Reimagining Coronavirus in 3D as a Metaphor of Global Society in Distress
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 16 Mar 2020
16 Mar 2020 – Crowning pattern that connects spiky organisms, satellite constellations, nuclear explosions, and egomania?
In a period of widespread concern about the coronavirus, and widespread media response, the concern here is with the possibility of another way of imagining its implication — of relevance to responses of new kind. The approach follows from the presentation of aggressive-seeming depictions of the virus in 2D or 3D. The question these raise in aesthetic terms is what else might such a configuration suggest.
Furthermore, given its relatively great complexity, is there a need to comprehend the configuration as a whole in some new kind of way? More specifically, if humanity is confronted by a threat configured in that way, is it necessary to get to grips conceptually with complexity of that order? As such. does it constitute a pattern evident to some degree in other domains? The argument here is that there are other suggestive patterns of a similar nature with which people are more familiar for other reasons. Through such familiarity it may be possible to engage imaginatively with whatever the coronavirus represents as a challenge.
Given the tantalizing regularity of the extant depictions, if there is a pattern which is recognizable to some degree at other scales, the further argument is to what extent it is cognitively engendered. Does this follow from the arguments of George Lakoff (Where Mathematics Comes From: how the embodied mind brings mathematics into being, 2001). More provocatively and more speculatively, given the global form of the 3D representations, to what extent does this echo instances of the pattern as recognized in plant and animal species, for example — and even in the global organization of society and various patterns of deployment of technology?
The coronavirus is clearly to be experienced as “aggressively invasive” — especially at the present time. Is such aggressivity to be recognized in analogues at other scales? Provocatively again, are those aggressive functions matched by defensive functions in those other instances? What does that ambiguity imply? Given enthusiastic speculation regarding extraterrestrials, is the coronavirus to be considered as a form of invasion — much as humanity might aspire to invading other planets capable of supporting life, as explored in the movie Avatar (2009)? Can humans function like viruses?
For Erik Davis as author of TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (1998):
I’m sure you have all read more than enough about the virus, so no big reflections here. I only want to say that, while I am not at all enjoying the hassle, or the extra anxiety layered into social planning, part of me is also totally fascinated watching the world system shudder as the biopolitical archons bare their fangs while my fellow citizens morph into memetized robot-crowds playing apocalyptic consumer scripts with unacknowledged jouissance. I am even fascinating in my own bouts of dread and paranoia. It’s not that I am not taking precautions, but I am committed, at least for now, to prioritizing local human connections over the selfish isolationist survival drives that are everywhere on display. (March Blast, 2020)
The focus in what follows is firstly on the ability to represent variously the coronavirus in 3D and to compare it with other 3D structures in nature and on a global scale. Arguably it is the insights from such comparability which might then enable insight to move beyond the specific threats of the virus to physical health as they are variously hyped globally — even to the point of engendering panic.
Are there vital learnings from the form of the virus — named in terms of a crown — that are valuable at the global level? This question follows from earlier speculation on the cognitive significance of a crown in psychosocial organization (Cognitive Crowns: all-encompassing, well-rounded experience, 2000; Implication of Toroidal Transformation of the Crown of Thorns: design challenge to enable integrative comprehension of global dynamics, 2011). The approach was extended even more speculatively, in a manner of relevance to the argument here (Satellite Constellation and Crown Chakra as Complementary Global Metaphors? Experimental representation of crown chakra in virtual reality, 2020).
Any notion of a “crown” with respect to global governance implies a higher order of integration than is evident, or is yet to be understood. Ironically it could be said that there is more comprehension of the structure and operation of viruses than of global society. Could it be the case that the viability of virus organization offers greater insight into the viability of global organization (as yet to take form) than is currently considered worthy of discussion?
This speculative inquiry is therefore of some relevance to the vain (if not naive) pleas for urgent global integration in response to various global challenges, most obviously climate change and now the coronavirus pandemic (Mark Landler, A Fumbled Global Response to the Virus in a Leadership Void, The New York Times, 11 March 2020; EU top dogs slam coronavirus travel bans but can’t coordinate bloc’s response, as member states shut borders to defend themselves, RT, 12 March 2020; John Feffer, Will COVID-19 Kill Globalization? CounterPunch, 10 March 2020). The latter argues:
The global spread of a new pathogen has exposed the fragility of modern life. As it moves around the world, the coronavirus has compromised the circulatory system of globalization, dramatically reducing the international flow of money, goods, and people. The disease has done so rather economically, by infecting fewer than 100,000 people so far. Extrapolation and fear have done most of the work for it.
While world leaders are at last speaking out about it, why does the leadership in each case expect global consensus of such a simple form — “follow my lead” — when this too obviously serves particular interests and evokes increasing degrees of suspicion (The Consensus Delusion: mysterious attractor undermining global civilization as currently imagined, 2011).
Some commentators are already seeing the coronavirus pandemic as calling into question the nature of globalization as currently understood (Marshall Auerback, Coronavirus Reveals the Cracks in Globalization, Other News, 11 March 2020). Are there other ways of thinking of “global” organization to which the very form of the coronavirus may offer unsuspected clues?
The following approach follows from the perspective originally explored by the Society for General Systems Research and published over many years in the Yearbook of the Society for General Systems Research. That highlighted a degree of isomorphism between systems at quite different scales, despite their apparent lack of comparability and the opposition between disciplines focused on forms evident at one scale or another. So framed, “global” implies recognition of a higher order of integration than is characteristic of debate about the nature of “globalization” in relation to the planet as a “globe”. With respect to the psychosocial implications (discussed in a concluding section), this neglected distinction was emphasized in an earlier paper for a conference of the World Futures Studies Federation (Future Generation through Global Conversation, 1997).
The framing of an elusive “pattern that connects” is a much-cited theme of Gregory Bateson as may be variously discussed (Hyperspace Clues to the Psychology of the Pattern that Connects, 2003; Walking Elven Pathways: enactivating the pattern that connects, 2006). For Bateson:
The pattern which connects is a meta-pattern. It is a pattern of patterns. It is that meta-pattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect. (Mind and Nature: a necessary unity, 1979)
And it is from this perspective that he warns in a much-cited phrase: Break the pattern which connects the items of learning and you necessarily destroy all quality. The insight has been otherwise developed in terms of a “pattern language” by Christopher Alexander (A Pattern Language, 1977), itself treated as a template for complementary psychosocial patterns (5-fold Pattern Language, 1984).
Physicists proudly refer to the much-quoted statement by Niels Bohr in response to Wolfgang Pauli: We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough. To that Freeman Dyson added:
When a great innovation appears, it will almost certainly be in a muddled, incomplete and confusing form. To the discoverer, himself, it will be only half understood; to everyone else, it will be a mystery. For any speculation which does not at first glance look crazy, there is no hope! (Innovation in Physics, Scientific American, 199, 1958, 3)
Faced with global crises and social chaos, the question with regard to the much-sought “new thinking” with respect to “global governance”, and the “governance of globalization”, is whether any theory is “crazy enough” — as may well be essential. In this light the newly announced UK initiative for high-risk innovative research, frames the question whether the requisite “craziness” will be inhibited by the same mindsets that have inhibited it previously (UK to launch £800m ‘blue skies’ research agency. The Guardian, 12 March 2020; Dominic Cummings calls for ‘weirdos and misfits’ for No 10 jobs, The Guardian, 3 January 2020).
Neither Covid-19 nor a major recession poses a threat to our survival as a species. We do, however, face two existential threats, both created by our species, and each featuring our nation in the lead role. At the very moment when only global unity and cooperation can save us from threats of nuclear holocaust and environmental devastation, deadly nationalism is tearing our species apart. Can Covid-19 teach us that those two great menaces to our existence are also not zero-sum games? That our species either wins or we, as well as many other species, all lose?
Rather than a question of winning or losing, the challenge might be more appropriately framed in the transcendent spirit of Eastern martial arts as how to learn from one’s opponent to avoid the enthusiams for the restrictive cognitive conventions of zero-sum games, as variously imagined (Ensuring Strategic Resilience through Haiku Patterns: reframing the scope of the “martial arts” in response to strategic threats, 2006; James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games: a vision of life as play and possibility, 1986). Are there new possibilities, if we recognize that the form and operation of the coronavirus is a mysterious image of who we are, whether collectively or individually?
|Depictions of the coronavirus|
|Ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically.||Images combined from a 3D medical animation, depicting the shape of coronavirus
as well as the cross-sectional view. Image shows the major elements including the
Spike S protein, HE protein, viral envelope, and helical RNA
|CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM
/ Public domain
|Reproduced from Wikipedia https://www.scientificanimations.com / CC BY-SA|
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