independent minds

Science and Sanity and the 9/11 Decade

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York and host of an educational science show for PBS.  He tells this really funny story about the sky in the movie Titanic when the ship sank.  James Cameron got the sky wrong.  Very few people would have noticed that but Dr. Tyson did and eventually got to talk to James Cameron about it.  He is an excellent orator and makes a hilarious tale of the whole thing.  He is competition for Bill Cosby with his Noah story.

On the far from amusing side Dr. Tyson lived not far from the World Trade Center and was at his home on 9/11.  He was able to video some of the destruction and had to abandon his home because of all of the dust in the vicinity.  He posted an email about the experience the following day and it is on his website.

In 2007 Dr Tyson released a book, Death by Black Hole, And Other Cosmic Quandaries.  I haven't read it but it sounds like it could be quite amusing.  Maybe he specializes in Black humor.  But of course the whole point of Black Holes is GRAVITY.  Gravity is a major force in the universe.  It was gravity that pulled the Titanic down as portrayed in the movie 10 years before Dr. Tyson's book.

It will soon be ten years since his more horrific experience.  But gravity is involved in that also.  Living in New York, Dr. Tyson cannot help but have seen numerous skyscrapers.  And as an astrophysicist he can't help but know and think a lot about gravity.  How much has he thought about what it takes for a skyscraper to hold itself up?  The Empire State Building will have its 80th anniversary this year.  Wikipedia says it was designed from the top down.  That make sense for a very simple reason.  They could compute the weight of the structure as they designed it and add the maximum live load and know how much weight the next few levels had to be strong enough to support.  By simply repeating the process all of the way down the building the designers could be assured of having sufficient strength over the entire height.  The building has lasted 80 years.

But what does Dr. Tyson think about an airliner supposedly causing the complete destruction of a skyscraper more than 2000 times its own mass in less than two hours?  Has he thought about how gravity must affect the distribution of steel in any skyscraper?  Who knows?

My intent is not really to get on Mr. Tyson's case.  But after TEN YEARS what happened to those skyscrapers is a global socio-psychological issue.  This gets into epistemology.  The physics and the psychology professions are participants in this decade long misadventure.

Epistemology: from Greek ἐπιστήμη (epistēmē), meaning "knowledge, science", and λόγος (logos), meaning "study of") is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope and limitations of knowledge.  It addresses the questions:

    * What is knowledge?
    * How is knowledge acquired?
    * How do we know what we know?

How can we determine what could or could not have happened on 9/11/2001?

I never saw the World Trade Center either before or on 9/11.  I have only seen postcards and electronic images.  But for this issue to be unresolved after TEN YEARS is a travesty of science if there ever was one.  Before 9/11 I would have regarded the physics of skyscrapers as beneath the notice of most physicists.  What kind of electronic computers did they use to design the first atomic bombs?  They didn't have any.  The Empire State Building was completed 14 years before then.  It did not take ten years to get to the Moon from the date of JFK's statement of intent.

But there are some things we KNOW about all skyscrapers.  Every level must be strong enough to support all of the weight above.  The designers had to put in enough steel to support that weight.  Consequently the amount of steel tends to increase down the building.  But this presents a problem for a straight down collapse especially if it is supposed to have happened in less than double the amount of time for a mass to fall from the top of the skyscraper through empty space.  How could the ever increasing mass be accelerated downward faster than gravity could do it without slowing down the mass falling from above?  The conservation of momentum may not be used by architects very much but it is pretty basic to physicists.

There is considerable difference between what scientists know about how reality works and what the average citizen of planet Earth knows.  What is the responsibility of scientists to clarify any questionable events?  What is the responsibility of the media?  But Dr. Tyson may be on a tightrope in this regard.  He is a scientific celebrity with a TV show which is intended to impart scientific information and promote the scientific perspective of reality.  But how is most of the human race supposed to comprehend 9/11 when for most people it is only "real" through the eyes of the media.

In 1933 Alfred Korzybski published the book Science and Sanity.  He was the son of an aristocratic Polish family whose members had worked as mathematicians, scientists, and engineers for generations.  He came to the United States during World War I after being injured to serve the Russian war effort by less violent means, helping to sell war bonds and organizing the shipments of war material to Russia.  He stayed in the US after the war and began development of what he came to call, General Semantics.

Korzybski's work maintained that human beings are limited in what they know by (1) the structure of their nervous systems, and (2) the structure of their languages.  Human beings cannot experience the world directly, but only through their "abstractions" (nonverbal impressions or "gleanings" derived from the nervous system, and verbal indicators expressed and derived from language).  Sometimes our perceptions and our languages actually mislead us as to the "facts" with which we must deal.  Our understanding of what is happening sometimes lacks similarity of structure with what is actually happening.  He stressed training in awareness of abstracting, using techniques that he had derived from his study of mathematics and science. He called this awareness, this goal of his system, "consciousness of abstracting".  His system included modifying the way we consider the world, e.g., with an attitude of "I don't know; let's see," to better discover or reflect its realities as revealed by modern science.

But in the 1930s there was no television or Internet, there was only radio and newspapers for global communications.  There were two incidents in the late 1930s which might be compared to 9/11 as media events.  There was the Hindenberg crash in 1937 where a reporter gave a tragically moving account for the radio.  And there was Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast which was a totally fictional event but had many people panicking to escape imaginary Martians.  But neither had pictures with video repeats, again and again and again like on 9/11.  But neither of those events were excuses for war or were being hotly debated ten years later.

This incident is at the feet of people we call scientists.

What can one say at the thought of this Newtonian physics problem not being clearly resolved in the next 1,000 years? 

The Horror, the Horror!
independent minds

Physics, Psychology and the 9/11 Decade

By the 10th anniversary of 9/11 the 42nd anniversary of the Moon landing will have passed.  Newtonian physics will be 324 years old.  Newton's Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica was published on July 5th of 1687 and the first Moon landing was July 20th of 1969.  How can the major events of 9/11 not be fully explained by September 11th of 2011?

Jonathan Kay with his book, Among the Truthers, does the same thing as Penn and Teller with their television program.  They associated 9/11 Truthers with faked Moon landing conspiracy theorists.  Kay has a flying saucer abduction and an Illuminati pyramid portrayed on the cover of his book along with the twin towers and an airliner.  He is implying that questioning 9/11 puts the questioner into the same category with UFO nuts.  What does the media have most people thinking about 9/11 and skyscrapers regardless of the physics?

Getting to the Moon was Newtonian physics.  Isaac Newton could have done the calculations for the project 300 years ago.  The physics of an airliner crashing into a skyscraper and that skyscraper being collapsed straight down by the portion above the impact can't be more complicated than getting to the Moon.  But all skyscrapers must accomplish certain tasks before they can be hit by airplanes.  Skyscrapers must hold themselves up for their entire height therefore every level must be strong enough to support the combined weights of all levels above.  So the designers must determine how much steel is necessary to accomplish that, which means the amount of steel increases down the height of every very tall building.

The cores of WTC 1 and WTC 2 had 47 columns.  The 10,000 page NCSTAR1 report by the NIST says the cores supported 53% of each building's weight.  But since most levels were 12 feet high that meant there were 564 feet of vertical steel in each level of the core.  But there were horizontal beams connecting the columns on each level of the core also.  The cores were 136 by 86 feet.  Since the columns were not in an even 6 by 8 minus 1 array the arrangement must have been more complicated but the layout of the beams is never shown by any official source.  The horizontal steel should still consist of about 6 times 136 feet plus 8 times 86 feet, which comes to 1504 feet of steel.  So on every level of the core there should have been about 2.5 times as many feet of horizontal steel as there were of vertical steel.  But how much did it all weigh?

The steel in the columns was as little as 1/4th of an inch thick at the top of the towers but as much as 5 inches thick at the bottom.  In addition to greater thickness the box columns were longer and wider than the H-beams at the top.  But how much did the thickness of the horizontal steel beams change down the building?  That is another unknown we have to live with after ten years.  But why are we living with it?  Why weren't physicists and structural engineers demanding that information and telling everyone within weeks of 9/11?

Regardless of who destroyed the towers or why, an analysis of the physics would require accurate information about the state of the buildings before the impacts.  The NIST admits in three places that information on the distribution of weight in the towers is necessary to analyze the impact.  But then they didn't do that analysis.  They had empirical data.  They measured the deflection and oscillation of the south tower with recordings from a digital camera up to the 70th floor because the vertical columns on the outside of the building created a moving pattern with the pixels in the camera.  The skyscraper deflected 12 inches at the 70th floor even though the plane impacted at the 81st.  It must have moved about 15 inches at the impact level.  After the impact the tower oscillated for approximately four minutes in progressively smaller deviations.  So how could the bottom of the upper portion completely break loose and move horizontally more than 20 feet 50 minutes later?  Where was the center of gravity?  Where was the center of rotation?  What was the moment of inertia?  Where are the physicists asking about that?

What happened in New York on 9/11 was so unique and phenomenal one would think physicists would be fascinated and never let go of it until it was resolved.  But that appears to not be the case.  If anything there seems to be a deafening silence on the part of most physicists.  Consequently we have had nearly TEN YEARS of rhetorical and psychological nonsense.  We have the Orthodox 9/11 Religion versus the Heretical 9/11 Psychosis.  On the one hand 1360 foot skyscrapers collapsed straight down in less than 18 seconds and this miracle is supposed to be believed even though accurate data on the distributions of steel and concrete are not provided by official sources so the conservation of momentum can be reasonably analyzed.  IT'S A MIRACLE!  On the other hand shadow government agents used holographic planes to teleport explosives into the buildings with particle beams.  Or were they mini-nukes?  IT'S A TINFOIL MIRACLE!

But this is the nation that put men on the Moon.  The Empire State Building, which is only 3 miles from Ground Zero, will have its 80th anniversary this year.  What kind of electronic computers were used in 1929 to design a building that is still among the top 20 tallest in the world?   IBM had its 100th anniversary this year but there were no electronic computers in 1929.   Regardless of who or why or how it should be possible to definitively determine if NORMAL AIRLINERS could destroy buildings 2000 times their mass in less than TWO HOURS.  But no, we are treated to pictures of flying saucer abductions and can't even be told how many tons of steel were on each level within 5 stories of the airliner impacts.

Purdue has given us a computer simulation which they claim is scientific.

But the core columns do not move in that simulation when the plane impacts.  This contradicts the behavior which the NIST documents for the south tower.  Is Purdue telling us that the conservation of momentum is unscientific?  The effect of mass and its distribution on a vertical flexible body can be easily demonstrated.

Then there is the effect of impacts from above on self supporting masses.  The north tower was hit by the plane at the 95th floor.  So there were 15 stories above that point and 94 below. 

A simple simulation would be to remove the simulated levels 91, 92, 93, 94 and 95. That would leave a 60 foot gap with 15 stories floating in the air and 90 intact simulated stories below. Let simulated gravity take its course. The bottom of the falling 15 stories would impact the top of the 90 in just under 2 seconds at 44 mph.

The levels get stronger and heavier going down and lighter and weaker going up.  Even at a 3 to 1 ratio of destruction, which I regard as extremely unlikely, that would leave 45 stories standing.  That destruction would require energy.  The only source is the kinetic energy of the falling 15 stories.  They would slow down.  Completely eliminating 5 stories is more destruction than the airliner impact and fires could have accomplished. So if that simulation comes nowhere near complete collapse then what is with this nonsense that has been going on for approaching TEN YEARS?

Grade school kids could build that and test it to their hearts content.  Computers must be told how to compute physics and it must be coded perfectly or else they can get it wrong.  Real models cannot escape real physics.  The problem with small models is being too strong in relation to their own weight because of the square cube law.  Engineering schools that charge $100,000 for four years of education should be able to afford to test larger models.  Where is the engineering school that has built a physical model that can completely collapse?  Maybe they don't find 9/11 interesting.

The Laws of Physics are incapable of giving a damn about psychology.  But this nearly ten year 9/11 phenomenon is extremely psychological.  What do psychologists know about Newtonian physics?  It is much older than Sigmund Freud.  If the physics dictates that the towers could not collapse straight down then physicists should have figured it out long ago.  If the physics makes it possible then they should have explained it in detail long ago.  But wouldn't that involve having accurate data on the distributions of steel and concrete in the towers?  So where are the physicists demanding the information?

But if the planes could not possibly have caused that much destruction and the majority of people around the world believe that they did, then the physicists have created a problem for themselves with their years of silence and the media has created a problem with its years of noise.  How do they expect to teach physics for the next 1000 years?  Do they really just want to pretend that Newtonian physics is extremely difficult and expect everyone else to just believe what they are told?  But 9/11 has been a catalyst for war and people with the credentials to supposedly explain this nonsense have allowed the chain reaction to engulf other countries.

Can this go on for another ten years?

There are a couple of amusing things about this fantasy event however.  There are two science fiction novels written before 9/11 which contain incidents which are easily comparable to 9/11.  One is Flag in Exile by David Weber from 1995 and the other is Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold published in 1998.  Weber's book has a dome collapse which is supposed to appear to be due to incompetence or corruption even though it was actually sabotage.  There is significant discussion of computer simulations which eventually uncover how the sabotage was done.  Komarr has a collision between a spacecraft and a huge satellite.  Again there are computer simulations which uncover peculiarities that cannot be explained by "classical physics".  Though not deliberate sabotage there was an unknown technological factor added by unknown individuals.  But in these fictional universes the mysteries are solved in days or weeks not years.  Weber's book also involves a propaganda campaign about the event so a psychological factor is incorporated into the plot.

So if airliners could not cause that much destruction then 9/11 is the Piltdown Man incident of the 21st century and the physics profession has a serious problem. 

Can their silence make it go away?
independent minds

Komarr, Best of SF series by L.M.Bujold

I am reluctantly writing this review because Komarr is about the 9th book in the Vorkosigan series and thus rather far into it.  The story is sprinkled with references and in jokes from previous books but though the story is understandable without reading preceding books the reader will miss a lot and not notice many of the nuances due to lack of familiarity with Barrayaran culture and Miles' previous misadventures.

Komarr is a conquered world.  It is also a world that is uninhabitable without technology.  The entire population lives in domes.  The atmosphere is not breathable and the Komarrans have spent 300 years trying to change the atmosphere.  They have a few hundred more years to go.  Planetary atmospheres are BIG.  Millions of CUBIC MILES.  Part of the process of making this change involves turning carbon dioxide into oxygen which involves plant life, but Komarr is too cold so they need to raise the temperature.  So more than a century previously they had built a giant satellite with mirrors to reflect more sunlight onto the planet.

But two weeks before the opening of this story a space ship ore freighter  crashed into the satellite.  This damaged four of the seven mirrors and severely reduced the reflected sunlight making a trainwreck of the terraforming project.  Thus Miles Vorkosigan, brand new Imperial Auditor enters the picture.  No doubt this is a surprise to you all.  But this is Komarr and Miles is the son of The Butcher.

Miles father, Aral Vorkosigan, was head of the military expedition that conquered Komarr.  The Butcher is blamed for a massacre that occurred after the surrender.  He claims it was not at his order but who really knows?  Never trust a butcher.  So now the son of the Butcher must investigate an accident which may not have been so accidental.  The possibility of sabotage cannot be excluded.  And the emperor of Barrayar, a childhood friend of Miles', is about to marry a Komarran woman so if it is sabotage the politics could get really sticky.

Since this is an engineering problem the investigation is really headed by a more senior Imperial Auditor, Professor Vorthys, an expert in engineering failure analysis.  Miles chose to come along for the experience of observing a seasoned Imperial Auditor cope with the problem.  It just so happens that Professor Vorthys has a niece on Komarr and her husband is an administrator in the terraforming project.  But things get more complicated when it is found that a former employee of his was killed in the "accident" at the satellite.  What was he doing there?  The crap hits the fan quickly and flies furiously after that.

Lois McMaster Bujold somehow fleshes out minor characters better than some other writers do their major characters.  One reviewer said there was no science and technology in the book but then went back and listed it and said she hadn't really noticed it because she was paying so much attention to the great characters.  That is another Bujold trait, weaving the important science into the story as though it is as unimportant as breathing.  Try not breathing for a while and see how unimportant it is.  But how often do you think about it?  The novel Komarr incorporates more science than most of her other books because the basic plot involves the development of some new physics.

Spoiler Warning: Proceed beyond this point at your own risk.

Needless to say the accident was not a normal accident but it was not deliberate either.  It was an unforeseen side effect of a plot against the empire.  This story is a case of physics doing what it does regardless of what people think it does or want it to do.  It was as much of a surprise to the perpetrators as it was to the victims.  In fact the primary perpetrator was the first victim.  But how can the good guys figure out what is going on when the bad guys don't know what is going on.  Never trust a criminal. 

So finally they have to call in the BIG Guns, Dr. Riva and the Wonderboy to figure out the mystery physics.    But she double crosses them too.  Never trust a SCIENTIST!  But walking torture, bad food and drugs eventually drag the truth out of her.  But not until after two more kidnappings and bomb threats.  But women save the day in this story, solving the physics, if reluctantly, and stopping the terrorists who had failed to solve the physics in the first place and who would just have made a big mess of a nice neat space station anyway.

Science is for Sci-fi:

So science gets presented from two perspectives in this story.  The term Newtonian Physics is never used,  Bujold just says classical physics instead.  It is applied via computer analysis to the pieces flying off into space as a result of the original accident to analyze the details of the event.  It is that analysis which shows that something peculiar was going on which did not correspond to the expected physics.  But just working backwards to assemble The Weapon does not explain what the weapon does. 

"New physics only comes along once in a lifetime and usually you are either too young or too old."

Apparently soldiers have that same problem with wars.  How do you get experience and promotions without a GOOD WAR?  LOL

This book shows something of the thinking of tech types while most SF these days just has the heroes running around using the technology to shoot evil aliens or other humans or travel to parallel universes or whatever the shallow thing writers think will induce a sense of wonder.  This story gives a tech perspective from an engineering level and a scientific level.  Figuring out that the "accident" was weird was engineering.  Figuring out why it was weird was science.

Theodore Sturgeon, the writer of Star Trek's Amok Time episode said, "A science fiction story is a story built around human beings, with a human problem and a human solution, which would not have happened at all without its scientific content."

Komarr satisfies that definition quite nicely.

But of course you should never trust a book reviewer.  LOL

Here is another review of Komarr:

Bujold retains the wit, intelligence, action, and great character development that have made the Miles Vorkosigan series so superior. In Komarr she proves once again that it is possible for the latest book in a series to be as good as the first.

This reviewer focuses entirely on characters and puts too many spoilers into the review.  But she says nothing about the SCIENCE in the story.  What is the point of reading Science Fiction if it doesn't really matter?  And even more so if it is not correct.
independent minds

Review of Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series has to rank among the best in science fiction.  I have read most of the Foundation series by Asimov, the Honor Harrington series by Weber and the Bolo series by Kieth Laumer.  I have liked most of the books to varying degrees in all of the series but for the entire series I would have to rank Bujold's as the best.  I consider the second book in Weber's series, Honor of the Queen, to be the best in Weber's series and on par with Barrayar by Bujold.  But in retrospect I think Weber's series slowly declined for the next five books and even more rapidly from there.

Admittedly there are series by other authors which I have not read, like Elizabeth Moon and C. J Cherryh so I must admit that my dataset is incomplete.  But considering the Hugo Awards that Bujold has won I think I can be excused on that score.

Strictly speaking the series starts with Shards of Honor where the eventual parents of Miles Vorkosigan meet.  The last book in series, so far, is Diplomatic Immunity, which is the first story after Miles' marriage.  Off hand I don't know of any other series that covers a single character's life like this.  In many ways it is most similar to David Weber's Honor Harrington series.  But Honor is on some medical treatment called PROLONG, like everyone in her culture, and her life is rather of stretched out, and there is a kind of sameness that extends through Weber's work.  Like things are constantly happening around her but no one is really changing.

The entire series has been reviewed by Russ Allbery and he uses a ranking system from 1 to 10 so I am going to use the same method.

Mr Allbery considers Shards of Honor to be the worst of the series and gives it a 4.  I consider Warrior's Apprentice to be the worst and rank it at 5.  Warrior's Apprentice is not the first in the timeline of the stories but it was one of her first books.  She admits that it was submitted and rejected 4 times.  Fortunately things got MUCH better.  But although WA is not nearly the best it is one of the most important.  Many major characters that are used in later books are introduced there.  This book cannot be skipped.  A nice position for a weak story.  LOL

Mr Allerby and I agree that Komarr and A Civil Campaign are the best books in the series and we both rank them at 9.

Falling Free is part of the Vorkosigan universe but not really of the Vorkosigan series of stories since it precedes Miles' birth by about 200 years.  It could be important to read for a couple of other reasons though.  It introduces a "species" of genetically engineered humans who pop up in later stories, especially Diplomatic Immunity.  It also presents a perspective on SCIENCE which a lot of so called SCIENCE FICTION books no longer do.  Genetic engineering is an issue that the human race has to confront NOW!  There may not be much radical engineering of humans soon but we do have TERMINATOR SEEDS which are of economic significance.  Bujold's father was an engineer, as is one of her brothers.  I am inclined to wonder how much the Leo Graf and Professor Vorthy's characters are like her father.  Or her idealized father?

Bujold creates characters better and more interesting than just about anybody and puts them in fascinating and thought provoking situations.  But most reviews concentrate on the characters and ignore the science that she puts into her books and the characters that do the science.  Barrayar is the book that got me hooked on the series and it is the Vagaan character that is ultimately responsible for Mile's existence.  Bujold created one scene where Cordelia first meets Vagaan which spoke volumes about the thinking of tech people but which the mundanes don't get.  In Civil Campaign it is Enrique who is the sci/tech guy and source of much comic relief.

We live in a Geek driven world but the normals pretend they are not important.  But the lives of the normals are affected by the products of the geeks.  There are still thousands of nuclear weapons in this world that are products of some geeks at Los Alamos.  This global warming business is being argued about though most of the geeks claim they agree.  So the quality of life of the 21st century may be the result of not listening to the geeks.

But overall Komarr is my favorite of the Bujold series.  This story involves the discovery of some NEW PHYSICS involving the imaginary physics that Bujold created.  The behavior of Dr. Riva, the first female geek in a Bujold story, is fascinating in unraveling the core of the mystery of the tale.  I have not seen a single review discussing this aspect as it relates to scientific investigation in the real world.  For many it is just irrelevant background to justify Miles meeting Ekaterine.  We need SCIENCE to make REAL SCIENCE FICTION and REAL SCIENCE has been making real life more and more UNREAL.  Most of the stuff out there that gets called science fiction AIN'T.  We need more real SF to get us in touch.

So here is my ranking for the entire Vorkosigan series:

Falling Free                              7/10
Shards of Honor                     6/10
Barrayar                                      8/10 
The Warrior's Apprentice    5/10 
The Vor Game                        7/10    
Cetaganda                                 6/10  
Brothers in Arms                    7/10
Mirror Dance                            8/10 
Memory                                       8/10 
Komarr                                        9/10
A Civil Campaign                   9/10 
Diplomatic Immunity             8/10
Cryoburn                                    7.5/10
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance           8/10

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is a comedy like A Civil Campaign but the central character is Ivan Vorpatril, a supporting character, in many other stories about Miles.  Miles just makes a cameo appearance as part of the humor.

If starting off consider getting Cordelia's Honor.  It is an omnibus containing Shards of Honor and Barrayar.

The Vorkosigan series is now free and legal here: