It takes effort to embrace complexity. Simple models, simple narratives seem easier up front, their consequences only obvious in retrospect. When we talk about COVID-19 transmission rates, we’re using averages that do not offer crucial insights into how those rates may vary. When we target complex ailments with silver-bullet pharmaceuticals, we don’t address the underlying systems-level problems. Radical uncertainty resists attempts at easy answers, forcing changes in the pace at which we take shots in the dark. Sometimes, as with infection testing, we can’t seem to take shots fast enough.
But understanding systems helps identify good points of intervention, to find the keystone species for a conservation strategy or draw from history the most instructive lessons for today. Understanding human motivation can help us gamify the exercise we need to stave off frailty, and secondary illnesses. A small up-front investment in understanding our society as multi-scale and networked can prevent enormous economic costs.
Welcome to COMPLEXITY, the official podcast of the Santa Fe Institute. I’m your host, Michael Garfield, and each week we’ll bring you with us for far-ranging conversations with our worldwide network of rigorous researchers developing new frameworks to explain the deepest mysteries of the universe.
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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Podcast Theme Music by Mitch Mignano.
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