Science and predictability


bat- Image by Syaibatul Hamdi
Image by Syaibatul Hamdi || CC0



Certainty is not an available option


I take existence to be a subset of Reality.

I take it that existence is neither exclusively (materially) deterministic nor is it totally random in its expression. Rather,—what with seemingly random factors like the presence and influence of quantum energies—from a scientific point of view, the nature of existence is seen as intrinsically fluid and probabilistic.

Beyond the closed dogmatist, ‘certainty’ is not an available option, and it’s rather unlikely it ever will be. However, take heart, probability may be factored into our questions (even existential ones) and harnessed in such a way as to allow us, for instance, to put human beings on the moon and then bring them safely back to Earth again.


First, a disclaimer. I am a layman—not trained as a scientist. I do not mean to even imply I am trying to write as a scientist. I do mean, and hope, to write as a curious observer trying to make sense of what scientists say/write. This piece, I admit, is a highly speculative treatment of a current events question using my limited grasp of science as interpretive lens. If you feel I ought to have my head handed to me over any of it, please do tell, that’s how I learn and grow. Below we’ll hear from an actual scientist who talks about the ideas of other scientists, so, hopefully, that will help.


President Trump has said in many different ways that he feels the Covid-19 coronavirus and pandemic are going to somehow disappear sometime soon. Vice President Pence has recently said he thought we will be getting beyond Covid-19 and beginning to get back to normalcy by Memorial Day (yeah, the one in five weeks). So, let’s briefly consider my research and contemplation on the simple plausibility of the novel coronavirus miraculously disappearing soon. And, if plausible, then the calculable likelihood of it’s sudden disappearance actually coming to pass anytime soon.


analysis Image by Konstantin Kolosov
Image by Konstantin Kolosov  || CC0

“Models” and trusting “the science”

Science penetrates every aspect of contemporary life. However, in many cases, we may not even notice. Science frequently uses probability theory and computer models to translate and shape the research data it gathers into predictions. The question of science and predictability is also easily overlooked.

One way science and predictability does frequently intersect with many people is through the weather. Meteorological forecasters, as we know, use rich data sets and probability models for predicting the weather for our particular locales. I think we all know that the weather forecast sometimes dramatically misses the mark.

So, science *fails* in prediction?

Well, no, and yes.

Those living in the northern climes have likely had the experience of a crippling blizzard/snowstorm being predicted and it actually delivering no more than a mere dusting of snow, if that. Those living on the East, Southeast, or Gulf coasts have likely lived through a hurricane that was never even close to being as bad as the forecasters had predicted.

Even so, we must admit that weather forecasting accuracy has made tremendous strides in the past few decades. Still, we don’t need quantum theory to understand why weather models sometimes fail miserably. Sometimes the early data confuses the predictability function of a particular weather model. Normally, too, data gets better the closer we get to the actual weather event, thankfully. For instance, while different models often produce a wide range of possible hurricane paths (spaghetti strings) early on, by the time the hurricane approaches landfall, the models generally begin to tighten-up into consensus on a mostly agreed upon path.




Good to be forewarned that we might have pre-existing bias from weather forecast disappointments. And never mind the extensive lobbying efforts of the fossil fuels industry to discount and devalue science—especially regarding climate change. Perhaps even more important is remembering that weather, climate, and viruses are very different things and can’t easily be compared.

Could Covid-19 simply disappear?

Well, the president has said so. And, millions, if not billions, of people all over the globe are praying supplications to their religion’s Deity to miraculously halt and put a sudden end to the pandemic created by the novel coronavirus. So, is such a presidential-prediction and prayed-for-eventuality even possible? In a word, yes. But, from last night’s SNL-AtHome cold open with Brad Pitt as Dr. Anthony Fauci:



—Laughter, the best medicine! …. “Even Sully tried to land at the airport first.” —AF

Seriously, though, many people genuinely feel anything is possible in any event whatsoever. So, let’s take a look to see if perhaps Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) and complexity can cast some helpful light on the question of how a sudden miraculous disappearance of Covid-19 might even be possible within a scientific paradigm.

Santa Fe Institute’s ‘Complexity’ Podcast

I recently enjoyed a podcast conversation of two members of the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) (Michael Garfield, and, David Krakauer—actual scientist) who discus, among several articles, a short piece rich in insights by another SFI member, Santiago Elena. The brief Elena article is (here): “A complex systems perspective on viruses offers insight for controlling SARS-CoV-2 and future emerging viruses.” The podcast that includes discussion of the Elena article is (here), and I do encourage you to listen to the whole podcast and see what speaks to you. Diving in, then, let’s begin by listening to this short audio clip:



The idea that viruses are a quasi-species because of their high degree of mutability is fascinating. So, viruses do not exist as a specific point of definition/type (as would a particular species), but rather as a cloud of potentialities. The significance of this is intriguing. Let’s listen:



Error threshold.” Fascinating! So, if for some reason Covid-19 were to rapidly mutate to the point of crossing the error threshold, it would disappear. To my untrained ear, one could infer from what Krakauer is saying that even a spontaneous collapse of a virus is possible. There is no mention of the likelihood of this, Krakauer simply moves ahead into discussion of a possible intervention. I imagine a virologist could easily clarify as to whether or not such a spontaneous occurrence is indeed a possibility, and, if so, how probable it might be. Those would be my questions, and I’ll speculate in a moment. However, what if we weren’t satisfied to wait around on a spontaneous occurrence (that, I imagine, is terribly unlikely)? Is there anything one could deliberately do to stimulate and catalyze runaway mutation? Nobel prize winner Manfred Eigen apparently thought so. Let’s listen:



So, Santiago Elena has obviously been inspired by Eigen, his earlier SFI fellow, as Elena approaches thinking about Covid-19 and points to a way forward:





Newton vs Planck?

I gave away lots of books when I retired, and, now, I realize, sadly, that physicist Brian Greene’s books were among them. I do feel as though I remember his description of how classical Newtonian physics and quantum physics relate to each other and I think it could lend us a nice illustration today. So, this is strictly from memory and, as I said above, I’m wide open to being checked on it.


marble Image by Martin Winkler
Image by Martin Winkler || CC0


So, imagine existence (the physical universe) is represented as a marble-sized ball-bearing. —In “Showings,” Julian of Norwich writes of her vision of Jesus holding a sphere the size of a hazelnut in the palm of his hand and her contemplative understanding that it represented all that had been created. So, there’s that and there you are, no extra charge.

OK, imagine a three-dimensional topography map. It will represent Newtonian and quantum physics. Keep in mind, this topography has no level plains, just channels and higher ground—only rivers and mountains, if you will. The ball-bearing (existence) is (think Schrödinger’s cat) either in a channel or up somewhere on higher ground.



Topograhy Image by claudia0spencer
Image by claudia0spencer || CC0


Now, imagine the channels that form the streams/rivers are meant to represent Newtonian (Einsteinian, too) physics and the “ordinary” track/path for the ball-bearing (that is, existence) to travel. In this sense, existence is a bit like water and seeks, and runs to, the lowest common denominator (e.g., sea level, or in our topography: channels, the lowest common points). Existence’s lowest common denominator within existence’s reality matrix is Newtonian physics. Existence likes to hang out in a channel.

Tentative conclusions

So, is it possible to deliberately and safely push a virus to the error threshold and out of existence by introducing “Defective Interfering Particles (DIPs)” to the infected host’s system? I/we sure hope so! That treatment would really constitute a genuine cure to Covid-19 infection.

So, is it possible that Covid-19 could naturally run across something that would spontaneously stimulate and drive its mutation beyond the error threshold and just miraculously disappear all on its own?

I’m going to say, ‘Yes.’

OK, then, without human intervention of any kind, how likely is it that Covid-19 will miraculously vaporize all on its own accord?

Well, while I doubt it is really calculable, within this mash-up I’m going to say:

About as likely as a marble-sized ball-bearing spontaneously jumping out of the channel/track it’s in and rolling up hill and staying there all on its own. While possible, it’s very VERY unlikely. More like, Waiting on Godot.

Prayers and positive thoughts for all those working on therapeutic treatments like those that exploit DIPs and quasi-species’ error thresholds, as well as all other potentially fruitful ideas to stop/end Covid-19. Instead of a Divinely-willed equivalent to a quantum-shift, perhaps it’s in working with the prayers for those who are working on practical solutions in a processthrough the work of doctors, researchers, and scientists—that G-d ultimately answers the common prayer of the millions for a miraculous end to Covid-19?

[this post approx. 1,675 words (7 mins)]

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: I know, trying to introduce a big-picture idea like Spiral Dynamics (a complex developmental anthropology) in this format is ambitious. So, I’m using a serial-approach. Blog introduction (June 30, 2018). First in series (July 1, 2018).


SD Worldview Color Key

analysis Image by Konstantin Kolosov

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