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What Chaos Really Is

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The pace of change in our hyper-connected, tech-driven world is unprecedented, and it’s only natural that from time to time we might feel a little disoriented. This disorientation is a prelude to fear, of course, so it’s not uncommon to hear in the press, or from our colleagues and friends, the suggestion that our world/society/industry/profession is descending into some degree of chaos.

I suspect that the chaos-mongers fall into one of at least two camps. There are the (usually older) folks genuinely alarmed by change, who usually have some stake in the status quo and who are afraid of and confused by new forces that threaten that status quo. Then there are the (usually younger) folks who would like to posit this sense of chaos as either a failure of the status quo or an entirely new paradigm which only they can reform/process/navigate.

As a futurist, and a student of sciences, statistics, and complex systems, I would argue that there is simply no such thing as chaos. Chaos, by definition, is a lack of order. The sense of unpredictability and randomness we perceive in our environment is not a lack of order. It is rather one of two things (or both): new patterns and structures or new levels of complexity in existing patterns and structures.

The fact that everything is bigger, deeper, faster and more interconnected certainly means that it’s more difficult to perceive the structure in the complexity, but that does not mean there is no structure.

Therefore, we would do best to think of our own individualized perception of chaos not as a reality of chaos in the world, but rather as our own (hopefully temporary) inability to perceive the underlying patterns and structures of what’s going on around us.

In other words, frankly, the perception of chaos is a confusion that comes from our own (again, temporary) ignorance, so the best approach any of us can take is a skeptical, learning approach: get the facts, study patterns, and don’t panic or fall for anyone else’s hysteria.

Our world is changing on an unprecedented pace and scale. It’s becoming more complex.

But it’s not chaos.

Author: Eric Kingsbury

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