Complexity, Time and the Pandemic


My internet is not working well so I am binge reading Identities journal, which I opened in 10 tabs in my browser.  Right now I am reading The Curve of the Clock by Ben Woodard.  The discussion begins with biology. That changes over time are often morphological changes. Like a foetus becomes a human child, grows a heart, lungs, thumbs, hair.  This unfolding over time has a different aesthetic dimension than unfolding over space.  Unfolding in space would be the beauty of a picture For unfolding in space, Ben invokes the term phase-beauty.

So what! You may say.  Music unfolds overtime. Ahh but maybe I misspoke, perhaps this is the aesthetic of unfolding over worlds.  The world of the foetus is a different world than the world of the human child. The world of the seed is a different world than the world of the towering oak tree. 

This sort of unfolding over worlds, is something I would perhaps assign to the field of computation in the form of a state machine. Bergson raises the idea that this sort of phase shift, or what I am calling a world shift, is unquantifiable. But perhaps this is the wrong way to look at it. It belongs to the realm of set theory and not countability . The clock is a metaphor for the musical score written once and performed forever (although idiosyncratically).  But the computer is the metaphor for phase transitions. 

Woodard suggest that pandemic, not the virus, is an example of phase-horror perhaps.  Horror would be a reaction to the unknowable, the (un)sensible.  Horror is how we interact with phenomena we can only apprehend through mediation. 

But is the pandemic an example of a phase transition. I would say no. The progression of covid19 within an individual does exist in a world of phase transition, in a world of states: Health, asymptomatic, symptomatic, cough, fever. Together it is a picture of covid19. 

Looking at the scale of a population, a different world, we have different stages, outbreak, epidemic, pandemic, and so forth. The pandemic is a phase within the larger set. What we call this larger set I am not sure, disease perhaps, but I think there is something more accurate.

Knowing a disease with different phase transitions, apprehending it, acting with it, ie epistemology, aesthetics, ethics is different than  knowing a thing that extends only over time and space.  The pandemic itself may have qualitatively different phases within it, just as increased or decrease rate of growth. As the scale changes from linear to exponential, the world changes. 


What is invisibility?


I was reading this article,Contagion and Visibility: Notes on the Phenomenology of a Pandemic by J.P. Caron. It is about ways of knowing and covid19. It is really excellent and I recommend reading it. 

It is from a phenomenological perspective, which can mean one of a million things. But mainly that we start our investigation from sense perception in some way. With something like covid19 what does this mean? 

Well it could mean starting with symptoms, if you have them. It can mean starting with the protective measures we take and the feeling of that, the locus of attention on the hands, on the mouth.  What is the sensation of washing hands, of dry hands, of mask marks (as I am sure many of you have seen on social media).   It can start with our visual experience of charts (of different scales) showing infection, unemployment claims, or the stock market.  

However, all of this is an oblique, or mediated, ways at getting at what we believe is the cause of these sensations – an invisible virus. Sure if we put the virus under a microscope then we have a sense perception of this virus through the eye. Our experience of this is even different than our feelings of illness/symptom, or of protection.

This article mentions invisibility and scale. Invisibility is a problem of scale. It starts from the notion of world building and how we create meaning within worlds – this is a notion that is very close to my heart, as my investigation of system poetics is in many ways about world building.  The virus exists in a different world than the world we live in where we can feel a masks but not virus. We cannot directly ‘sense’ it – that is sense it unmediated.  The phenomenology of the covid19 is the phenomenology of the aspects in which our world of sensation intersects with covid19. 

J.P. connects this with ethics and the cognitive load that is associated with interacting with a something that exists in so many worlds (such as fear).  His perspective is informed by Kant and perhaps Hans Vaihinger, through the notion of as-if.  We have to act as-if these worlds or that these worlds represent something we do not directly sense.  

Ethics is essentially the study of how to act. I offer a different perspective.  This is not a matter of as-if, but a matter of system poetics, or world poetics.  As I see it, the ethical issue with covid19, from a phenomenological perspective, is that it presents itself in so many conflicting phenomenological experiences (or worlds). Which worlds we choose is based on our phenomenological experience of those worlds, the places where they overlap and where they rhyme.