Cold War, Coronavirus, And The Illusion Of Control


26-03-20 11:28:00,

So my daughter has a fever and a sore throat now. According to the Victoria guidelines she doesn’t qualify for testing, but her symptoms match those listed for COVID-19 and I’m pretty sure she’s got it.

She’s doing alright but of course I’m stressing anyway, since that’s my baby. From the data and anecdotes I’ve been combing through the last few weeks I know in my head that she’ll be fine, and I know that my husband and I will probably be fine, but I can’t be too certain of the latter.

Which is of course not a new situation. There’s never been any guarantee that I or my husband will wake back up on any given morning; we’re these weird fleshlump creatures whose physiology science doesn’t fully understand, and our physical cohesion on this planet is always tenuous at best. All that’s changed is there’s now one more item on a virtually infinite list of things which can technically go wrong with our bodies at any moment.

I write a lot about cognitive biases, the glitches in the way humans process information which give us a distorted view of what’s really going on. One such cognitive bias is called the illusion of control, the tendency we have to greatly overestimate the degree of control we have over uncontrollable events. It plays a large role in superstition and gambling addiction, giving people the mistaken impression that they can somehow influence a roll of dice or the spin of a roulette wheel, or deter unlucky events by avoiding black cats.

In reality we’re all spinning through black space in a universe which we neither understand nor control. Our brains process just a tiny fraction of the data taken in by our sensory organs and our sensory organs process just a tiny segment of the light and sound and other information which surrounds us. We can’t even predict what our next thought will be. The narrative of a separate individual moving through spacetime exerting full control over his or her fate is an illusion in multiple ways and on multiple levels, and the surest and least stressful place to stand is in full comfort with that reality.

Everyone’s stressed right now,

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