April 27, 2020
I expand upon an idea about what happens to a person getting more and more COVID symptoms towards a whirlpool that may become fatal.
A whirlpool scenario probably happens in many cases of illness. It corresponds with complexity and multi-causal thinking. In crash-course: put many elements together, add more and more ‘energy’ in the process. You dynamically see a new structure appear that is still based upon the existing elements, yet cannot be tractably reduced to them. What happens in the new structure is too complex. There is no magic involved and yet, in practice, it cannot be traced. It can only be theoretically understood, not in practical details. An example is the weather. A whirlwind is close to the image itself. With more energy (a warmer world) we may see more and more whirlwinds.
Humans, and life in general, are another example of complex systems. Continuously, many elements come together and form who we are in body and mind. No magic involved. The ‘energy’ that is being put in our system, is our motivation to carry on, do stuff, in short: live. Our body is extremely complex; our mind – if you want – even more.
I see ‘complex’ in the human case always as Open. About the human being as an Open-complex system, I have written extensively in ‘The Journey towards Compassionate A.I.’ In my view, really intelligent A.I. will also be Open-complex. It’s good to know who we are, what A.I. can be, and why it matters. An Open-complex system is Open to its inside as well as to the outside.
So, many elements come together. Our body might seem simple, a set of organs with clear interactions between them like the parts of a car, or even an airplane. That may be complicated, but not complex. It is tractable. An engineer may make one. It is mechanical.
Not so with an organic entity, an organism. Organic = complex, not practically traceable. Western medicine is built upon non-complex, Newtonian notions of physics: the universe as a clock, the human being as a clock, with distinct parts and a non-complex possible understanding of them. Medical specialists know ever more about ever less. Parts and subparts are seen like those of an airplane. The system is but the sum of subsystems. When there is a disease, you have to look for the broken subpart and repair or replace it.
This may lead to a lot of reproducible fixing and mending. It leads to a lot of products that can be mass-produced and marketed. Business opportunities abound. That way, it is successful – as business. As far as it corresponds to reality, it is also successful in helping the sick and broken.
But it is not the whole reality. Organic reality is at first place complex. Within this complexity, whirlpools lead to illness. Reality is also always multi-causal. The mind is always involved to some degree. In many cases, we have little idea as to what degree. It cannot be put in a box. Contrary to this, the non-complex is like what one can, indeed, put in a box. That box is part of reality, not vice versa. Indeed, it may be a crucial part of reality. it should be respected and used as such. It should not be confused with the whole.
Towards being fully applicable in the organic case, the whirlpool as an image lacks something essential. In a whirlpool of water or air, the individual elements do no augment each other. The energy of the system comes directly from outside. In an organic system, elements may enter a whirlpool and at the same time also energize it in vicious circles or ‘self-perpetuating patterns.’ The organism can get stuck in such a whirlpool of patterns. The energy ‘life’ is what comes from several of these elements.
An organism is generally full of feedback-loops. In health, these generally work to attain goals of homeostasis (equilibrium) and allostasis (searching a new equilibrium through change). When feedback-loops become feed-forward, a whirlpool is born. When this passes the borders of health, there is a risk of disease.
COVID is a disease caused not by a virus but by a whirlpool. The virus is an element of which we know increasingly more. The mind is another element – or set of elements – of which we still know little. But we do know important directions. Some of them are particularly relevant in the case of COVID, not as ‘byproducts’ but essential elements in a causal whirlpool:
- stress on inflammation
- depression, helplessness
- social isolation, loneliness
- lack of sleep, insomnia
- post-traumatic stress
In any of these, one can see sub-whirlpools. In all together, one may see a whirlpool of whirlpools strong enough to have a huge nocebo effect. The virus is viral and so is the ‘hysteria’ acting out at a subconceptual level. Hysteria is close to chaos and so is complexity, so is the whirlpool. It looks like complete chaos in intractability. The consequence, as we see, may be clear and with distinct endpoints.
In a prior article, I depicted the COVID-virus as a stress-virus that has (hypothetically) found its niche in stressed-out organisms. Fitting in this hypothesis is that the virus acts quickly. It exchanges strength for speed within a person and between people. It takes advantage of a whirlpool of acute upon chronic stress, immunological responses (too little, then too late and too much), increased inflammation and cell death, coughing and further cell damage, and the virus itself. Note that the immunological reduction in the first phase, exacerbated by chronic stress, co-creates the niche. In the case of COVID-19, a whirlpool may also be seen as present over an entire population, spreading global hysteria and a lot of chronic stress. The factors just described form further parts. In this, the virus finds its niche of replication. Meanwhile, an acute whirlpool within each individual can quickly go in overdrive but by which time the virus has done what it needs: get on to the next organism. This might also mean that the virus may strike again in the same chronically stressed person. Before the immune defense is built up, it has again done what it needs.
COVID is a case. What we see here – at least with open eyes – is pertinent to many domains in health and healing, such as myocardial infarction, stomach ulcers, migraine, NEPS (kind of psychogenic seizures), all kinds of chronic pain syndromes, tinnitus, allergies, autoimmune disorders.
Also towards proper management, the whirlpool as an image is relevant in any of these domains. This is where the psyche is probably relevant in the whole of human health and healing. As said: not conceptually traceable. When psychotherapy starts from the traceable, it may be even further away from reality as is a purely somatic attempt of putting it all in a box.. Sending a patient from a soma-box (the body, somatic medicine) to a psyche-box (the mind, psychotherapy) in many cases ends with the first box and with no avail. This additionally diminishes ‘mind’ in the minds of physicians and patients. At least, the soma-box is concrete.
Give to the body what pertains to the body; to the mind what pertains to the mind. The mind doesn’t come first to the body, nor vice versa. In COVID, properly taking care of the mind is crucial. However, it should be done in the domain of complexity. In an engineering way, this may seem irrelevant. It is more an art than a merely-engineering. In fact, it is both. It’s special. Denying the art, one may end up with bad quality products and services. This concerns policies, communications, and ways to individually help people.
To this end, I made specific guided meditation sessions to be used in situations of acute stress in which symptoms and other causal elements are playing together. I put these sessions on a user-friendly app et voilà. At the time of writing, there are a lot of acute stress situations for which this app is applicable: people confined to their homes and who suffer from mental issues, patients who are diagnosed or even hospitalized with COVID, their relatives at home with lots of worries, and not in the least: caregivers under extraordinary pressure. I think the whirlpool imagery is applicable to all of them. The – free – app will also be useful in other circumstances of ‘acute stress’ in the future. Of course, this is also an appropriate, though heartbreaking entry for ‘Compassionate A.I.’ which may be built stepwise into the app.
Let’s just hope it will reach many.