COVID-19 has seemingly thrown the world into “chaos”, taking away safeness and certainty that had been taken for granted, and prompted us personally to precipitate launching loico, with all the limitations such a move implicates. Now that we have started and are moving toward the loico new normal, we may as well pick up one or the other subject of interest along the way as regards logic and logical fallacies that may have implications for actual decision making.
I just read a statement by prominent Italian virologist Ilaria Capua saying:
“There are many, many things that we do not know and about which many people wonder and unfortunately science has a long, very long time to get to its relative certainties. A sea of uncertainty envelops us and disorients us. We do not even know how much the infection has circulated and spread in Italy because sampling is not representative and procedures are not harmonized. So any estimate is only an estimate and as such intrinsically wrong – we just have to understand how much”.1
Ms. Capua’s words appear to be quite literally referring to chaos. Unfortunately, she does not seem to be getting the logic of chaos exactly right. Having the wrong logic mixed into decision makers’ imagination carries the risk that wrong decisions are pondered and eventually taken.
First, as should be obvious, an “estimate” does by definition not give a precise value. It gives an approximate value in order to provide directional orientation. When deciding to purchase stocks in order to obtain future cash flows meant to aid in retirement, it is “perfectly clear” that those future cash flows are intrinsically uncertain. Does that make our estimate of them “intrinsically wrong”? No, and not even “wrong”, as long as we somehow remain in the right ball park. All we care about is that the purchased assets will likely yield something like a “decent” return. It cannot be deemed but unfortunate when an influential public figure adds to the already pervasive logical confusion by saying that “an estimate … as such [is] intrinsically wrong”.
Second, if we seek to be perfectly precise, we will quickly acknowledge that estimates are really all we have anyway. There is not and – as we will discuss in due length and detail on this site – cannot be what we imagine when we think of “precision”. The mathematical “point” does not exist. Period. In actuality, everything is, most things less, some things more, chaotic. Even Swiss watches, as we know, succumb to the influence of gravitation, and celestial bodies hover around to a measurable yet only partly predictable extent under the influence of a number of other such bodies.
Which is perfectly logical, therefore to be accepted and dealt with appropriately instead of being viewed as an unsurmountable problem.
Hesiod, the “father of Greek didactic poetry”, featured in the image above this post, famously stated: “In the beginning, chaos came into being.” Chaos essentially denotes indeterminateness, and more “precisely” so than this latter word does: the “in-” expresses distinction from what “in-” relates to, while what “chaos” seeks to express is the total absence of distinction.
2500 years later, the logic contained within Hesiod’s sentence was highlighted by the German philosopher Hegel, who distinguished between its express meaning on the one hand and the implied one on the other. The “coming into being” implies the distinction between the being and the – prior – non-being, and between what came into being and what it became of (and is therefore intrinsically related to). The latter is left unsaid. But a scientific mind must reflect not only on what is (seemingly) obvious, but specifically on what is left to “dis-cover”. The marked difference in expression on the faces of Hesiod and Hegel in the images illustrating this post conveys a distinct impression of how humanity has advanced in its posture in the face of chaos and its ability to see through it. Mind you, loico’s motto is “Beyond imagination.”, but as we have explained in our “Welcome” text, imagination is fine wherever, as is the case with actual art, logic is consciously cast to illustrative image.
At any rate, there is “something” unsaid within chaos that represents relatedness, thus giving the seemingly indeterminate, uncertain a hidden amount of determinateness. An analysis of what chaos logically is leads to the conclusion that it must be possible to predict the behavior of chaotic systems to a degree (something we are working on at loico in, as it were, our “day job”).
The truth contained in the statement by Hesiod is that the world is (1.) chaotic and – therefore – (2.) predictable to some extent. Predicting things approximately, that is: as precisely as possible but without being paralyzed by a lack of unattainable precision – is simply the best we can (seek to) do. It has sufficed for humanity to arrive at where it is today. It will suffice to understand approximately – or to “estimate”, for that matter – when COVID-19, according to the logic of the matter, will effectively have run its course,2 and to inform decision making to the extent possible.
It is not enough to produce data and “see” it. As the paschal Emmaus experience suggestively illustrates, what matters is to “get” what the seen data means.3 So help us – logic 😉
- An estimate which we have taken a shot at here: https://loico.com/covid-19-herd-immunity-likely-much-sooner-than-expected/
- Which we have made a first attempt at here: https://loico.com/the-logic-of-surviving-the-coronavirus-pandemic/