Saturday, March 14, 2020

Occam's Virus

When I understood that the United States has no means of testing a community for the presence of the coronavirus I pretty much gave up on tracking anything. Statistics are meaningless in a situation where you can't produce reliable numbers. A colleague got back from a short vacation in New Jersey and he reckons he is fine because New Jersey isn't a hot bed of coronavirus. I guess not if we assume the virus can be counted by the number of people officially registered as carrying the virus. What if they are asymptomatic? Then what? No one knows. 
Oh but they do and they propagate nonsense against the backdrop of a town that is thriving under the weight of Spring Break. Were you in Key West today you would see a city that is as far from a world pandemic as any I could think of, and that is to say the situation here is absolutely normal. Movies live theaters music bars restaurants are all open and selling just like they always do. In a city packed with elderly millionaires I find this slightly disconcerting but I am on the sidelines unwilling to rain on anyone's parade.
It reminds me of the Key West of old, the Key West that kept its face painted as AIDS killed people by the hundreds, which is to say the "gay plague" killed people by the hundreds and the government fiddled and hemmed and hawed and got embarrassed by the term "anal sex." Nowadays our leaders are even more squeamish and are squirming at the mention of "coronavirus testing." In the face of all this nonsense I am reverting to my novel and turning my back on all the advice and the discussions and the statistics that mean nothing. No one knows. What I do know is how to wash my hands, how to greet people without touching them and where to walk my dog to be by myself. And I know how to wait until this passes.
It's going to be a long slow process. I'll bet you've heard this one: The Coronavirus was sold by Canada to China as a bio-weapon and the Chinese lost control of it. It is a wildly bizarre conspiracy theory riddled with racism and misinformation and stupidity but it does illustrate how Occam's Razor is an approach that should be adopted more widely in daily conversation. Simply put Occam posited that of any number of theories the most likely is probably the truth to pursue if it is the most easily tested. For instance: Either Canada sold China the virus OR the Chinese ate wild animal parts that were asymptomatic carriers of a common flu virus with extraordinary properties to harm humans. You choose. Which theory seems more likely? I think I know which one William of Occam would have selected.
Occam was a medieval English friar and if my explanation is inadequate here from Wikipedia is his very valuable theory of how you walk gingerly along any theoretical fine line as though on the blade of a razor blade. I read it more than once with an eye on how to deduce the meaning for myself:
Occam's razor is used as an abductive heuristic in the development of theoretical models rather than as a rigorous arbiter between candidate models. In the scientific method Occam's razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result; the preference for simplicity in the scientific method is based on the falsifiability criterion. For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there may be an extremely large, perhaps even incomprehensible, number of possible and more complex alternatives. Since one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypotheses to prevent them from being falsified, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are more testable.
Aside from the disputed origin of this wretched virus we now face a future of increasingly bizarre theories and wild speculation and fluctuating stock markets and financial uncertainty and unpaid medical bills and on and on. The Navy is preparing to set up a quarantine tent at the hospital to help cope with the expected influx of cases. However the tent isn't up yet. No need, obviously. A part of all our minds leads us to hope that this thing is going to go away, and I am among those.  Yup, it's too warm down here for the virus to survive. Or my history of 'flu vaccines will protect me. Whatever.
I suggested to a friend that I was glad to be in the Keys for this crisis and I got a weird look. From my perspective Keys  residents, at least some of them, have experience in self sufficiency after hurricanes. They are no strangers to the notion that stocking up with food and water (and that Northern bugaboo: toilet paper)  in preparation for a period of no help. We've done it before, more than once and we can do it again. Unfortunately this also produces a rather cavalier attitude as they forget the actual disease itself. I wouldn't mind 14 days at home one neighbor said loudly, unless you can't breathe on your own I interjected. And you end up in a  quarantine tent at the hospital with inadequate staffing. They paused. In Italy I added they are putting patients on ventilators face down as even with breathing machines they can't catch a breath on their backs. Silence. Drowning is no great way to die in my opinion and to do it in a  hospital bed must just suck.
I don't ever want to be on a  respirator again thanks. I could go through the rest of my life quite happily without seeing the inside of Intensive Care again for that matter. I remember with perfect clarity how they pulled the tube out of my throat after the operation when they finally got me breathing on my own again. Even the possibility that coronavirus could lead to this again does nothing for my equanimity. To hear people dismiss Covid-19 as just another 'flu, by now, boggles my mind.
I'm not mingling with crowds as we struggle to live ordinary lives, I try not to touch people at work, we buy food to go to eat with friends, our much anticipated vacation in Europe is cancelled (Rusty would be delighted if he only knew). I'm not given to panic or exaggeration but caution seems the best way forward. The biggest obstacle to peace of mind for me is the lack of reliable information and the sense that no one seems to know what we are doing. 
If this virus is as bad as they say it is why are we not doing the obvious? Why is it awful in Italy and Iran and not here? The scientists say give it time and the politicians say ignore the scientists.  I feel as though I live in a  madhouse. Actually we all do live in a  madhouse, it's just that the veneer is off and the lunacy of how we live is completely exposed.
Is it better to anticipate the worst and prepare for it, or assume the best and prepare for that? Or a combination of both inasmuch as we  hope for the best and prepare for the worst?  I wonder what William of Occam would be doing about now? Buying hand sanitizer probably and shaking his head at how obtuse we all are.