Sunday, December 20, 2020

Scott Adams' butterfly

Recently I heard Scott Adams make the claim that the reason people feel OK about not always wearing a mask, "social distancing" [sic], and taking the other panicdemic measures the "experts" tell us to take is because we don't know exactly who our acts will kill. He says cognitive dissonance protects us from accepting our responsibility. 

If this is what he believes, other people may believe the same.

I think he's wrong, and here's why.

His argument is based on misapplying "the butterfly effect"; almost imperceptible initial conditions can have huge unpredictable ramifications later in distant places. It's a well-studied part of chaos theory. To illustrate: the flap of a butterfly's wings in Japan can move a tiny bit of air, and after a long chain of events, each building on what happened before (cause and effect), cause a hurricane that hits North America killing dozens of people.

That may actually be the case, but that doesn't mean the butterfly is to blame. There are infinite other unknowable factors, many of which are going to be bigger and contribute more. Someone's laugh is going to move more air than the butterfly's wings, and be more likely to affect the future. And that's not their fault, either.

Not only do you not know who you are going to kill if you don't wear a mask, you also can't know that you did kill anyone by not wearing a mask. Chances are, you didn't.

If you're going down this rabbit hole anyway, you need to accept that the act of wearing a mask could have the same sort of chaotic cascade effect down the line. The mask might divert a virus that would not have otherwise drifted into the path of a passing person, infecting them so that they can infect someone else who dies. It's ridiculous to fret over such things-- they are out of your control.

You can't control for every variable, nor can you predict what eventual effect each act will have.

If you are actually sick, it is your responsibility, to the best of your ability, to not infect others. A mask isn't enough in that case. 

If someone is uniquely vulnerable, it is their responsibility to stay away from other people. And, still, tragedies will happen. Even with a virus that has such a minuscule death rate as this one.

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