COVID-19 through Levels of Reality

Mark Pottenger


A question came up in the most recent LA-CCRS meeting that I found difficult to address. As I heard it, the question was essentially “How should we respond to COVID-19 in third reality?”.

I have described before the three levels of reality used for years in LA-CCRS writings and meetings, including in LA-CCRS Philosophy as understood by Mark Pottenger in January 1991, Politics through Levels of Reality, Some Ideas for LA-CCRS Discussions, Ideas for and from LA-CCRS Discussions, and Facing Realities. A short description is that first reality is reactive, second reality is active, and third reality is unified. Even though we use integer labels as if these realities were discrete and separate, they are actually a continuous scale. James Pottenger often talked about advanced second reality in LA-CCRS meetings years ago. Nobody spends all their time in just one reality—we all spend different fractions of our lives shifting between realities. (I spend most of my time in first reality, a few percent in second reality, and a small fraction of 1% in third reality.) All of these realities describe an individual’s beliefs and perceptions and experiences—there is a shared actual reality behind all the different individual experiences and this reality is unified, like or beyond third reality.

The main reason I found the question as I heard it (which may or may not be the question the speaker asked) difficult to address is that third reality experiences are personal and internal to the mind of an individual even though they are also aspects of universal mind. My own few consciously remembered third reality experiences, while extremely important to my world-view, did not occur under the control of my personal conscious mind. I know that some people have much more ability to intentionally shift to third reality, but based on what I have read and heard it is not an easy shift even for the most mystical or spiritual people. Since at the level of the individual person third reality is an internal mental experience, it is almost impossible for one person to direct it for another person. As people have pointed out, all hypnosis is really self-hypnosis (not actually imposed by the hypnotist). Everyone’s mental maps are based on unique lifetimes of personal experiences, so they are intensely personal and extremely difficult to communicate in natural human languages, which are almost entirely from and for first reality, with a little mental terminology for second reality.

How should we respond to COVID-19?

I will suggest several possible answers to this question, but I need to lay a groundwork of mundane facts first. I covered some related material earlier in Facing Realities.

Facts about “the world” use first-reality object-oriented language to describe the shared world underlying all three levels of experiential reality, but the use of first-reality language limits discussion/description almost entirely to “externally observable” aspects of the world, with words for some internal mental phenomena based on a theory of mind.

A lot of responses to the world are emotional or reflexive/reactive, but since this is a “should” question, all responses that I suggest will be based on some form of reasoning based on facts (informed decisions). In my personal view, any decision not based on information and reasoning is more a reaction than a decision.

The first issue affecting any answer is the problem of knowledge. The sum of human knowledge is far too large for any person to know everything that all humans know. In fact, our lifetimes are far too short for anyone to personally verify even a tiny fraction of all human knowledge, so most of what any of us say we “know” is actually what we have ACCEPTED from authorities. Knowledge forms networks, so the more we learn the more chances there are that seemingly unrelated facts can tie together and validate each other and expand each other’s scope. Knowledge is NOT democratic—all assertions do not get equal votes or equal value. Claimed “facts” that tie into the large network of knowledge of the world assembled by modern science and verified by testing in the world have a much greater chance of being confirmed than claimed “facts” that contradict that network of knowledge.

Given the above, the first step I suggest for ALL responses is to get your facts from the network of scientifically-validated knowledge, and learn to filter out and dismiss false assertions that directly contradict that knowledge and treat with extreme skepticism other assertions that don’t directly contradict that knowledge but also are not validated by that knowledge.

This can be especially difficult due to recent technological and social trends. The Internet and (anti-)social media promote the easy promulgation of nonsense, because anyone can post anything, with no checking against the network of validated knowledge. In fact, claims are repeated and read more when they are counter-factual because people find them more interesting than claims that are consistent with validated knowledge. Most new scientific knowledge is less interesting than wild claims because most science is small brick-by-brick incremental accretion. Science does have big jumps and moments of high interest, but they are much less frequent that the slow and steady small steps.

The first set of facts we should all use in making decisions is decades-old to centuries-old knowledge about diseases in general, all of which was well-known and well-established before COVID-19 ever showed up. These and related facts are part of the basis for decades of warnings from scientists that we must expect and plan for new diseases and epidemics due to population pressures and cultural practices.

Many of these facts deal with statistical issues (reducing risks by various mostly unknown percentages, not eliminating risks completely):

All diseases have one or more modes of transmission & infection. Respiratory diseases like COVID-19 are spread through viral particles in air and on surfaces we touch. How large a viral exposure it takes to infect a person varies between diseases. Severity of disease symptoms varies between diseases and between individuals with any given disease. People develop immunity to diseases they catch and recover from, but how strong the immunity is and how long it lasts and whether it helps against variations of the original disease all vary between diseases and between individuals. How many other people one infected individual will spread the disease to varies between diseases and between populations. As long as the spreading is more than one new infection from each infection, a disease will keep infecting more people—the spreading has to be less than one new infection from each infection to control a disease.

To control a spreading disease, long-established practices include:

Quarantining infected individuals reduces the spreading of all infectious diseases.

Physical distancing reduces the spreading of respiratory diseases.

Wearing face masks reduces the spreading of respiratory diseases.

Good hygiene (hand washing, etc.) reduces the spreading of respiratory diseases.

Rapid and accurate tests must be available and must be performed to determine if an individual has the disease.

An individual who has the disease must be quarantined.

Recent contacts of an individual who has the disease must be traced, and these individuals should be quarantined if at all possible or at least alerted and self-isolated.

Medical personnel must have better personal protective equipment than the general population, because they are exposed to MUCH more risk of infection while they work with infected patients. The N95 masks that have been so much in the news since the start of the pandemic are supposed to filter out 95% of potential contagions, but only when they are used once and thrown away. Using N95 masks for extended periods or reusing them reduces their effectiveness. Simpler masks reduce risks by lower percentages—how much lower depends on the construction of the mask and how careful the user is.

With a pandemic (worldwide epidemic) of a new disease, there is no existing pool of immune people that can be counted on to not catch the disease.

Since hospital and other medical resources worldwide are completely inadequate to handle even a small fraction of total world population severely ill at the same time (with huge readiness variations from place to place), all cultures need to do their best to slow the spread of the disease until medical resources can be built up, treatments can be developed, vaccines can be developed, and (very long-term) the world population develops herd immunity. This is the flattening of the curve a lot of people have talked about.

All of the above is long-established scientific knowledge that people can use to make decisions and take actions with no specific knowledge about COVID-19 other than that it is a viral respiratory disease.

The generic knowledge above needs to be supplemented by specific knowledge about COVID-19 to make more informed decisions and more detailed plans. Due to a lot of denialism and incredibly bad management, we STILL DON’T KNOW:

How large a viral exposure does it take to infect a person with COVID-19?

How much can this vary depending on individual genetics and current health and habits?

How severe will the disease be for any individual?

What factors influence disease severity?

What existing treatments can reduce disease severity?

How many other people will one infected individual spread the disease to?

What percentage of the population has been exposed?

What percentage of the population has been infected?

What percentage of the population has had mild (symptom-free) infections?

What percentage of the population has recovered?

Does recovering from COVID-19 grant immunity against a new COVID-19 infection?

If so, for how long?

What percentage of the population has had severe infections (requiring hospitalization)?

What percentage of the population has died from COVID-19?

What percentage of the population needs immunity to establish herd immunity (if herd immunity is even possible against this disease)?

The MOST important change needed to start getting answers to reduce our COVID-19 ignorance is TESTING! We (all cultures in the world) need widespread, frequent, accurate, rapid testing to identify who has been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, who is actively infected, and who has already recovered. The testing situation varies hugely around the world. So far, in the U. S., it is a disaster. Good testing requires tests that have been validated to be highly accurate, without a lot of false positives or false negatives. There is no national standard for testing, and there has been NO validation that I’ve read about for the many different tests in use around the country. We need a national standard test that is both highly accurate and very fast—results need to come in minutes or a few hours, not the days or weeks many tests take now. Testing requires supplies (swabs or needles to take samples, chips or chemicals or other supplies to actually perform the tests), most of which the country does not have enough of to do widespread frequent testing. Testing requires staffing to collect samples and perform the tests, and U. S. testing facilities are severely understaffed compared to the levels needed for widespread frequent testing.

Testing also determines or limits the effectiveness of quarantining. If we can’t identify enough infected people, we can’t quarantine them fast enough to reduce the spreading of the disease.

Until the testing situation is fixed, almost none of the questions listed above can get answered because numbers aren’t available. Until several of those questions are answered, we can’t plan how long we will need to use the generic public health measures that people and the economy are so stressed by, but at minimum expect months, possibly years.

Next after testing is contact tracing—figuring out who an infected person has recently been in contact with, and contacting and testing them to identify and quarantine other infected people. Contacts could be the source of the infection you start from or further spreading from the infection you start from. Classical contact tracing requires a large number of people to do the tracing, and those people require training, so a large organization must be set up to do it. There are attempts being made to use smartphone apps to do contact tracing, but what I’ve read so far does not suggest a high likelihood that this approach will be enough. The U. S. needs to massively increase contact tracing efforts, both to slow the spread of the disease and to reduce our ignorance about the details of COVID-19 spreading.

Many existing treatments for other respiratory diseases and even for unrelated conditions are being tested to see if they help COVID-19 patients. Some of that effort has been wasted to test inappropriate treatments touted by ignorant people in power, but most things being tested actually have a rational reason for hoping they might help.

One treatment that has been tested and confirmed to help is to use processed donated blood from recovered patients to boost the immunity of current patients. This was tested for COVID-19 because it is a technique already known to work with other diseases. Unfortunately, after the effectiveness was proven, there was no follow-up from the U. S. government to push to get this used to help patients, and no big pharmaceutical or biomedical company chose to promote this over other efforts that would pay them more.

The biggest push that the U. S. government is actually involved in is a rush to develop vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Many companies and labs around the world are using several different technologies in crash-priority efforts to develop vaccines. In the long run, vaccines are the only way to bring the pandemic to an end without truly staggering death tolls (much higher than the hundreds of thousands who have already died due to COVID-19 and human resistance to reality). While vaccines are the best way known to current science to reduce the spread of many diseases, they vary in effectiveness. Some vaccines against some diseases completely eliminate new infections by those diseases, but other vaccines against other diseases only reduce the number of new infections or reduce the severity of new infections. Given the literally worldwide scope of the pandemic, there is a critical issue that works against fast development and deployment of any vaccine: we must make sure any widely deployed vaccine is SAFE as well as effective. We can’t afford global use of vaccines with major side effects. The thalidomide disaster of decades back shows what can happen when medical treatments are widely used with inadequate understanding and testing.

Without effective (new-infection-preventing) vaccines, the only way to end the pandemic would be for enough of the population to come down with and recover from COVID-19 to establish herd immunity. For the nations that have successfully prevented or slowed the spread of COVID-19, that would take many years. With all the still-unknown facts about COVID-19, herd immunity could need anywhere from 50% on up of the population to develop immunity, and we still don’t even know for sure that recovering from one bout of COVID-19 gives any immunity against another bout! Since the fatality rate of COVID-19 is another still-unknown value, any attempt to guess how many people would die to reach worldwide herd immunity would be a wild guess. To give a ballpark figure, just look at population numbers: known cases through mid-July of over 15 million (with over 620,000 deaths) are only about 1/500 of the population of the world, so if herd immunity kicked in at the lowest end of the estimated range (50%), it would still require 250 times as many cases as we have already seen. If increasing knowledge and development of treatments does not reduce the fatality rate, that would mean 155 MILLION deaths. If half of all COVID-19 cases aren’t even being detected, that guess would go down to around 75 MILLION deaths, but if herd immunity needs over 90%, the guess would go up to around 300 MILLION deaths. The numbers would almost certainly be even worse than any of those guesses, because many healthcare & hospital systems around the world would collapse under the strain.

Even if a good vaccine is developed and produced in large enough quantities to vaccinate everyone in the world, another factor can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. There is a subculture of people who don’t believe in the reality of modern medical science and refuse to accept vaccines. [They are probably the same people who refuse to wear face masks, but that is just a guess.] If enough people refuse to get vaccinated, that makes it harder to achieve herd immunity and increases the death toll.

The most optimistic informed estimates for the earliest possible widespread vaccine availability place it in 2021, so whatever refinements of data we achieve as the pandemic continues, expect the general population to have to continue the basic public health measures for many months to come.

How should we respond to COVID-19?

The facts above are the basis we must start from when we decide how to respond to COVID-19.

How should a person in first reality respond to COVID-19?

This person has very little control over their own life. They accept the word of some authority and they react (brain System 1, see Thinking, Fast and Slow) to whatever the world does to them according to deeply entrenched beliefs. The best advice I can give to this person actually requires a moment of second reality: pick as the authority that you will trust someone deeply knowledgeable about modern science who conveys validated scientific knowledge.

How should a person in second reality respond to COVID-19?

This person has much more self-awareness, self-control, and initiative than a person living completely in first reality. All the first-reality facts are still facts for this person, but the brain System 1 reflexive responses are subject to brain System 2 evaluation and modification. This person can and will evaluate different authorities and decide which ones they will trust, and generally will trust the network of validated scientific knowledge.

Choosing to trust science rather than misinformation, disinformation, or fear-mongering, this person will have a lot less emotional turmoil in the current pandemic world. Imposing System 2 evaluations on System 1 reflexes can also drastically reduce the level of negative emotions.

This person will initiate positive actions, such as always wearing a mask in public and maintaining physical distance to do their personal part in reducing the spread of the virus. They may take political actions to promote general welfare, such as writing letters to editors about paying attention to facts, and writing to public officials to urge them to make science-based decisions and take actions to increase preparedness (mandate and fund more testing resources, mandate and fund more medical resources, etc.). They may donate to NGOs or other causes that promote general welfare.

This person can reduce negative inputs by choosing to deliberately filter news sources or to minimize interactions with consistently negative people.

This person can initiate internal actions to increase their well-being even during stressful external events. They can practice positive feelings like love, joy, and happiness, using whatever mental tools they find useful. One informative exercise James Pottenger suggested as homework in LA-CCRS meetings years ago is to try to simply experience/practice specific feelings like joy and happiness without an external stimulus—most of us find this much harder than triggering feelings by thinking about a stimulus or a memory tied to the desired feelings.

How should a person in third reality respond to COVID-19?

All experiences are personal and internal to the mind of an individual, but in first and second realities all experiences are directly tied to an external world for which we have a shared object-oriented language. While third reality experiences are tied to an expanded version of the same world (physical world + universal mind/spirit), they are qualitatively different and much more difficult to communicate in the natural languages developed in first and second realities. In all realities, we form models of the world based on our perceptions, experiences, and beliefs, but in third reality we also experience direct awareness that is not mediated by standard sense perceptions. The difficulty of communicating this awareness is the reason mystics through the ages have resorted to parables and allegories and metaphors and every other possible way to convey things that the literal use of object-oriented language can’t convey.

It is just as hard to suggest actions for someone to take in third reality as it is to convey experiences. What follows is my attempt.

If your way of acting in third reality is to visualize and energize desired outcomes, visualize/energize/intend/expect corrections/solutions to any of the problematic facts in the groundwork above: a perfect (fast, cheap, accurate, easy-to-use, no supply problems) COVID-19 test is developed and enough personnel are trained and deployed to use it at the volume needed for all purposes; a contact tracing network is developed; everyone understands and follows public health measures; effective treatments are discovered and widely used; an effective and cheap vaccine is developed, tested, manufactured, and distributed worldwide and everyone gets vaccinated with it; political leaders base all their decisions on valid science; etc. If your values of good weigh the life of the planet over human life, set your visualizations accordingly.

If your way of acting in third reality is to send out energy, do so with whatever degree of guidance or specificity you need.

If your way of acting in third reality is to send out thoughts, do so with whatever degree of guidance or specificity you need for the thoughts and for the intended recipients (if any).

If your way of acting in third reality is to practice a specific feeling (which equates to a good/preferred outside world), pick and practice the feeling you want.

If your way of acting in third reality is to pray, do so with as much or little specificity as you need.

If your way of acting in third reality is to be open to awareness without restrictions, do so.

A story

Thinking about third reality in the world led me to remember a long story (novella? novelette?) by Walt & Leigh Richmond that I read many years ago: Prologue to . . . an Analogue. I didn’t think of this when I wrote my list of Science Fiction for the Mystically Inclined, but it definitely fits. My copy is in the 1970 Richmond collection Positive Charge, the flip side of an Ace Double with Gallagher’s Glacier (also by the Richmonds). The setting is the Cold War, but the story imagines one way mental/spiritual power could manifest in the world.

Another tangent

Paying attention to U. S. news these days leads to serious thinking about some major worries of the U. S. Founding Fathers. They worried about the vulnerability of democracy to demagogues. They worried about the need in a democracy for an INFORMED and engaged populace. The last few years, and the abysmal botching of the responses to the pandemic this year, have shown how right they were to worry.

This naturally leads to further speculation about what sort of political system could be better than modern democracy. Plato wrote about philosophers as rulers over two millennia ago. More recently people have written about meritocracies and many other systems. Democracy has been the best (in a greatest good for the greatest number sense) form of government anyone has tried in modern times, but I really wonder if there is any way to fix the flaws so glaringly exposed since 2016 without developing a completely new form of government.

Copyright © 2020 Mark Pottenger

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