Our immune repertoire
Like musicians practice songs so they are always ready to perform, our immune system needs regular practice too.
Having an accurate high-level theory can get you much further toward understanding and predicting events than getting bogged down in the intricacies of the latest data.
Absent during the Coronapanic Debacle was a high-level theory of individual and population immunity. A failure to admit the limits of knowledge at the micro-level and acknowledge the best high-level theories of immunity, both individually and collectively, remains a feature of the COVID debate.
For example, one puzzle early on was that Australia and many places in Asia seemed to almost have trouble getting decent-sized COVID outbreaks. Now, these places are COVID world leaders despite mass vaccination while also facing outbreaks of a range of other viruses.
Those who ignored high-level theory and were bogged down in the data and policy debate tried to ascribe these patterns to policies that could not have achieved them. Those who had a robust high-level theory realised that there were probably different compositions of local immunity due to the recent patterns of viral circulation. For example, Australia had a very widespread 2019 flu season, which was likely caused by a range of circulating viruses stimulated some temporary cross-immunity to the famous coronavirus.
When high-level theory was applied, it was quickly silenced.
Two California doctors released a youtube video early on in the first lockdowns explaining the risk of immune suppression from the change in behaviour, and hence susceptibility to future viruses.
They were immediately banned from youtube. But like most technically-trained people who had robust high-level theories to guide them, they were far more right than wrong.
I want to explain here in a new way how to understand what I have found is a good high-level theory of immunity that has meant I have been able to make quite accurate predictions throughout the COVID era.
The piano man theory of immunity
Like the piano man, our immune system is asked to “sing us a song” when exposed to viral conditions in order to overcome undesirable biological responses. Like singing to an audience, this is done under pressure, but it is done to avoid illness and its symptoms rather than to avoid embarrassment.
How does your body know how to sing a song under pressure?
It tries doing it, repeatedly, in small doses, and in parts. It practises the equivalent of scales and improvised riffs. Rehearsing helps to nail the key parts of songs so it is ready to perform any time, often knowing songs so well that the performance can be improvised as needed. Learning more songs by one artist helps us play their new songs.
Same with our immune system. It practices on the panoply of viruses that circulate among us.
But lockdowns stopped rehearsals.
Instead, we were told not to rehearse, at all. We were told to wait for intensive training on that one important song, COVID. It would all be worth it to get that one song right on the night.
But then, it turned out that the intensive training was for a song that was not exactly COVID. Some chords were changed. Some melodies are not quite right. Yeah, you can pass it off for the COVID song for a while. But people have started noticing.
The current crop of COVID vaccines created immune responses that were not quite right and very shortlived. Not a great alternative to rehearsal.
Now, many of us are stuck in a place where we can’t really play the true COVID song properly, and you haven’t rehearsed any other songs from your repertoire for years. Each time you are asked to perform on stage it is a catastrophe. You get sick by re-learning songs on stage in real-time.
Like our musical ability, without practice, our immune system forgets.
If we want it to perform on demand in a range of circumstances we need to take the pain of regular practice. If we don’t, or if we focus on one song and ignore others, we will be a much worse performer.
The same applies to individual and population viral immunity. This was known before COVID, became taboo, and is now back in the realm of acceptable discourse.
Our economy is a longevity machine
In case you missed it, below is an article of mine from June 2021 where I explain another extremely useful high-level theory of longevity—the longevity machine.
Just as we ignored the important high-level theory of immunity, we collectively ignored important knowledge of how human societies generate long happy lives. In short, the economy—the activities we do every single day—all add up to a human social machine that not only creates economic output but longevity. Turn that machine off, in the form of lockdowns, and you get shorter lives.
Update from Dec 2022:
A great article by Sunetra Gupta makes a similar argument without the musical analogy.
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I often disagree with you on housing, but I applaud you for being vocal from the very beginning on the COVID madness.
Love your work Cam. I don't have to agree but that's the point. We need to be speaking out bottom up to come up with different viewpoints and then make a decision (if we are allowed lol).