It exploits and combines two huge failures in our thinking!
Suppose a water lily doubles its size on the water surface every 24 hours. Suppose it’s the Sea of Galilee. How much of the surface of the Sea of Galilee will be covered a day before the entire Sea of Galilee will be completely covered with lilies?
If you are not familiar with this kids’ riddle, it will probably take you a few minutes on your computer to answer what is essentially a very simple question. For our brains this simple question is actually very complex because of a failure in our thought process to grasp exponential growth. It is hard to imagine that the answer is clear: one day before the entire Sea of Galilee is covered with lilies, only half of the lake was covered; the second half takes just one more day.
We have trouble understanding the scale of exponential growth and this is expressed in a multitude of legends and stories from all over the world – the Indian monk who was asked by his ruler to think of a prize for his invention of Chess.
The monk asked his ruler to put a grain of wheat on the game board on the first square and then double the quantity on the next square. The ruler thought it was a fair deal; but by the 64th square, he would reach a quantity of wheat equal to 1,600 times the total global wheat production!
Our second “thought-failure” is “action and reaction”. It’s hard for us to grasp a response linked to an action performed some time ago – a day, a week, a year, a century! A reaction immediately following an action will automatically be associated with it. A reaction we see now seems to be a direct result of an action that took place immediately before that.
When relating that to any plague in the modern age of medicine, and especially in our current COVID19 era, it is hard to avoid linking the closure relief to morbidity relief.
On second thoughts it is clear to us that it takes time for the disease to mature, and it is also clear that the decrease in morbidity, in general, belongs to something that was performed probably 14 days BEFORE that.
But this is how our heads work, action and reaction, for better or worse. And to balance that we have methods and scientific research that constantly prove to us that not everything we experience is necessarily true.
The combination of those lacunas in perceiving the time interval between the action and the response, together with the inability to understand the spread in an exponential column, as in an epidemic outbreak, makes us very vulnerable when it comes to dealing with epidemics.
It is now very clear why in ancient times of medical research, it was impossible to understand and avoid the source of diseases.
But my message is completely different – I believe this failure in the COVID19 epidemic story is nothing compared to the context of the climate change problem.
Global warming is a very slow process, and its developing tragic results will grow exponentially. We and our children will probably not be exposed to its harsh consequences. But It’s out there.
The researchers who lead us on the right path in the COVID19 epidemic use the same methods used by climate scientists. The consensus is closed – it’s happening, it’s real and we’re in big trouble.
We’ve learned enough history (and watched a lot of videos…) about the plagues in Medieval Europe to understand how it was when there was no modern science around. At least we have science.
We should be geared to overcome our two major failures: the realization that the damage will be exponential related to the warming pace, and the ability to start working now, even when the results may be only 40 years down the line.