Complexity — David Krakauer, Part 3

On: Coronavirus, Crisis, and Creative Opportunity

Transmission Series Ep. 3

Episode: 29

Date: April 21, 2020

Evolutionary biologist.

Review of 5 Transmission Essays.

Key Takeaways:

  • Crisis = dramatic change in external conditions = opportunity to explore previously unfeasible alternatives.

Key Concepts

Santiago Elena on a Complex Systems Perspective of Viruses

  • Viruses need to mutate to evolve in order to:
    • Continue to infect new cells.
    • Evade host immune system.
  • Mutation creates a population of new virus variants.
    • Some are viable, some are not.
    • Viruses are a “cloud” of  variants (quasi-species), rather than a single category (species).
  • More mutations = more (replication) errors.
    • More errors -> higher chance of non-viable viruses.
    • Higher proportion of non-viable viruses -> slower transmission.
  • Errors lead to opportunity.
    • Above a certain error threshold (critical point), replication may end.
    • Implication for corona virus:
      • Introduce defective interfering particles (DIP) as a cure.
      • Use non-viable viruses as a “decoy”.
  • Critical point.
    • Mutation rate exceeds critical point = bad.
      • Too chaotic.
      • System becomes unstable, breaks down.
      • In case of a virus, this is actually a good thing…
    • Mutation rate below critical point = good.
      • Not too chaotic, not too rigid.
      • System is adaptive, able to evolve and learn.
      • [See “At Home in the Universe” on why systems on the border of chaos and stability have the right mix of rigidness and adaptability.]

Doug Erwin on Not Letting A Good Crisis Go To Waste

  • Cataclysmic events …
    • Drastic changes in the environment.
  • … can have a variety of outcomes …
    • Destruction.
    • Survival.
    • Innovation.
  • … by changing the existing competitive landscape and constraints.
    • Schumpeter’s creative destruction.

Manfred Laublichler on How Every Crisis is an Opportunity

  • Two sources of system constraints.
    • External: fitness landscape.
      • Natural selection.
        • Peak = well-adapted species.
        • Trough = mal-adapted species.
      • As landscape shifts, different species prosper at different times.
    • Internal: epigenetic landscape.
      • Regulatory or structural contraints that limit the number of possible outcomes.
      • See also “The Vital Question“, which suggests that energetic constraints limit the number of possible outcomes.
    • Constraints operate at different time scales.
    • Cataclysmic event = drastic change in external constraints.
      • Appears to allow for a change in internal constraints.
        • It seems that more possible outcomes are explored (innovation).
      • We don’t know why.
        • Unclear why a change in the fitness landscape leads to a change in the epigenetic landscape.
      • Possible explanations.
        • Change in fitness landscape increases fitness of already existing, but previously unfit variants.
        • Change in fitness landscape drives change in regulatory system, changing the internal constraints.

Mirta Galesica & Henrik Olsson on Opportunities for Science Communicators

  • People are influenced by formal and informal sources of information.
    • Formal: reputable centralized sources of discovery.
    • Informal: neighbors, friends, family and community.
  • Likely prefer informal over formal sources.
    • In every day life, the cost of disagreeing with a newspaper is lower than cost of disagreeing with a neighbor: prefer informal over formal.
    • In a crisis, the cost of disagreeing with a newspaper may increase: prefer formal over informal.

Bill Miller on Investment Strategies in Times of Crisis

  • Stock markets.
    • In times of crisis: high uncertainty -> high volatility.
      • Rapid downturns (first assume the worst).
      • Rapid recoveries (as new information becomes available).
  • High beta stocks.
    • Stock volatility > market volatility.
      • May do badly during crisis.
      • May do extremely well following crisis.
  • Buy at the point of maximum pessimism.
    • Extend time horizon beyond short-term crisis.
  • [This type of investment approach may suffer from survivorship bias. How do you determine the best time to catch a falling knife…]
  • [See “Ergodicity Economics” on a different investment approach involving the reduction of volatility, rather than seeking it out.]

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