Because this piece concludes my Hack Ebola series, I want to briefly review this past week.
Last Time, on Dragon Ball Z…
In the project page, whose link sits in the main menu bar at the time of writing, I introduce the problem that these posts hope to address.
In “Bike Ride through Science,” I examine the gears of my rusted bike in various ways to introduce “mechanical thinking,” then contrast it with “systems thinking.”
In “Outrunning Zombies,” I describe an idea for a club—Zombie Action Planners—in an attempt to walk the reader through how decisions are made when viewing the world through the lens of conceptual models.
In “Blurred Shadows,” I attack logical fallacies based on dichotomies in a satirical piece, adding a layer of humor during the hump of the series and to contrast the dryness of talking on the subject of logic.
In “Tipping the Scales,” I compare Magic the Gathering and Rock, Paper, Scissors to the Ebola epidemic in the sense of perturbations to an otherwise stable equilibrium.
In this post, however, I want to be direct. I am, just like Anthony Gatrell in his 2005 paper, done being subtle about Complex Systems.
—Complex Systems has to do with systems thinking.
—A system is anything made of connected parts.
—Systems are delineated by humans. Systems are delineated by humans. All things are one, and it is only by convention that I refer to my can of soda and my writing desk separately, although they are in proximity of one another. Consider how, inversely, a “pair of shoes” is referred to as a single system, although the two articles rarely touch at all.
—Systems are open. They operate in environments. These environments are usually pretty complex.
—All complex systems are systems. Not all systems are complex.
—Complex systems have lots of parts. These parts are connected by a network of interactions. These parts only have knowledge of themselves and the parts that touch them.
—The system as a whole can have properties that its parts do not. We call these “emergent properties.”
—In Complex Systems research, we explore things we see with the above points in mind. We then try to explain them, again, with the above points in mind.
—It is the #1 goal of Complex Systems to understand emergent properties.
Continuing the spirit of being direct, I want to address what I said when I started this project, that “I want to directly address Ebola. I want to directly address preparation. I want to directly address the culture and the conversation its been having.”
Ebola is not a new disease. Nor does it spread in a way that we have not encountered before. It simply (1) is still too new for us to have developed a cure and (2) it is really, really good at killing people. It is a communicable virus that spreads by direct contact with a victim showing symptoms.
Preventing Ebola is, frankly, but in essence, as simple as washing your hands and otherwise keeping them to yourself. However, no matter the level of prevention we try to implement, a few cases will slip by. People will die. But others will live if we keep ourselves prepared.
A few years back, the CDC ran a promotion on Zombie Preparedness. Just as my Zombie Action Planners put on an air of trying to stop the next apocalypse, the CDC promotion was, at heart, a plea to stay prepared.
Consider, for example, the cost to stay stocked up on necessary supplies. Of course I will undoubtedly purchase items I will not use when the apocalypse does come, but I will have what I need, allowing for immediate action.
In this same line of thought, we need to stay prepared for outbreaks such as Ebola. Though, not “we” necessarily as the consumers going out and buying masks and wive’s tale remedies.
I mean “we” as a culture, as a massive, complex system of different professions connected by the boring, the mundane, the day-to-day. We must understand that all things—human or otherwise—are connected. We must stop blaming individuals for emergent properties because these properties emerge not from causal pathways stemming from any one person, but are reflections of our collective behaviors.
I did not cause this Ebola outbreak. You didn’t, Barrack Obama didn’t, and the people of the affected areas didn’t. It happened because a particular set of variables came together in a particular way. It happened because of us. We, collectively, allowed it to grow and affect us this far. But we can prepare ourselves. We can stop it. So what do you say?
Let’s Hack Ebola together. ∎