Roman bronze bust of the late 1st century BC, assumed to represent Hesiod, thought to be a copy of a lost Greek original of ca. 200 BC. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples. Photograph: Marie-Lan Nguyen
Roman bronze bust of the late 1st century BC, assumed to represent Hesiod, thought to be a copy of a lost Greek original of ca. 200 BC. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples. Photograph: Marie-Lan Nguyen

Chaos and COVID-19

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.

Hegel stat­ue in Hegelplatz behind Berlin University. Photograph:

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 😉

Happy Easter!

Tiziano Vecellio, Supper at Emmaus. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons (click to enlarge)

  2. An esti­mate which we have tak­en a shot at here:[]
  3. Which we have made a first attempt at here:[]
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After it has come to light that “Black Lives Matter” is a marxist – and blatantly racist – organization that could not care less about equal opportunity but that, according to rally signs exhibited by “activists”, simply wants to “kill” or “eat the rich”, now the climate change scare appears to be crumbling to pieces as well: It appears we now have the Edward Snowden of climate change alarmism.

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