Comment to Perspectives on the Pandemic | Professor Knut Wittkowski | Episode 2

Perspectives on the Pandemic | Professor Knut Wittkowski | Episode 2

[ 4/4/20 ]
[Note – the video is interesting, the numbers are somewhere near close. In one sense this is a flu like pandemic, and in another sense it is very different, the structure of it is different. And it does raise some deep questions that I have no simple set of answers to. And this is what I wrote 5 days ago. 9 April 2020]

His numbers are already wrong. The fatality rate in USA today is already twice what he predicted as peak.

To me he seems to be wrong – dangerously so.

[followed by in response to a link from zineb r ]

Very interesting video.

Two of the papers referred to are:

The key point seems to be at 14:05 into the video

The graphic showing global covid19 deaths at 144 per day, with the greatest killer being TB at 3,014 per day.

As of 4th April NZ time (yesterday at time of writing) the global deaths from covid 19 were at 5,800 and climbing exponentially still at 11% per day.

Yes we have had flu pandemics before, and will again.

What does seem to be different about this one is the exponent on the spread, and the ability of that to overwhelm all systems (medical, funeral etc).

China took drastic action to slow the spread.

China did not rely on herd immunity.

The social distancing measures in the likes of Sweden have lowered the exponent – but not yet enough to avoid overload – just delayed it somewhat.

Like most things, this is complex; and it really does seem to be something that requires rather severe measures to control, if one wants to avoid very high fatality among those over 70s, and overwhelm of the ability of medical and body disposal systems.

It really does seem that initial viral loading is an important factor in the fatality rate – hence the much higher than average death rate among front-line healthcare workers without effective protective equipment.

On balance of assessments, it does seem to me to be different – and the video above does raise some very important issues for those able to build complex models of very complex systems.

Only 7% of Mexico’s population is over 65, (compared to 16% in the USA). That makes a big difference to mortality rates. I doubt the testing rate in Mexico is high, and it seems to have started later there. We will see what the death rate over the next few weeks actually tells us.

What still seems to me to make this different is the rate of spread – hence the peak overwhelm and the extra deaths that result from that (across many age groups).

And it is a very interesting video to watch.

[followed by]

Midlife Credo Can you be precise about what I missed.

What I see is an exponent in this infection that is far larger than any prior infection.
That exponent has implications on the overload of the health system, and on the impact, as it increases the initial viral load during the peak and thence the final death toll.

I stand by my statement that this flu does seem to be significantly different to previous flu’s

And it is a very good wake up to the risks of something much worse.

There are very deep issues here.

Do we really value individual life and individual liberty (life first), or is it all about the survival of a monetary system that is no longer appropriate to the levels of technology we currently have???

I am all for life and liberty, and logic is clear that liberty without responsibility is rapidly self terminating (and takes a lot of others with it).

It is an extremely complex and deep situation – at least as I view it. And I view Wittkowski as making a deep error, even as most of what he says is true.

[followed by]

Midlife Credo There are many different rates being measured and talked about right now.
Yes – the overall death rate from a disease is as you describe, and is difficult to measure for all the reasons you list, and a few more.

Here in NZ we are getting reasonably good measures of disease rate, which is very low. Yesterday at 1% of tested people – 39 cases from 3,700 tests. We are fairly confident that the disease is present at very low levels in this country, and should “burn out” in the next 2 weeks.

It is complex.
It is a flu.
It seems to be faster than recent flus, and more dangerous because of that.
China does seem to have managed it, as have several other countries.

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Torch’s facebook page – in response to some diet nonsense about fighting viruses

[ 3/4/20 on Torch’s facebook page – in response to some diet nonsense about fighting viruses]

Hi Dennis – I am very close to 10 years from having gotten a “terminal cancer” prognosis from my oncologist, and having gone raw organic vegan and high dose vit C to beat it. Still vegan, still high dose vit C, but no longer entirely organic or entirely raw.

And yeah, as a biochemist and evolutionary biologist by training, and a systems geek who has owned and run a software business for 34 years I am very conscious of the many ways in which the very concepts of markets and money pose existential level risks in the way they give overly simplistic outcomes to very complex problems.

Trump’s initial response – of putting money (market value) above human life, is typical of the problems we face.

Unfortunately the more stress you put people under, the less they are able to consider real complexity – everything gets subconsciously simplified by the influence of the stress hormones, and essentially gets simplified down to some version of good/bad or right/wrong, or friend/foe – when most things are actually vastly more complex and subtle and nuanced than that.

The amount of disinformation present on the internet does not help.
Sensemaking in complex and novel situations is difficult enough without that. Unfortunately, most of what most people accept as “Truth” is demonstrably false – including most of economics and finance; and just about all of marketing.

Perhaps the biggest lie is that evolution is all about competition, when in reality, when you get to the sorts of levels of complexity embodied in us, it is far more about cooperation than competition. But the idea of cooperation doesn’t sit well with the idea of capital accumulation – hence the vast infrastructure of systemic falsehoods we exist within.

The silliness that started this thread is a very minor example.

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Quora – Is the urge to save humanity almost always a false front for the urge to rule?

Quora – Is the urge to save humanity almost always a false front for the urge to rule? Why?

[ 1/4/20 ]


And it is complex – we are all complex beyond our ability to appreciate in detail, but we love to make simple generalisations.

It may be true that often people who are effective at gaining power, who claim an urge to save, are more driven by an urge to power; but that is a very different thing.

Most of us have the urge to save those we love.

Some of us manage to generalise that to a urge to include everyone else.

If anyone has the intention of living a very long time, then it is in their interests to make the world as a whole as safe a place as possible, as it increases the probability of their own survival. Thus an urge to “save humanity” can come from an urge to live on indefinitely.

For me, the idea of indefinite life extension has been a realistic possibility since completing 3rd year biochemistry at university in 1974. So in the intervening years a lot of my thinking has been around identifying threats and threat mitigation strategies. That has extended to all levels of systems, political, ethical, technological, biological, conceptual, logical, mathematical.

It is clear to me that the very idea of ruling is itself one of the major threats.

Rulers can be a very good idea when rapid societal response is required in response to an urgent threat. At all other times they are extremely dangerous.

As the current covid-19 crisis is demonstrating, economic “efficiency” leads to systemic “fragility”. The short term incentives of market pressures lead to a concentration of power into few hands, with the vast majority living on the edge of survival.

The very idea of money, of value in exchange, is changing as we develop systems capable of automating production to meet all reasonable needs. Markets require scarcity to deliver value. Anything universally abundant has no market value (by definition) – like the air we breath, essential, but of no market value.

When air was the only important thing universally available, this known problem wasn’t a major thing.

Now that we have the ability to produce fully automated systems, the failure of markets to map well to human value is a big thing.

We live in times of exponential change.

This covid-19 experience is clearly demonstrating that economic incentives are not a good match to human needs.

We need to have individual sapient life (human and non-human, biological and non-biological) as our highest value, followed by the freedom of such individuals to do what they reasonably and responsibly choose.

The freedom to do anything is destructive.

All levels of systems require boundaries to sustain form. The existence of complexity is predicated on boundaries.

And we are the most complex things we know of – at least 15 levels of systems, each with their complex and context sensitive boundaries.

Freedom needs to be sensitive to all of those boundaries, and it also needs an ability to test the boundaries from time to time (just to make sure they haven’t changed significantly).

We also need to appreciate that the evolution of new levels of complexity is almost always the result of the emergence of a new level of cooperation. So when one is looking at things as complex as us it is much more accurate to say that our survival is all about cooperation than it is to say that our survival is about competition. And both are always and necessarily present – we are deeply complex.

So no – the urge to save humanity can be (and at this point in human history most often is) a matter of long term self interest.

When one has automated systems available, the easiest way to ensure that nobody takes what you have, is to ensure that they already have all that they reasonably need.

The easiest way to be safe is to ensure that everyone is safe. With automated systems of production, the doing of it is relatively easy – changing the way people think is much more difficult.

For generations people have been taught the lie that evolution is all about competition – because that was politically expedient.

Now it is time to get real, and teach the overwhelming power of cooperation in evolution, and in our success as a species.

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Convid-19 discussion on facebook with a naysayer

[ 30/3/20 – on a Facebook Group]

Until there is a vaccine (at least a year away) or enough test kits for everyone to test every 2 weeks, or some other reliable cure available at scale – then isolation is the only way to contain a pandemic such as this for which we have no effective treatment at scale at present.

Without effective isolation or a cure – something close to 20 million Americans are likely to die from this.

Uncontrolled the death rate is around 6% of the population (it is already way higher than that in Italy), with many of those who do recover having lung damage for life.

I am all for life and liberty – and life comes first, for without it there is no liberty.

[followed by]

If the hospital system becomes overwhelmed, and oxygen supplementation is not available, then about 6% of those people infected die.

That is a fact.

If the outbreak is not contained by isolation, then most Americans will catch it.

Once the number of people requiring hospitalisation exceeds the capacity of the available hospitals, people start to die in large numbers (as see in Italy and Spain and many other places).

20 million is 6% of Americans.

If it gets out of control, that is what you are looking at.

If you heed the warnings, and isolate to contain it, then it wont be anything like that bad.

But that is the reality present.

Call me all the names you want, but it wont change the facts.

[followed by]

Italy is currently 11% of reported cases end in death.

Spain is currently 8.5% of reported cases end in death.

Containment is starting to work in both countries, the numbers of new cases are dropping, but the effective death rate will probably continue to rise slightly in both countries as there are still many people in the early stages of infection who are yet to reach critical.

Look at the numbers. is a really good site with lots of links to other good sites.

Sit down.

Do the math.

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Quora – Is there any alternative to Might is Right?

Is there any alternative to Might is Right? (by this I ask is there any disproving this idea, even considering how Might isn’t right, but it determines who has control and therefore who has the right to control).

[ 30/3/20 ]

There is a Machiavellian sense of power being the ability to destroy something, which is certainly one of the many measures of power.

It is worth considering that power is often very context sensitive. A small shift in context can change the power relations significantly. At a 100m distance a man with a gun will beat a man with a knife consistently, at a 1m range the knife probably has an advantage. That sort of thing can happen at many different levels (often simultaneously).

We now have so many different groups with the ability to destroy everyone (or a significant fraction of them) that the entire idea of power being the ability to destroy is now a problem to all, in and of itself.

We now need to be very clear that it is the ability to create that is much more important than the ability to destroy, and by definition it is always there – always a point past which people cannot be pushed.

We now need to accept that at our level of complexity, both evolution and survival are much more about cooperation than they are about competition; and that needs to rapidly reflect through the entire global economic system – which needs some fundamental changes for the sake of both life and liberty.

So yes – to a degree there is something in might is right, but not nearly as much as there used to be. Someone into bio-terrorism can do a lot more damage than a Nimitz class aircraft carrier and far more cheaply. What constitutes “might” isn’t nearly as clear as it once was.

There is a very real sense now in which “right” must be determined by some level of agreement (in as much as the idea of “right” makes sense).

In order to survive, we must learn to respect and honour difference and diversity (the outcome of real freedom), and we must all respect all individual sapient life (human and non-human, biological and non-biological). At the same time, we must acknowledge that all real systems of complexity have boundaries necessary for their survival. Sometimes those boundaries are uncertain and variable, but they are no less real for that.

We must also accept that people under stress have subconsciously reduced resolution in their experience of reality – so in that context it often does come down to simple binaries – right/wrong, friend/foe, good/evil – even if the reality is infinitely more subtle and varied than that. Evolution worked out long ago that sometimes the need to make a decision quickly necessitates the use of overly simplistic models, and that is hard coded into the structure of our brains, as to how reality occurs for us.

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What is the greatest philosophy or idea for worldwide peace?

What is the greatest philosophy or idea for worldwide peace?

[ 29/3/20 ]

We need to get past the overly simplistic understanding of evolution, as being all about competition.

We need to understand that every new level of complexity in evolved systems is based upon a new level of cooperation.

Human beings are the most complex thing we know of.

Thus to a good first order approximation, evolution for humanity is all about cooperation.

Our future, our survival, resides in us understanding this complexity.
We are extremely complex, many levels of cooperative and competitive systems; and it is the cooperative that are absolutely essential to our survival (the competitive are optional).

Next most important is a choice of values.

As I have written elsewhere many times, for many years:

I am really clear about that set of values:

1/ Individual sapient life (human and non-human, biological and non-biological);

2/ the freedom of all such individuals to act responsibly (ie to do whatever they choose that does not pose undue risk to the life or liberty of any other).

We are really complex biological entities, and those two values above immediately lead to really complex outcomes; and some things become very clear very quickly – one of which is that a reliance on market based values as a reasonable proxy for value more generally is no longer viable – automation has fundamentally changed that “landscape”. Fundamental change is required.

Universal cooperation is the only game in town with any significant survival probability.

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Was there ever a point in time where humans lived safe and peacefully?

Was there ever a point in time where humans lived safe and peacefully?

[ 28/3/20 ]

Depends what you mean.

Certainly, in some places, at some times, conditions have been sufficiently benign that people could live safely together for many generations.

Yet for most of human history – something would happen to seriously deplete the population at some point (volcanism, drought, plague, comet, whatever).

So on the bigger picture, it is only as we develop technology in space capable of deflecting comets and meteors, and technologies capable of mitigating against large scale volcanism, that we will really have access to safety on the longer timescales.

Depends how long a time scale, and how broad a physical space, you want to consider the ideas of safety and peace.

I like the idea of living for billions of years. That takes a sort of security that does exist at present, but could be a technological reality this century.

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