COVID-19 and the complex system–O’reilly


In various mailing lists about the COVID-19 epidemic, I’ve seen several discussions of the”complex system theory”as a possible a way of understanding the epidemic is in different locations. Specifically: why do Japan and Hong Kong did not experience the explosion case, even if their national government’s response within the crisis? The present argument is that some systems are inherently difficult to model. There are too many causes and too many effects interact with each other way, are difficult to predict or even understand.

What does this mean? “Complex system”is always implied, to me at least, the system of nonlinear differential equations, chaotic process, and so on. Think about the motion of the double pendulum。 I won’t deny that a complex mathematical relationship behind the epidemic spread. But the point of the discussion is that we don’t know these relationships, and found them to be a slow and difficult process.

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As attractive as it may think about complex systems, I do not believe this is the best approach. I’ve always been attracted to the interpretation is based on a combination of small effect, which in itself is(to a first approximation), the random distribution. This seems to be a more useful and productive way to think about the results that we see in different countries.

If we think like this: there are a large number of factors that may or may not have effects. For the pandemic, this list of factors may look like this:

  • Wearing a mask
  • Social isolation
  • HVAC(heating, ventilation and air conditioning)
  • Social cohesion; the importance of the social group relative to personal
  • Effective healthcare system
  • Temperature
  • Exposure to sunlight
  • You speak the language(Japan apparently requires less outgoing)
  • Air pollution
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Quality report
  • Quality test
  • Genetic factors
  • Virulence of different strains of the virus
  • Residential density
  • Crowded in the public transport system
  • Citizens the ability of self-organization

Your idea; this list could easily go on, probably includes hundreds of factors affecting the spread of the disease, personal susceptibility, and mortality. Some are important; some are no doubt fake science, some are just weird; and some may be no more than educated guesses.

We can think of these factors as a random distribution, although they may not be in reality. In some choices, they will increase to reduce the spread, and in other countries, the opposite will occur. You can’t control, or even measure these factors. However, since we think of them as random, in fact, Hong Kong has a relatively small eruption seems to have rapidly the control means, several factors limit the spread and increased. The next step is to find out which factors seem to be common in the best and worst case.

Therefore, if we look at Japan, we see a society where it is normal for sick people wearing masks; it is a common dignity. Wearing masks as a precaution is not a large cultural leap, it has been in the United States. We also see a society where obesity is relatively rare, especially compared with the United States(the most obese country in the world) is. Japan is a country in which health care is free to all citizens-again unlike the US, where a serious illness can easily lead to bankruptcy, especially with unemployment(and the numbers without insurance)straight up. The key issue is not that mask, hospital, or any other thing, is some kind of”silver bullet”, so that the problem disappears, although in the United States, we have no doubt underestimated all these things. Also can not solve obesity or diabetes or air conditioning as soon as you can reach for the mask. However, if these factors make a small contribution to-and if, in some places, all these small contributions, in line with they have a large effect. Together, they can easily be more important than a government’s response. We may begin to suspect that these”small”factors, such as wearing masks, not so small.

Hong Kong is a particularly fascinating case. As Zeynep Tufekci believes that in the Atlantic, Hong Kong citizens are capable of self-organization of the response, although their government. This ability no doubt stems from the unrest and demonstrations of the past year. And self-organization is no doubt from a sense of social cohesion and responsibility, we have been largely abandoned, if it ever had it. (In some future pandemic, we may see the effect, the protection of the community, is the current protest against police violence in the US? It is worth noting that, at least at the protests I’ve seen, an amazing number of people are wearing masks. And there is no surge COVID-19 case, can be attributed to the protests.)

What is most interesting is that the ability to self-organize may not have been on many lists before the Tufekci article. In College, a Professor I had told me about his frustration with the defense project, he’s working. He was asked to assess the probability of attack on nuclear facilities. His response was”we can assess all the circumstances, in your list, as well as the probability will be a very small number. However, all this tells me is that if you leave a program off your list, it is possible to swamp everything. It’s easy to beat the probability. 00001.” The Black Swan 40 years ago. In addition to in Hong Kong’s case, they are not black; they’re Golden.

This brings us back to the point: learn COVID-19 pandemic is not a complex system to about the understanding of the random distribution of the factors, including some that may surprise us. When we see a set of factors that lead to good results, we know how to do: on the one hand the outlet housing, providing healthcare, promoting the people responsible for each other enabling spontaneous actions, and(to mitigate the next pandemic)to get rid of society’s dependence on sugar.

At this point, we have made observations and learned how to effective action. It is increasingly clear that wearing a mask is a key to turn off a pandemic; and self-organization can play a decisive role in the opposition of the government to enforce mask-wearing. This is not to say that we should not learn other points: the impact of HVAC, toxicity of different pathogens respond differently to the immune system, and so on. Also not saying that we should not try to understand the system in all its complexity. It may be necessary to develop effective treatment. But you don’t need to learn a complex system to develop an effective response to a crisis.

Now take a step back and think about the application of these ideas to other problems. What about the re-emergence of racism and neo nazisim in the US? Just to be clear—they never disappear. But, as COVID-19, we need to understand the forces that will suppress the outbreaks. Racism has been manipulated for hundreds of years, deeply embedded in many of our institutions. If you have any disease, what forces drive, and what action to prohibit it?

What economy? As the increasing gap between the wealthy and other people driving our economy to the brink, what power—many small forces-pushing our edges? Viewing the economy as a complex system of differential equation is actually too simple. We can observe many factors, the line(and, in many countries, line up)to give people a voice and to choose their own future?

For COVID-19 and all the problems that we face, this is real work, hard work, can’t wait for modeling jobs to do. What is a variety of reasons, this will provide a push in the right direction? We don’t need a clear answer before taking a step. Once we take those first steps, whether it is wearing a mask or a non-militarized police forces or the provision of Universal HealthCare–it will become more obvious what is working and what is not, what’s the next step. We may find that the effective solutions are not difficult, or as distant as they seem.



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