Covid-19. Why the search for a new equilibrium is necessary?

Translation from Italian of an interview by Antonella Vitelli with Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi, Turin, published on Lentiapois on March 21, 2020.

A tragedy, a disaster, one of the worst “accidents” that could ever happen to us. What is coronavirus? Physicist Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi calls it a “hacker created by nature to show the vulnerability of our system before it completely collapses”. So, are we receiving a warning? To a necessary step that we have to take before everything goes inexorably downwards, like a ball on an inclined plane? Sassoli de Bianchi, turning upside-down the “only problem perspective,” invites us to look at the disease also from the viewpoint of a solution. But what should we solve? And who is the subject of this new turning point? If we can speak of a turning point. How much does the individual have to do with it, how much do I have to do with it? Charles Darwin taught us that surviving reality means reacting, reacting to change. Neither strength nor intelligence is needed, only reactivity to change is needed. We need, now more than ever and on several levels, to restore a new equilibrium with what we have irreversibly changed. From these questions comes this interview with Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi, Ph.D. in theoretical physics and researcher at the Center Leo Apostel for Interdisciplinary Studies (CLEA) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), in Belgium. His research mainly focuses on the foundations of physical theories, quantum mechanics, quantum cognition and the study of consciousness.

Massimiliano a few days ago, by chance, this interesting quote of yours appeared to me.

Coronavirus is a hacker created by nature to show the vulnerability of our system before it completely collapses.

Can you explain better your idea? Do you see relationships with natural evolution?

Hi Antonella, this metaphor of mine is to be understood, above all, in the following sense. To correctly interpret a phenomenon, it is often important to adopt more than a single perspective, and sometimes also to be able to turn upside-down the perspective that appears to be the most obvious to everyone. Does the sun revolve around the earth or the earth around the sun? The coronavirus is now understood only as the vehicle of a threatening problem, which we must get rid of as soon as possible. And that’s the way we usually interpret each of our diseases. But what if, for a moment, we try to completely reverse this perspective and look at disease as a solution, rather than as a problem?

If the coronavirus is the vehicle of a powerful solution, what is the problem it would be trying to solve? Can we align ourselves with this solution, instead of fighting it?

In our industrial societies we always keep our living environments at constant temperatures, heating in winter and cooling in summer. It is very pleasant, of course, but our body is not made for this: it needs to explore a much wider spectrum of temperatures. And if it doesn’t, it weakens.

If I can suggest a possible answer: by dealing with the quality of my terrain, first of all as an individual, then as a community. Because if I just put the hacker in prison, instead of listening to his important message, his attempted solution will fail, and the next solution will be even less pleasant, up to the structural collapse of the entire system.

Wim Hof (born 20 April 1959), also known as The Iceman, is a Dutch extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures. He has set Guinness world records for swimming under ice and prolonged full-body contact with ice, and still holds the record for a barefoot half-marathon on ice and snow. He attributes these feats to his Wim Hof Method (WHM), a combination of frequent cold exposure, breathing techniques and meditation

There are two very interesting points in what you say. One concerns the individual and his or her responsibilities and another the choice we have made with modernity by trading a little of freedom for a little of security. The primary foundation of our social organization. I would also like to ask you, given your experience as a physicist and scientist, what is your relationship with reality, with the observation of the latter. What does reality tell us? Our survival as “human factor” seems to have to proceed in a communion of intent with our surroundings, with the ecosystem, under penalty of falling back on unpleasant events. In this regard, is Covid19’s dramatic experience telling us something?

You raise an important point. We, humans, have emancipated ourselves from the animal world not so long ago (on a planetary time scale). On the other hand, man now, as Vercors said, “does two” with nature: moving from passive unconsciousness to interrogative consciousness, a schism, a divorce, an eradication has occurred. To use a terminology taken from physics, an irreversible state transition has occurred. As humanity, we are still metabolizing this transition, this exit from the “earthly paradise”, and willingly or unwillingly we must find a new balance. Returning to the previous equilibrium is no longer possible.

We moreover live in the so-called anthropocene, an era in which for the first time humans, with their actions, produce planetary-level structural changes, and we have to deal with this new condition, which makes the search for this new equilibrium even more urgent .

But how many of us are also dealing with the other side of the coin (again, the reversed perspective), the more important aspect of the strengthening of the immune system of the human population, of its health in a broad sense?

But how do we strengthen our immune system? From what I understand, you propose a sort of abandonment of the so-called “comfort zone” and the recovery of our ancestral potentialities. Did I get it right?

Let me be clear, I love comfort. But as Paul Watzlawick said, two times more of something is not two times more of the same thing. On this planet, more people die from overfeeding than from underfeeding. We must study the functioning of our human-machine more carefully, in a more objective way, without cultural prejudices whatsoever. Let’s talk about nutrition for a moment. I do not go into the merits of the quality of what we eat, obviously very important, because it would be too long a speech.

But let’s ask ourselves: what happens if we simply skip a meal a day? Suppose we usually make three. What happens if we skip one? Well, after the discomfort of a short period of adaptation, we will realize that we have much more energy available, that we lose excess weight, that inflammatory pains are reduced, that we sleep better, that we get sick less.

Those who eat less, who fast intermittently, paradoxically are less hungry than those who eat a lot and often. The fear of running out of food disappears and our “inner terrain” becomes cleaner and more vital.

The interviewed, on the left, breathing calmly when immersed in the crystal water of Podgorna waterfall, in Przesieka, Karkonosze Mountains, Poland, in January 2020. The water temperature was around 2 degrees Celsius.

These are just examples. As you can imagine, the theme is vast and complex. Allow me to evoke another fundamental way of getting out of our comfort zone: sitting on a meditation cushion, remaining still, in silence, by simply paying attention to our breath. If we try to do this, our monkey mind (to use a concept dear to Buddhists) will rebel. However, if we really want to observe reality (interior and exterior) in a more objective way, a conscious effort is needed to govern those aspects of our personality that the concept of monkey mind in part summarizes, such as capriciousness, inconstancy, confusion, indecision, uncontrollability.

If we learn to do it, not only will we will have much more energy available (because we will disperse less of it), but from the inner peace that we will gradually build, day after day, we will see more clearly how we can make our contribution to the evolution of all humanity, obviously starting from ourselves. In other words, how to become part of the solution, rather than the problem.

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