maturana H.R. and Varela F.J. 1980. Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. Reidel, Dortdrecht.
  • Salthe, S. 1985. Evolving Hierarchical Systems: Their Structure And Representation. Columbia University Press, New York. 343 pp.
  • Salthe, S. 1993. Development and Evolution: Complexity and Change in Biology. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. 357 pp.
  • Mingers, J. 1995. Self-Producing Systems: Implications and Applications of Autopoiesis. Plenum Press, New York.
  • Luisi, P.L. 2006. The Emergence of Life: From Chemical Origins to Synthetic Biology. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.
  • Pattee, H.H. 2007. The necessity of biosemiotics: matter-symbol complementarity. (in) Introduction to Biosemiotics, Marcello Barbieri, Ed., Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 2007, pp. 115-132.