In Hermann Hesse’s book, the Glass Bead Game constructs “a kind of universal language” based on interrelations between different disciplines, the aim being a synthesis of all the arts and sciences. The game is not entirely, nor even consistently, described, thus opening to several interpretations: is it reduced to an intricate combinatory game searching for interactions between beads of established knowledge, or could it be extended for leading to innovative interdisciplinary research? It is the question we are going to examine.

To this end, we will consider the 25 years development of the MES methodology (cf. Memory Evolutive Systems, A. Ehresmann and J.-P. Vanbremeersch, 2007) to try to play a revisited “glass bead game” aiming at synthesizing the main characteristics of living systems, be they biological, cognitive, social or cultural. Based on a ‘dynamic’ category theory, MES models autonomous multi-scale evolutionary systems which evolve through successive complexification processes — adding, suppressing or binding components. The global dynamic weaves local operative dynamics, whose interactions are mediated by a flexible and plastic central memory developing over time.

One main result (Emergence Theorem) shows that the existence of multifaceted components (“Multiplicity Principle”) is a necessary condition for the emergence of components of increasing complexity orders, whose interrelations (“complex links”) are not reducible to a simple combination of links between their components. Applied to MENS (a MES representing the neural-mental-cognitive system), it explains the emergence of higher cognitive processes up to anticipation and creativity through the development of a higher Archetypal Core. Recently this has been extended to collective action, in particular to innovative design.

Conclusion: As long as the Glass Bead Game is played with rigid glass beads representing invariant structures or pieces of knowledge, it cannot deal with “becoming”, thus at most allowing for “combinatory” and “exploratory” creativity in Boden’s sense. To model “transformational” creativity – e.g. understanding how properly new rules (complex links) could emerge – the beads should be multifaceted, presenting different facets depending on context. These beads should have some plasticity and eventually disappear over time (e.g. to account for evolving knowledge).