Chaos, machine, or evolving complexity? The butterfly effect suggests a world in chaos—with linkages so random or nuanced that just to measure or pre-state them is virtually impossible. To predict how they will interact is even less feasible. Thanks to “adjacent possibles” and the contradictory impulses of human behavior, much of our world appears to move in random spasms. Every new technology and policy outcome creates opportunities to push society in new and often unforeseen directions, driven by human agents who may introduce crucial but unpredictable goals, strategies, and actions. Against this view, complexity science seeks to identify patterns in interactive relationships. Many patterns can be plotted and, in some cases, foreseen. A comparison of political entities across the globe points to certain factors conducing to societal fitness. Analysis of states that have declined in fitness suggests why their strengths turned to weaknesses. A survey of societies that were relatively democratic points to several factors that contributed to their acquiring authoritarian regimes. Scientists and scholars can unveil some elements of order but should strive to do so without hubris. Wise policymakers will strive to channel both the “actuals” and “adjacent possibles” that then arise toward constructive futures.
Keywords: Complexity Theory, World History, Politics, Globalization, Technology