Scientific Foundations

Two scientific premises guide the Institute’s approach.

1. The global system is complex

Today’s planetary socio-ecological system is “complex” in the technical sense of the term. The Institute therefore uses, as its core analytical tools, theories, concepts, and methods drawn from complexity science. This interdisciplinary field has emerged from research in mathematics, computer science, systems engineering, ecology, and economics, and its insights have been applied to explain diverse phenomena, including the origins of the 2008-09 financial crisis, the Arab spring, the sharp rise in the appeal of populist political ideology, and the ramifying consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Societies are organized around cohesive sets of worldviews, institutions, and technologies

We can call these sets “WITs.”

In simplest terms, worldviews are mental networks of concepts, beliefs, and values—usually emotionally charged—that allow people to interpret things around them and plan their actions. Worldviews also give people’s lives meaning and therefore some sense of security, so they are resistant to change. Institutions are, broadly, a community’s rules, ranging from formal laws to unwritten social norms about what behavior is appropriate or ethical at specific times and places. Finally, technologies are problem-solving tools that people create by using energy and information to exploit properties of their physical and social environments. These three components are tightly interdependent within each WIT: they influence each other, depend on each other, and so hang together in a cohesive way.