Available online at www.sciencedirect.com




70 (2003) 819-859


Power law behavior and world system evolution: 

A millennial learning process


Tessaleno Devezas,   George Modelski


Faculty of  Engineering, University of Beira Interior, Covilha 6200-001, Portugal


Department of Political Science, University of Washington, Settle, Washington WA, USA





Is social change on the scale of the human species a millennial learning process?   The authors answer in the affirmative, demonstrating that world system evolution, viewed as a cascade of multilevel, nested, and self-similar, Darwinian-type processes  ranging in size from one to over 250 generations, exhibits power law behavior, which is also known as self-organized criticality.   World social organization, poised as it is on the boundary between order and chaos, is neither sub-critical nor supercritical, and that allows for flexibility, which is a necessary condition of evolution and learning, and these in turn account for the major transitions marking world history and serving as the general framework for long-range forecasting.  A literature review confirms the close affinity between evolution and learning, mathematical analysis reveals the crucial role of the learning rate as pacemaker of evolutionary change, and empirical evidence lends substance to the concept of a cascade of evolutionary processes.  The general equation describing world system emergence shows it to be a project whose current period is now 80 % completed, suggesting that its major features might now be in place.