In several key respects, COVID-19 reveals how crucial timing is for human life. The lens of complex systems science helps us understand the central role of time in coordinating across scales, and how synchrony or misalignment leads to major consequences—whether it’s in how the metabolic differences between bats and humans can create an opportunity for interspecies epidemics, or in how the timing of society’s return to work could either help reboot or help destroy the world economy. Network research shows us early warning signs of an impending social crisis, the fossils of a vast collective computation as we struggle to adapt to periods of rapid change…and even the analogies we use to talk about these times bely a nested and embodied structure in how we encode the details of reality. These are complex times, indeed—and how civilization mutates to adapt to this pandemic will have everything to do with our ability to think and act at multiple timescales, simultaneously.
In Transmission, SFI’s new essay series on COVID-19, our community of scientists shares a myriad of complex systems insights on this unprecedented situation. This special supplementary mini-series with SFI President David Krakauer finds the links between these articles—on everything from evolutionary theory to economics, epistemology to epidemiology—to trace the patterns of a deeper order that, until this year, was largely hidden in plain sight.
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