Reflections on Science and Philosophy During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The current coronavirus pandemic directly challenges us and calls us to reassess who we are and what our place in the universe is

The coronavirus is pushing us towards philosophy. (EFE).

Spanish – The coronavirus took humanity by surprise and turned the world upside down. Bewilderment, anxiety, and fear are the predominant emotions. This has triggered a series of questions: What was the origin of the current strain of the coronavirus? Did it come from nature or human experiments? What is the best treatment to combat it? Why are so many people dying from this virus? How is it possible that in the middle of the 21st century, with the impressive advances in science and medicine, a simple virus is capable of paralyzing the planet?

Some of these questions will be answered in due course after diligent research by science and independent journalism.

But the last two correspond to philosophy, an area of thought that tends to be relegated in “normal” times but that acquires an unusual vigor when things are heated. In other words, when a man finds himself in such a situation, it impels him to seek within himself those answers that science cannot provide. These are the “borderline situations” to which Karl Jaspers alludes. The coronavirus pandemic is undoubtedly one of them. But it is an exceptional one because it is affecting us all at the same time, which has ethical implications.

There are many theories regarding the origin of COVID-19. Some believe it was a virus created in a Chinese laboratory to be used as a biological weapon, but that it “escaped” its inventors, thereby afflicting them as well. More recently, a variation of the earlier suspicion has become widespread. It appears that this was not premeditated but an accidental escape from a laboratory experimenting on bats. The source of this idea is cables from the U.S. State Department. Reportedly, the U.S. embassy in Beijing had sent a team of scientists to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. While there, they noticed security breaches, which meant a high risk of exposure for employees experimenting on bats.

The first cable from January 2018 warned that “the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.”

Right now, these are just hypotheses. In the best-case scenario, the truth will eventually be revealed. However, that is doubtful, because it is not only a scientific problem but primarily a political one.

Another issue that raises many questions is related to the number of deaths that are occurring. According to accounts of healthcare workers, the way of choosing whom to “save” and whom to not save when hospitals are overwhelmed raises many ethical questions. When this pandemic is over, we will have to calmly and thoughtfully analyze the moral aspects involved in some decisions. We also have to consider if it was morally right for the rulers to appropriate the resources of private clinics to centralize health care. Spain is a model case in point since it has legally appropriated the assets of private institutions while rejecting voluntary collaboration from private agents.

Concerning the treatment given to patients with coronavirus, there are also doubts about whether it was the most appropriate or whether it was counterproductive. Italy raised this issue after performing 50 autopsies on people who died from COVID-19. It is “the largest case study in the world as only three minimally invasive autopsy results were published in China.”

As a result, it was possible to study the pathophysiology of this disease. By doing so, it was detected that perhaps, those affected by coronavirus are not being treated in the right way. The root of the problem that causes the most serious aftereffects originates in clots that block arteries and veins that produce hemorrhages in different organs, mainly the lungs, liver, and heart. This causes inflammation, and the organs become considerably larger.

In one of the cases analyzed, the medical examiner discovered a possible cause of the lack of air supply that characterizes coronavirus patients: “a clot that almost completely obstructed the superior vena cava and the right atrium. The rise of the diaphragm has often been noted, indicating that at some point, the lungs are not expanding. This is associated with hepatomegaly (enlargement of the liver).”

As indicated in the study, COVID-19 generally causes anosmia (loss of smell) and ageusia (loss of taste). “It could reach the brain stem trans-synaptically starting from the peripheral nerve endings of the olfactory or lingual nerve. In this scenario, respiratory failure could be caused by direct virus damage to the nuclei of the brain stem,” it concludes.

One of the authors points out that “in the blood of patients with COVID-19 infection there is a very high number of endothelial cells (a sign of endothelial damage caused directly by the virus), and that these cells trigger a cytokine storm that mainly recruits macrophages (a type of white blood cells).” As a result, the author believes “that high doses of cortisone can work.”

The findings of the Italian forensic scientists are an interesting contribution from science to understand the coronavirus a little better and consequently to fight it in the best possible way.

Finally, there are the strictly philosophical considerations about this pandemic. Unlike the previous ones, philosophical questions arise spontaneously in each of us. Moreover, the answers do not come from “specialists” but ourselves.

There is no doubt that this pandemic and its consequences have hit all of us hard. It is a completely different situation than usual. The coronavirus, with its quarantines (obligatory or voluntary) and the global brake on the economy, has become a borderline situation. One, where all the usual procedures with which man usually handles a given scenario fail.

This pandemic directly challenges us and makes us reassess who we are and what our place in the universe is. Such a tiny and seemingly insignificant thing (didn’t we have the viruses under control?) has brutally revealed to us how fragile we are, both individually and as a group. It has shown us that we are only one speck in the universe and that we can disappear as a species at any time. It has made clear to us how valuable life is, both our own and that of others. It has made us see how stupid we are to continually fight instead of looking for ways to understand and cooperate. The imprudent ones —with their implicit immorality— in ecological radicalism, who, from the apparent security of the first world, demand that we urgently stop using fossil fuels. If this were to happen, it would cause a slowdown in the world economy, whose dire consequences in terms of death, famine, and destitution would be paid for mainly by the needy in the poorest nations. Some of this scenario will unfold in the course of 2020 as a collateral effect of the coronavirus.

In short, the world will never be the same after this pandemic abates. And neither will we.

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