Within this first section I would like to briefly clarify what science is and what it is not. Such a discussion seems important in light of claims made about the collapses of the WTC towers over the last decade. The written history of the collapses is provably incorrect. The author has observed how common technical beliefs were formed within the professional and academic literature on the WTC collapses even though careful scrutiny of the visual record of the collapses allows verification of their inaccuracy. Even so, this fact currently goes unrecognized within the the most up-to-date professional and academic literature on the collapses as will be demonstrated in sections 2 and 3.
How provably untrue information can come to be accepted as mainstream truth is quite intriguing.
Part 1 consists of 3 subsections:
1.1 What is Science?
1.2 Science and Subjectivity
1.3 Some Negative Effects of the Physical Sciences
Physics is considered to be the fundamental physical science and describes the basic mechanisms of movement on which engineering is based, so it serves as a perfect example of a science in this brief review. In fact, engineering can be thought of as application of physics and chemistry to the design of structures and machinery. The wikipedia link on engineering states:
The American Engineers' Council for Professional Development (ECPD, the predecessor of ABET) has defined "engineering" as:
the creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation and safety to life and property.
For this reason, the basic characteristics of the western scientific method are briefly reviewed. The field of physics is used as an example to show that a fundamental and governing constraint of the scientific method is the requirement to conform to observation and measurement of the physical system under study.
1.1 WHAT IS SCIENCE?
Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman are widely considered to be among the most perceptive physicists of the last century, so perhaps it is best to start by registering their views on what science is.
Richard Feynman was once asked the question "What is science?" His answer follows:
"This phenomenon of having a memory for the race, of having an accumulated knowledge passable from one generation to another, was new to the world. But it had a disease in it. It was possible to pass on mistaken ideas. It was possible to pass on ideas that were not profitable for the race. The race has ideas, but they are not necessarily profitable....
Then a way of avoiding the disease was discovered. This is to doubt that what is being passed from the past is in fact true, and to try to find out ab initiio, again from experience, what the situation is, rather than trusting the experience of the past in the form in which it was passed down. And that is what science is: The result of the discovery that it is worthwhile re-checking by new direct experience, and not necessarily trusting in the race experience in the past. I see it this way. That is my best definition."2
Note that he stresses the central need to doubt and re-check through new direct experience. He stresses a need to verify and re-question core assumptions by doubting them and retesting them directly.
"Each generation that discovers something from its experience must pass that on, but it must pass that on with a delicate balance of respect and disrespect, so that the race (now that it is aware of the disease to which it is liable) does not inflict its errors too rigidly on its youth, but it does pass on the accumulated wisdom, plus the wisdom that it may not be wisdom.
It is necessary to teach both to accept and to respect the past with a kind of balance that takes considerable skill. Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger in the infallibility of the greatest teachers of the preceding generation."3
Once again Feynman mentions the need to rethink, re-examine directly and challenge what is being passed down from the previous generations.
In this sense he considers science as an intergenerational re-questioning and direct testing of assumptions and past beliefs. He mentions the need to be aware of "a disease", just as he mentioned within the first quote. The "disease", according to him, is in passively believing "the experts" without rechecking core beliefs through direct experience. He also identifies the "disease" as passing on mistaken ideas.
To doubt rather than trust the experience of the past. To re-check through new direct experience. He then gives a second, more concise definition:
"Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts."4
The belief he mentions is that even the experts can be prone to group ignorance, so it is worthwhile to doubt and recheck common beliefs and assumptions against direct experience and observation.
Einstein said something quite similar about need to re-question core assumptions:
Concepts that have proven useful in ordering things easily achieve such authority over us that we forget their earthly origins and accept them as unalterable givens. Thus they might come to be stamped as "necessities of thought," "a priori givens," etc. The path of scientific progress is often made impassable for a long time by such errors. Therefore it is by no means an idle game if we become practiced in analysing long-held commonplace concepts and showing the circumstances on which their justification and usefulness depend, and how they have grown up, individually, out of the givens of experience. Thus their excessive authority will be broken. They will be removed if they cannot be properly legitimated, corrected if their correlation with given things be far too superfluous, or replaced if a new system can be established that we prefer for whatever reason."5
This is an elegant description of the same spirit of doubting and fact-checking as mentioned by Feynman.
CONVENTIONAL MEANING OF THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD
The Feynman quotes are quite different in tone from an outline given by more conventional sources like the wikipedia link on the scientific method here6.
Extracting the most salient points:
"Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. The Oxford English Dictionary says that scientific method is: "a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses."
Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, identifiable features distinguish scientific inquiry from other methods of obtaining knowledge. Scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses. These steps must be repeatable, to predict future results. Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry may bind many independently derived hypotheses together in a coherent, supportive structure. Theories, in turn, may help form new hypotheses or place groups of hypotheses into context.
Scientific inquiry is generally intended to be as objective as possible, to reduce biased interpretations of results. Another basic expectation is to document, archive and share all data and methodology so they are available for careful scrutiny by other scientists, giving them the opportunity to verify results by attempting to reproduce them. This practice, called full disclosure, also allows statistical measures of the reliability of these data to be established."
The key elements of the western scientific method according to the wikilink summarized:
1) Must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.
2) Consists of systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.
3) Scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses. These steps must be repeatable, to predict future results.
4) Expectation of full disclosure is to document, archive and share all data and methodology so they are available for careful scrutiny by other scientists. This allows statistical measures of the reliability of these data to be established.
THE SPECIAL ROLE OF OBSERVABLES AND MEASURABLES IN SCIENCE
The evolution of physics over the last few hundred years demonstrates how observation and measurement has acted as a fundamental constraint on all theories on models since Copernicus. Observables and measurables act as the anchor of all physical theories.
Einstein describes this concisely in a statement sometimes referred to as "Einstein's Razor":
It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience."7
A datum of experience is that which is observable and measurable. The basic meaning of this is that the collected observations and measurements must be taken as a whole, not cherry-picked in order to justify a specific theory.
"Physics is a branch of fundamental science, not practical science. Physics is also called "the fundamental science" because the subject of study of all branches of natural science like Chemistry, Astronomy, Geology and Biology are constrained by laws of physics. For example, Chemistry studies properties, structures, and reactions of the matter, including atoms, molecules, solids, liquids and gases. Properties are bound by laws of physics, like conservation of their energy, mass and charge. Structures are formed because particles exert forces on each other, like electrical force and gravity. And reactions are a change in properties and forces that formed a structure, like the different ways in which atoms form molecules."
Among physical sciences, physics is considered to be the fundamental science as all branches of science are constrained by the core mechanisms within physics as described later within this section. But consider, if all branches of physical science are constrained by core mechanisms within physics, what is physics constrained by? From the link:
Physicists use a scientific method to test the validity of a physical theory, using a methodical approach to compare the implications of the theory in question with the associated conclusions drawn from experiments and observations conducted to test it. Experiments and observations are to be collected and matched with the predictions and hypotheses made by a theory, thus aiding in the determination or the validity/invalidity of the theory.
Theories which are very well supported by data and have never failed any competent empirical test are often called scientific laws, or natural laws. Of course, all theories, including those called scientific laws, can always be replaced by more accurate, generalized statements if a disagreement of theory with observed data is ever found."
A theory within physics is only as good as it matches all observables and measurables (experiments and observations). This simple fact will be demonstrated repeatedly in the following sections.
WHAT IS A MECHANISM?
Mechanisms lie at the heart of physics. From the link, the basic domains of physics are shown:
Fig 1.1 The 4 domains of physics
"Mechanics" just means a mechanism of movement, so maybe it is easier to think of these 4 domains as "mechanisms". The currently known rules of physical motion for everything from sub-atomic particles to the universe as a whole are simply a mosaic of these 4 different mechanisms.
The traditional mechanism (classical mechanics) was found to break down in the limits of the very small, very fast and very large.
In this sense, all of physics is a mosaic of these fundamental mechanisms of movement:
1) Classical mechanism
......a) Newtonian vector calculus approach (Point particle and force approach)
......b) Variational methods (systemic approach) using generalized coordinates of Lagrange and Hamilton
Everything from the smallest sub-atomic particles to the possibility of multiple universes is mapped within one of these 4 mechanisms. Each mechanism is accepted within its limits because it matches all observables and measurables within those limits.
Every physical mechanism from the earliest Newtonian physics to the Feynman rules, which describe interactions between the most elementary constituents of matter, is nothing more than conforming theories to observables and measurables. The introduction of both quantum mechanics and relativity were considered as a revolutionary change within physics. Their introduction was necessary because of new observations which couldn't be explained using the classical mechanism.
The early 20th century revolution in physics was brought about by the need to match new observables and measurements. This forced physicists to refine what is meant by the word "mechanism". A very brief review of the classical, relativistic and quantum mechanisms is given next. This is done simply to show that each of these mechanisms can be thought of as a set of rules that work (describe all observables and measurables).
THE CASE OF RELATIVITY
The fundamental constraint in this mechanism is that light is perceived to travel the same speed for all inertial observers. Physics was forced to conform to a new set of observables and measurables; the speed and propagation of light.
"During that year in Aarau the question came to me: If one runs after a light wave with [a velocity equal to the] light velocity, then one would encounter a time-independent wavefield. However, something like that does not seem to exist! This was the first juvenile thought experiment which has to do with the special theory of relativity."9
-from his "Autobiographische Skizze" (18 April 1955),
This is a beautiful visual tool that shows the hyperbolic nature of special relativity.
Fig 1.2 The space-time hyperbolic geometry of special relativity
Every still frame in the animation represents the coordinate system of a different viewer traveling at a specific speed relative to the others. Each viewer sees themselves as not moving and all other observers as moving, all at different speeds.
Let us take a look at the center coordinate system that looks like a rectilinear cartesian coordinate system. The horizontal axis is 1-D "space". The vertical axis is "time". The red diagonal lines represent light rays. Each observer must see the light ray as traveling at the same speed.
"Relative" means there is no preference of ones own reference frame over any other. There is perfect symmetry between all (inertial) observers and mathematical expressions of laws of nature must express that symmetry.
"Relativity" means that there is no single observer preferred over any other. The center coordinate system is not preferred. It is just one of a whole family of coordinate systems. All laws of nature expressed mathematically will take the exact same form in any viewer system. Also, each observer sees the speed of light as being the same.
This is why the geometry stretches hyperbolically.
Watch how both the space (horizontal-ish) and time (vertical-ish) "fold in" on the red lines together to keep the velocity of the red path the same in each coordinate system.
It is because each observer must see a light ray as traveling at the exact same speed that each observer's coordinate system must "transform" relative to all others in the hyperbolic pattern shown.
In reality each coordinate system is identical, symmetrical in nature, and light moves the same speed in all of them. All laws of motion appear in the exact same mathematical form, no matter which of the infinite possible viewers is chosen.
Special relativity was necessary because the classical mechanism couldn't explain a new observation; the speed of light. When the classical mechanism couldn't explain something observable or measurable, a new mechanism was needed that could. Such is science.
THE CASE OF THE QUANTUM MECHANISM
With the introduction of the quantum mechanism, physicists had to give up on their belief that interactions between material objects can be visualized. They had to confine themselves to a purely mathematical description where the objects being studied can never be "known" or visualized and manifest in ways that cannot be described by our ordinary sense of space, time, object, wave or geometrical shape.
The most mainstream QM model, supported by Niels Bohr, was described as an "algorithm for producing the correct results" by Bohr. This forced a re-evaluation within physics of the meaning of the word "mechanism". In short, physicists had to accept that the quantum mechanism is simply a set of rules that work, though nobody knows how these rules give the right answer. Few people, if any, can explain how the quantum mechanism works. All they know is that it gives the correct results (matches all observables and measurables).
Video 1 Richard Feynman explaining the inability to visualize quantum mechanisms
Richard Feynman once said, "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics."10
David Bohm, within an interview shown later in this section, said, "It (the Niels Bohr interpretation) is the main stream but not very many physicists understand it well because it is very subtle....Niels Bohr would say that we cannot discuss (an underlying quantum mechanism) at all. We can only discuss the probability of obtaining a certain result of a phenomenon...Bohr called it (quantum mechanics) an algorithm for calculating experimental results of the phenomena. A wave function is part of an algorithm and no more than that."
David Bohm: "The reason (the mainstream theory) is not known is that is so unintelligible that it is hard to understand what it says."
Max Planck, considered the physicist who first discovered the quantum mechanism, said, "As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter."11
Das Wesen der Materie [The Nature of Matter], speech at Florence, Italy (1944) (from Archiv zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Abt. Va, Rep. 11 Planck, Nr. 1797)
In classical mechanics we are so accustomed to seeing everything. The objects being studied, like blocks, pendulums, gyroscopes or planets are directly visible. One does not ask whether the location, momentum or pathway of an object under study is detectable or knowable.
In quantum mechanics, in contrast, not only is there nothing visible in that sense, there is nothing visually imaginable.
An electron or an atom is beyond the capacity of the mind to visualize. Quantum mechanics is a purely mathematical theory, the quantum mechanism cannot be visualized with ones best faculties of mind.
In QM, the whole basis of the purely mathematical theory is how well it matches observation and measurement. Just like special relativity, the quantum mechanism was necessary because the classical mechanism couldn't explain new observations. When the classical mechanism couldn't explain something observable or measurable, a new mechanism was needed.
Paul Dirac himself explains in the opening sentences of his revolutionary book "The Principles of Quantum Mechanics":
"The methods of progress of theoretical physics have undergone a vast change during the present century. The classical tradition has been to consider the world to be an association of observable objects (particles, fluids, field, ect.) moving about according to definite laws of force, so that one could form a mental picture in space-time of the whole scheme. This led to a physics whose aim was to make assumptions about the mechanism and forces connecting these observable objects, to account for their behavior in the simplest possible way. It has become increasingly evident in recent times, however, that nature works on a different plan. Her fundamental laws do not govern the world as it appears in our mental picture in any very direct way, but instead they control a substratum of which we cannot form a mental picture without introducing irrelevancies. The formulation of these laws requires the use of the mathematics of transformations."
"The growth and use of transformation theory, as applied first to relativity and later to quantum theory, is the essence of the new method in theoretical physics. The state of affairs is very satisfactory from a philosophical point of view, as implying an increasing recognition of the part played by the observer in himself introducing the regularities that appear in his observations, and a lack of arbitrariness in the ways of nature, but it makes things less easy for the learner of physics. The new theories, if one looks apart from their mathematical setting, are built up of physical concepts which cannot be explained in terms of things previously known to the student, which cannot even be explained adequately in words at all."12
It is quite interesting that the quantum mechanism is the most accurate description of the complex interactions within matter as we know it, yet it cannot be explained adequately through words or pictures.
If you read the wiki-link provided above on the quantum mechanism, I am pretty sure the average reader won't understand much. It is very difficult for people accustomed to living in a classical mechanism to stretch their imaginations and grasp the most basic ideas in the quantum mechanism, and links like wikipedia certainly will confuse more than help.
Instead of the wikipedia explanation, a very good and concise way to understand the underlying postulates of quantum mechanics is written by R. Shankar13. He writes the basic assumptions as 4 postulates as shown on this page with their classical counterparts. Shankar expresses the the heart of the quantum mechanism as 4 postulates on a single page. Another simple summary of the heart of the quantum mechanism are also expressed as a list of 6 postulates on page 2 of Bjorken and Drell's "Relativistic Quantum Mechanics".
A simple example: The most current non-relativistic "energy state" solutions for a 1-D harmonic oscillator are shown under the classical mass-spring equivalents:
Fig 1.3 Mass on a spring (harmonic oscillator), classical version and the quantum mechanic equivalents
They don't look particles, so what are they?
A: They have no direct physical meaning at all. They are called wave functions, but there is no analogy with anything one can visualize.
Why a red and a blue wave?
A: The red wave is the imaginary component of the wave. The blue is the real component. The most current mathematical models for electrons are quite abstract, far beyond ones ability to visualize.
How does one test this abstract model for accuracy?
A: Through a limited number of observables and measurables.
Where is the electron? Can you point to it?
A: No. The integral of the wave multiplied by its complex conjugate over any area of space determines the probability of finding the electron within that space.
That the best mathematical model for a tiny harmonic oscillator human beings have in 2012?
A: Yes. It matches all observables even though the best physicists cannot explain why.
The only requirement of QM is that the theory matches all observables. The theory exists today only because, somehow, it matches all observables. Nobody can explain why, and some of the most perceptive physicists of the 20th century were not happy with it. David Bohm wasn't happy with it. Einstein wasn't happy with it. Niels Bohr considered it nothing more than an algorithm. Yet, somehow, it kept matching all observables and still continues to do so. And so it is still here despite the displeasure of most of the people who understood the mechanism better than anyone else.
THE CASE OF RELATIVISTIC QUANTUM MECHANICS AND FEYNMAN DIAGRAMS
In this case a particle is represented by a single "wave" with 4 imaginary components and 4 real components. It is called a 4 component spinor.
A spinor is a highly abstract representation of patterns that our minds do not have the capacity to visualize. It is a mathematical model that matches a very limited number of observables.
The Dirac equation for a free electron traveling at relativistic speeds. Alpha and beta represent 4 4x4 matricies.
Can an electron traveling very fast be represented in a simpler way?
No. This is the best human beings have been able to do as of 2012.
What is an electron?
A: Nobody knows or can know. A very fast electron is currently represented by a 4 component spinor. Spinors describe all fundamental particles and interactions which are currently thought to make up all "stuff" listed within the standard model.
A short list of fundamental particles: Only 12 fundamental particles and 12 anti-particles exist according to the most current knowledge. The green and purple areas show the 12 particles.
Fig 1.4 The fundamental particles and force carriers
The red boxes represent the "force carriers" or "force mediators" between the particles, called electromagnetic, strong, and 2 weak force carriers.
6 quarks, 6 leptons and 4 force carriers and their anti-particles are the whole show according to the standard model. A short list of basic composite particles linked here where blue are the fundamental particles, pink are composite particles, yellow are the fundamental interactive forces.
How are these objects mathematically modeled? As 4 component spinors. How do they interact? According to patterns on Feynman diagrams.
The first paragraph in the preface of "Relativistic Quantum Mechanics' by Bjorken and Drell:
"The propagator approach to a relativistic quantum theory pioneered in 1949 by Feynman has provided a practical, as well as intuitively appealing, formulation of quantum electrodynamics and a fertile approach to a broad class of problems in the theory of elementary particles. The entire renormalization program, basic to the present confidence of theorists in the predictions of quantum electrodynamics, is in fact dependent on a Feynman graph analysis, as is also considerable progress in the proof of analytical properties required to write dispersion relations. Indeed, one may go so far as to adopt the extreme view that the set of all Feynman graphs is the theory."
"In addition to their value as a mathematical tool, Feynman diagrams provide deep physical insight into the nature of particle interactions. Particles interact in every way available; in fact, intermediate virtual particles are allowed to propagate faster than light. The probability of each final state is then obtained by summing over all such possibilities. This is closely tied to the functional integral formulation of quantum mechanics, also invented by Feynman'"see path integral formulation."13
"In their presentations of fundamental interactions, written from the particle physics perspective, Gerard ’t Hooft and Martinus Veltman gave good arguments for taking the original, non-regularized Feynman diagrams as the most succinct representation of our present knowledge about the physics of quantum scattering of fundamental particles. Their motivations are consistent with the convictions of James Daniel Bjorken and Sidney Drell:"
But Richard Feynman said, "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics."
THE CASE OF CLASSICAL MECHANICS
The physical universe has proven to follow much stranger mechanisms than were previously considered. The most creative physicists of the 20th century learned to use models as tools, not as some final, perfect truth. A mechanism in physics is nothing more than:
A set of rules that work.
An algorithm for producing the correct results.
FUNDAMENTAL CONSTRAINTS WITHIN PHYSICS: Observables and measurables
The evolution of physics, considered the fundamental physical science, from Newton's Laws to Feynman diagrams gives an excellent perspective to see what drives science. It gives the opportunity to see what science is and what it is not. It is not based on any particular theory or set of laws other than the need to conform to observables and measurables. Any model can be challenged when it ceases to match observables of the object or process being modeled.
Earlier I quoted Richard Feynman as saying "mathematics is patterns"14. Physics can be thought of as constrained patterns.
Newtons laws provide a simple set of fixed rules exactly as any algebraic equations constrain variables. It is nothing but a simple set of rules or constraints on the movement of mass in space-time. (A set of rules that work.) In the simplest form particles are "free" in your imagination but "constrained" in observable space-time.
Any point particle one can dream up in ones mind can move any way it wishes. There are no constraints in your imagination as there are in physical space-time.
Examples of physical systems with no limiting constraints:
Video 2 Mechanics not constrained by realistic physical constraints is basically the same as a cartoon.
Without being constrained by the mechanisms reviewed in this section, one is left with the equivalent of a cartoon.
People who have never studied beyond the most basic concepts of classical physics may believe that there is some magic process guaranteed to bring success called "science". Classical mechanics seemed to give the illusion that there is a perfect deterministic world of particles and waves and that the experts have already figured it all out.
Quantum mechanics reveals that models, in reality, are just a patchwork that work for now. They always have been, but the quantum mechanism and the changes within modern physics kind of drive that point home. The model is here because it works for now (matches all observables and measurables). Even Newtonian physics has been proven to be a model that works only within a limited domain, not some cosmic truth of a predetermined, known universe.
From laws to set of rules that work. The actual mechanism may be nothing more than some algorithm that gives correct answers. Mapping physical motion and extracting underlying patterns when they exist. These underlying patterns can be grouped as sets of rules that work. They work because they match all observables and measurables.
What does all this have to do with the WTC collapses, which is the subject of this book? Just as in the 4 domains of physics, these same basic principles apply to all physical systems including the WTC collapses. Physical theory, including those on the collapses of the WTC towers, is constrained by the simple need to conform to observations and measurements.
Since conforming to observation and measurement lies at the heart of all physical theories, it is essential to carefully recheck them for accuracy. If there are mistakes made when assembling sets of observations of a physical system, any theory based upon them will inevitably contain errors.
Likewise, passively believing in a particular group of perceived experts without making the effort to independently fact-check their claims can result in all sorts of confusion. Independent confirmation of observation and measurement through multiple sources is essential to scientific reasoning.
1.2 SUBJECTIVITY WITHIN SCIENCE
The heart of the western scientific method is in careful observation of objects and processes. Definitions, descriptions, mappings and measurements of objects and processes and the study of "objective qualities" are the basic techniques used in all the physical sciences.
The fundamental relationship is always the same: There is an observer and object observed. Always an observer and always an object or process being observed. It is assumed that observer is separate from what is being observed and that they are "objective" or "impartial".
This approach works very well as long as the objects and processes being studied are objectifiable things, like beatles or rocks, for example. Richard Feynman notes that this technique works very well with the physical sciences but hasn't had as much success in the social sciences.14 There may be a simple reason for this. Physics deals with very objectifiable things.
Likewise, just as the processes under study may not be objectifiable like beatles or rocks, so the observer may not be as objective or impartial as commonly assumed.
CONFORMITY, GULLIBILITY AND ABNEGATION OF RESPONSIBILITY
Within the reproducible experiment described next, the results expose an extreme level of misunderstanding of how susceptible experimental subjects are to blind obedience to firm suggestions from a perceived authority figure. The results of the experiment are disturbing not only due to the percentage of people demonstrating such susceptibility, but because so few people could have predicted the results beforehand. This unawareness of the true degree of vulnerability to blind obedience is what makes the subjects all the more vulnerable. A false sense of certainty in ones powers of objective reason left the subjects unprepared to act as individuals with a healthy degree of skepticism.
To the degree that this prevalent human weakness, the pervasive tendency to blindly believe perceived experts and authority figures, interferes with scientific reasoning, the easier it is to confuse false with true information. This is a major aspect of the "disease" mentioned earlier by Feynman.
The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of notable experiments in social psychology conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.
The volunteer subject was given the role of teacher, and the confederate, the role of learner. The participants drew slips of paper to 'determine' their roles. Unknown to the subject, both slips said "teacher", and the actor claimed to have the slip that read "learner", thus guaranteeing that the participant would always be the "teacher". At this point, the "teacher" and "learner" were separated into different rooms where they could communicate but not see each other. In one version of the experiment, the confederate was sure to mention to the participant that he had a heart condition.
The "teacher" was given an electric shock from the electro-shock generator as a sample of the shock that the "learner" would supposedly receive during the experiment. The "teacher" was then given a list of word pairs which he was to teach the learner. The teacher began by reading the list of word pairs to the learner. The teacher would then read the first word of each pair and read four possible answers. The learner would press a button to indicate his response. If the answer was incorrect, the teacher would administer a shock to the learner, with the voltage increasing in 15-volt increments for each wrong answer. If correct, the teacher would read the next word pair.
The subjects believed that for each wrong answer, the learner was receiving actual shocks. In reality, there were no shocks. After the confederate was separated from the subject, the confederate set up a tape recorder integrated with the electro-shock generator, which played pre-recorded sounds for each shock level. After a number of voltage level increases, the actor started to bang on the wall that separated him from the subject. After several times banging on the wall and complaining about his heart condition, all responses by the learner would cease.
At this point, many people indicated their desire to stop the experiment and check on the learner. Some test subjects paused at 135 volts and began to question the purpose of the experiment. Most continued after being assured that they would not be held responsible. A few subjects began to laugh nervously or exhibit other signs of extreme stress once they heard the screams of pain coming from the learner.
If at any time the subject indicated his desire to halt the experiment, he was given a succession of verbal prods by the experimenter, in this order:
The experiment requires that you continue.
It is absolutely essential that you continue.
You have no other choice, you must go on.
If the subject still wished to stop after all four successive verbal prods, the experiment was halted. Otherwise, it was halted after the subject had given the maximum 450-volt shock three times in succession.
Before conducting the experiment, Milgram polled fourteen Yale University senior-year psychology majors to predict the behavior of 100 hypothetical teachers. All of the poll respondents believed that only a very small fraction of teachers (the range was from zero to 3 out of 100, with an average of 1.2) would be prepared to inflict the maximum voltage. Milgram also informally polled his colleagues and found that they, too, believed very few subjects would progress beyond a very strong shock.
In Milgram's first set of experiments, 65 percent (26 of 40) of experiment participants administered the experiment's final massive 450-volt shock, though many were very uncomfortable doing so; at some point, every participant paused and questioned the experiment, some said they would refund the money they were paid for participating in the experiment.
Milgram summarized the experiment in his 1974 article, "The Perils of Obedience", writing:
"The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.
Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority".
Dr. Thomas Blass of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County performed a meta-analysis on the results of repeated performances of the experiment. He found that the percentage of participants who are prepared to inflict fatal voltages remains remarkably constant, 61-66 percent, regardless of time or place.
Professor Milgram elaborated two theories explaining his results:
The first is the theory of conformism, based on Solomon Asch conformity experiments, describing the fundamental relationship between the group of reference and the individual person. A subject who has neither ability nor expertise to make decisions, especially in a crisis, will leave decision making to the group and its hierarchy. The group is the person's behavioral model.
The second is the agentic state theory, wherein, per Milgram, "the essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view themselves as the instrument for carrying out another person's wishes, and they therefore no longer see themselves as responsible for their actions. Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred in the person, all of the essential features of obedience follow".
Please note that nobody polled beforehand had expected obedience to authority to be so manifest. Their preconceived notion of self and other ascribed attributes of self-restraint and reason that were shown, through the experimental results, to not exist in the majority of the participants. This inherent vulnerability of widespread blind obedience was not anticipated.
The participants were clearly over-estimating their abilities to reason clearly. Also, both groups polled had wildly over-estimated the the abilities of the participants to act as discerning individuals.
“The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.”16
- Stanley Milgram
"Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth. "17 - Einstein
“The state produced in the laboratory may be likened to a light doze, compared to the profound slumber induced by the preponent authority system of a national government.”18 -Milgram
As noted, the chief vulnerability in the participants may be that they tended to over-estimate they abilities of rational discernment and individuality. They were unaware of their own potential to submit to authoritative suggestions and orders.
“It may be that we are puppets-puppets controlled by the strings of society. But at least we are puppets with perception, with awareness. And perhaps our awareness is the first step to our liberation.”19 - Milgram
Also notable is that the experimental subjects of Milgram tended to blame those revealing the weakness in character rather than themselves.
CONFORMITY AND IMITATION
Another experiment on conformity demonstrates the same human tendency to confuse fact with fiction in a group setting.
The Asch conformity experiments were a series of studies published in the 1950s that demonstrated the power of conformity in groups. These are also known as the Asch Paradigm.
Experiments led by Solomon Asch of Swarthmore College asked groups of students to participate in a "vision tests." In reality, all but one of the participants were confederates of the experimenter, and the study was really about how the remaining student would react to the confederates' behavior.
In the basic Asch paradigm, the participants - the real subjects and the confederates - were all seated in a classroom. They were asked a variety of questions about the lines such as how long is A, compare the length of A to an everyday object, which line was longer than the other, which lines were the same length, etc. The group was told to announce their answers to each question out loud. The confederates always provided their answers before the study participant, and always gave the same answer as each other. They answered a few questions correctly but eventually began providing incorrect responses.
In a control group, with no pressure to conform to an erroneous view, only one subject out of 35 ever gave an incorrect answer. Solomon Asch hypothesized that the majority of people would not conform to something obviously wrong; however, when surrounded by individuals all voicing an incorrect answer, participants provided incorrect responses on a high proportion of the questions (32%). Seventy-five percent of the participants gave an incorrect answer to at least one question.
An example of a question:
Fig 1.5 a sample question from the Asch conformity experiments
Which line on the left matches the line on the right?
Variations of the basic paradigm tested how many cohorts were necessary to induce conformity, examining the influence of just one cohort and as many as fifteen. Results indicate that one cohort has virtually no influence and two cohorts have only a small influence. When three or more cohorts are present, the tendency to conform is relatively stable.
The unanimity of the confederates has also been varied. When the confederates are not unanimous in their judgment, even if only one confederate voices a different opinion, participants are much more likely to resist the urge to conform than when the confederates all agree. This finding illuminates the power that even a small dissenting minority can have. Interestingly, this finding holds whether or not the dissenting confederate gives the correct answer. As long as the dissenting confederate gives an answer that is different from the majority, participants are more likely to give the correct answer.
One difference between the Asch conformity experiments and the Milgram experiment as carried out by Stanley Milgram is that the subjects of these studies attributed their performance to their own misjudgment and "poor eyesight", while those in the Milgram experiment blamed the experimenter in explaining their behavior."
In stark contrast to the tendencies toward conformity in viewpoint and submission to the claims of experts, consider a skeptical, scientific approach to examining evidence.
"When someone says science teaches such and such, he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn't teach it; experience teaches it. If they say to you science has shown such and such, you might ask, "How does science show that- how did the scientists find out- how, what, where?" Not science has shown, but this experiment, this effect has shown. And you have as much a right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments (but we must listen to all the evidence), to judge whether a reusable conclusion has been arrived at."21
As Feynman points out, only direct experience teaches, in this case through specific experiments. The experiment is performed through specific conditions and those conditions must be examined. In the quote, "science teaches" is an ambiguous appeal to authority which substitutes for critical examination of the specifics surrounding a claim.
SUBJECTIVITY WITHIN THE OBSERVER
The existence of "an impartial observer" is one of the most fundamental assumptions within the western "scientific method".
This observer is assumed to have 5 senses through which they perceive the "outside world". We all know from personal experience that any one of us can "watch" our thoughts come and go. We all know we can "see" our own dreams while sleeping. But these direct perceptions do not go through the 5 senses and this is direct perception of our "inside world" or "mind". So, in the simplest terms, we say that each observer can observe objects and processes both "outside" and "inside" themselves.
Can "mind" interfere with direct perception or observation?
In accordance with both the Milgram and Asch experiments cited, the answer must clearly be yes.
Is an observer truly capable of not allowing preconceived concepts to cloud the act of direct observation? This observer can often make mistakes in judgement. For this reason, fact-checking by other observers is essential and, as noted, an essential part of scientific reasoning.
The collapses of the 3 World Trade Center Towers offers a unique opportunity to observe these and other types of weakness within the scientific method. A physical process can be studied with blinkered vision.
The natural question to ask is, is there a way to remove preconceived, subjective tendencies from scientific inquiry? In some fields, such as physics, a rather effective way to do this is to be able to distinguish between what is verifiable, provable and reproducible from what is speculation.
Clearly, considering the information on both science in the form of physics or subjective tendencies of the mind, one must use discipline to distinguish between observables and measurables from mere speculation.
All physical sciences are after all based, first and foremost, in conforming theory to all available observables and measurables.
DAVID BOHM ON BLINKERED VISION AND MENTAL FRAGMENTATION
From the link:
"David Bohm was widely considered one of the best quantum physicists of all time."22
During his early period, Bohm made a number of significant contributions to physics, particularly to quantum mechanics and relativity theory. As a post-graduate at Berkeley, he developed a theory of plasmas, discovering the electron phenomenon known now as Bohm-diffusion. His first book, Quantum Theory published in 1951, was well-received by Einstein, among others. However, Bohm became dissatisfied with the orthodox interpretation of quantum theory, which he had written about in that book, and began to develop his own interpretation (De Broglie'"Bohm theory)'" a non-local hidden variable deterministic theory the predictions of which agree perfectly with the nondeterministic quantum theory. His work and the EPR argument became the major factor motivating John Bell's inequality, the consequences of which are still being investigated."
BOHM, FEYNMAN, BOHR, EINSTEIN AMONG OTHERS REDEFINING THE CONCEPT OF "MECHANISM" AND THE ROLE OF THE OBSERVER23
"The real test of a map is whether it guides us correctly through a city. If it's a wrong map we will find incoherence in our actions."
"The observer is an intrinsic part of the whole. That is what quantum mechanics is teaching."
"When we come to a theory as broad as a world view, we find it very hard to detect incoherence because something like a world view tends to state that things that don't fit are irrelevent, or we say we're going to get them in order later, we haven't solved that problem yet. So incoherence can easily be not noticed."
"For the western world view, its limits have not been seen."
Interviewer: "What do you see as the weakness of the Western world view?"
Bohm: "It focuses too much on analysis and tends to lead to fragmentation."
Bohm: "It (the Niels Bohr interpretation) is the main stream but not very many physicists understand it well because it is very subtle."
"Niels Bohr would say that we cannot discuss (an underlying quantum mechanism) at all. We can only discuss the probability of obtaining a certain result of a phenomenon."
"Bohr called it (quantum mechanics) an algorithm for calculating experimental results of the phenomena. A wave function is part of an algorithm and no more than that."
"The reason (the mainstream theory) is not known is that is so unintelligible that it is hard to understand what it says." (Recall Feynman: "I think it is safe to say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.") Here both Bohm and Feynman, arguably the physicists that have the most knowledge of the underlying theory, claim that practically nobody understands the roots of the theory. Niels Bohr claims it should only be seen as an algorithm that gives correct results, nothing more.
"Actually they (5 billion people) are a whole but it is incoherent. You see, they cannot avoid being a whole. .... If 2 people are enemies, each one makes the other. ... Enemies are extremely closely related. People who hate each other are extremely closely related, except they are in an incoherent relationship, one that is destructive."
HUMAN SUBJECTIVITY AND THE TENDENCY TOWARD FRAGMENTED VIEWPOINTS ACCORDING TO DAVID BOHM
The nature of these subjective tendencies within the western scientific method described by Bohm are clearly expressed in a book he published on the subject called "..."
From the book:
"It is proposed that the widespread and pervasive distinctions between people (race, nation, family, profession, etc., etc.) which are now preventing mankind from working together for the common good, and indeed, even for survival, have one of the key factors of their origin in a kind of thought that treats things as inherently divided, disconnected, and "broken up" into yet smaller constituent parts.
Each part is considered to be essentially independent and self-existent."
"The notion that all these fragments is separately existent is evidently an illusion, and this illusion cannot do other than lead to endless conflict and confusion. Indeed, the attempt to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is, in essence, what has led to the growing series of extremely urgent crises that is confronting us today.
Thus, as is now well known, this way of life has brought about pollution, destruction of the balance of nature, over-population, world-wide economic and political disorder and the creation of an overall environment that is neither physically nor mentally healthy for most of the people who live in it.
Individually there has developed a widespread feeling of helplessness and despair, in the face of what seems to be an overwhelming mass of disparate social forces, going beyond the control and even the comprehension of the human beings who are caught up in it."
".. man’s general way of thinking of the totality, i.e. his general world view, is crucial for overall order of the human mind itself. If he thinks of the totality as constituted as independent fragments, then that is how his mind will tend to operate, but if he can include everything coherently and harmoniously in an overall whole that is undivided, unbroken and without border (for every border is a division or break) then his mind will tend to move in a similar way, and from this will flow an orderly action within the whole. "
"What prevents theoretical insights from going beyond existing limitations and changing to meet new facts is just the belief that theories give true knowledge of reality (which implies, of course, that they never change). Although our modern way of thinking has changed a great deal relative to the ancient one, the two have had one key feature in common: i.e. they are both generally ’blinkered’ by the notion that theories give true knowledge about ’reality as it is’.
Thus, both are led to confuse the forms and shapes induced in our perceptions by theoretical insight with a reality independent of our thought and way of looking. This confusion is of crucial significance, since it leads us to approach nature, society and the individual in terms of more or less fixed and limited forms of thought, and thus, apparently, to keep on confirming the limitations of these forms of thought in experience. "24
(David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, 1980)
In Bohm's view:
...the general tacit assumption in thought is that it's just telling you the way things are and that it's not doing anything - that 'you' are inside there, deciding what to do with the info. But you don't decide what to do with the info. Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives false info that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us. Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally. This is another major feature of thought: Thought doesn't know it is doing something and then it struggles against what it is doing. It doesn't want to know that it is doing it. And thought struggles against the results, trying to avoid those unpleasant results while keeping on with that way of thinking. That is what I call "sustained incoherence".
Bohm thus proposes in his book, Thought as a System25, a pervasive, systematic nature of thought:
" Now, I say that this system has a fault in it - a "systematic fault". It is not a fault here, there or here, but it is a fault that is all throughout the system. Can you picture that? It is everywhere and nowhere. You may say "I see a problem here, so I will bring my thoughts to bear on this problem". But "my" thought is part of the system. It has the same fault as the fault I'm trying to look at, or a similar fault. Thought is constantly creating problems that way and then trying to solve them. But as it tries to solve them it makes it worse because it doesn’t notice that it's creating them, and the more it thinks, the more problems it creates. (P. 18-19)"
1.3 SOME NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF THE PHYSICAL SCIENCES
Naturally, an Achille's heel within the western scientific method (subjectivity within the observer, blinkered vision and a fragmented, mechanical world view) will lead to observable negative effects within the physical sciences. Some scientists, such as David Bohm, would claim that these negative effects are visible all around us. They will result in skewed viewpoints based on:
Inability to assess or acknowledge risk
Inability to absorb useful feedback
among other symptoms. Short examples of each characteristic are given below.
The state of imbalance expressed by Einstein:
"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."26
One personal example of this tendency to become absorbed in technology often at the expense of ones own sense of humanity is given by Richard Feynman. During the Manhattan Project a young Richard Feynman in this mid-twenties:
(On 6 August 1945 the atomic bomb was exploded over Hiroshima.)
"The only reaction I remember - perhaps I was blinded by my own reaction - was a very considerable elation and excitement, and there were parties and people got drunk and it would make a tremendously interesting contrast, what was going on in Hiroshima. I was involved with this happy thing and also drinking and drunk and playing drums sitting on the hood of - the bonnet of - a Jeep and playing drums with excitement running all over Los Alamos as the same time as people were dying and struggling in Hiroshima.
I had a very strong reaction after that was of a peculiar nature - it may be from just the bomb itself and it may be for some other psychological reasons, I'd just lost my wife or something, but I remember being in New York with my mother in a restaurant, immediately after (Hiroshima), and thinking about New York, and I knew how big the bomb in Hiroshima was, how big an area it covered and so on, and I realized from where we were - I don't know, 59th Street - that to drop one on 34th Street, it would spread all the way out here and all these people would be killed and all the things would be killed and there wasn't only one bomb available, but it was easy to continue to make them, and therefore that things were sort of doomed because already it appeared to me - very early, earlier than to others who were more optimistic - that international relations and the way people were behaving were no different than they had been before and that it was just going to go the same way as any other thing and I was sure that it was going, therefore, to be used very soon. So I felt very uncomfortable and thought, really believed, that it was silly: I would see people building a bridge and I would say "they don't understand." I really believed that it was senseless to make anything because it would all be destroyed very soon anyway, but they didn't understand that and I had this very strange view of any construction I would see, I would always think how foolish they are to try to make something. So I was really in a kind of depressive condition."26
On the subject of morality and participation in the Manhattan Project he continues:
"With regard to moral questions, I do have something I would like to say about it. The original reason to start the project, which was that the Germans were a danger, started me off on a process of action which was to try to develop this first system as Princeton and then at Los Alamos, to try to make the bomb work. All kinds of attempts were made to redesign it to make it a worse bomb and so on. It was a project that we all worked very, very hard, all co-operating together. And with any project like that you continue to work trying to get success, having decided to do it. But what I did - immorally I would say - was to not remember the reason that I said I was doing it, so that when the reason changed, because Germany was defeated, not the slightest thought came to my mind at all about that, that that meant now that I have to reconsider why I am continuing to do this. I simply didn't think, Okay?"27
If the relation of observer-observed is considered, Feynman seems to be saying that he was so engrossed in what he was observing that he forgot to assess the the role of the observer. He forgot to re-assess his own role in what he was doing when the circumstances changed.
Einstein considered the Manhattan Project to be the opening of Pandora's Box:
"Because of the danger that Hitler might be the first to have the bomb, I signed a letter to the President which had been drafted by Szilard. Had I known that the fear was not justified, I would not have participated in opening this Pandora's box, nor would Szilard. For my distrust of governments was not limited to Germany."
A letter to President Truman after the first atomic bomb test but before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima a few weeks later is reproduced below. Up to the moment the first atomic bomb was used on a city, some of the scientists involved in the designing of the bomb believed that their opinions of how it should be used would carry weight with those deciding to use it. The letter:
"Discoveries of which the people of the United States are not aware may affect the welfare of this nation in the near future. The liberation of atomic power which has been achieved places atomic bombs in the hands of the Army. It places in your hands, as Commander-in-Chief, the fateful decision whether or not to sanction the use of such bombs in the present phase of the war against Japan.
We, the undersigned scientists, have been working in the field of atomic power. Until recently we have had to fear that the United States might be attacked by atomic bombs during this war and that her only defense might lie in a counterattack by the same means. Today, with the defeat of Germany, this danger is averted and we feel impelled to say what follows:
The war has to be brought speedily to a successful conclusion and attacks by atomic bombs may very well be an effective method of warfare. We feel, however, that such attacks on Japan could not be justified, at least not until the terms which will be imposed after the war on Japan were made public in detail and Japan were given an opportunity to surrender.
If such public announcement gave assurance to the Japanese that they could look forward to a life devoted to peaceful pursuits in their homeland and if Japan still refused to surrender our nation might then, in certain circumstances, find itself forced to resort to the use of atomic bombs. Such a step, however, ought not to be made at any time without seriously considering the moral responsibilities which are involved.
The development of atomic power will provide the nations with new means of destruction. The atomic bombs at our disposal represent only the first step in this direction, and there is almost no limit to the destructive power which will become available in the course of their future development. Thus a nation which sets the precedent of using these newly liberated forces of nature for purposes of destruction may have to bear the responsibility of opening the door to an era of devastation on an unimaginable scale.
If after the war a situation is allowed to develop in the world which permits rival powers to be in uncontrolled possession of these new means of destruction, the cities of the United States as well as the cities of other nations will be in continuous danger of sudden annihilation. All the resources of the United States, moral and material, may have to be mobilized to prevent the advent of such a world situation. Its prevention is at present the solemn responsibility of the United States-singled out by virtue of her lead in the field of atomic power.
The added material strength which this lead gives to the United States brings with it the obligation of restraint and if we were to violate this obligation our moral position would be weakened in the eyes of the world and in our own eyes. It would then be more difficult for us to live up to our responsibility of bringing the unloosened forces of destruction under control.
In view of the foregoing, we, the undersigned, respectfully petition: first, that you exercise your power as Commander-in-Chief to rule that the United States shall not resort to the use of atomic bombs in this war unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan have been made public in detail and Japan knowing these terms has refused to surrender; second, that in such an event the question whether or not to use atomic bombs be decided by you in the light of the consideration presented in this petition as well as all the other moral responsibilities which are involved." (Leo Szilard, His Version of the Facts, pp. 211-212). "29
Roosevelt died and the letter remained unopened.
The era of the Manhattan Project ushered in the scientist as a mere servo-mechanism of military and corporate ideas which continues today. The Oppenheimer Historian Cassidy on the change of scientific ideals during the project...
"Cassidy sees this feeling of reduced moral responsibility as largely a product of the prevailing culture rather than of Oppenheimer’s distinctive sensibility: “Under Vannevar Bush [the M.I.T. engineer who sold the Manhattan Project to President Roosevelt], the scientist as the enlightened keeper of cultural ideals and an equal partner with military and political leaders was replaced by a new conception of the scientist as a mere technician of physical processes, an employee working under orders at the bottom of a bureaucratic hierarchy.”30
Another relevant comment on the imbalance between technology and humanity attributed to Einstein:
"Albert Einstein, equally peaceable but more discerning, said of the weaponry developed before the First World War-machine guns, massive artillery-that entrusting human beings with modern technology was like putting a meat ax in the hands of a psychopath. "31
This is a comment by Einstein on World War 1 technology.
In the examples cited the scientist manifests as an observer transfixed on the objects of study, but often forgetting that the results have larger social consequences and unintended negative effects for the larger population well outside of their abilities to control them.
In the fundamental relation of observer and observed, the observer can unwittingly become engrossed within that being observed while forgetting to account for inherent, knowable and predictable vulnerabilities within his own psychic processes. This weak spot becomes more visible in extreme situations like the Milgram experiment cited earlier.
RECKLESSNESS AND IGNORANCE: INABILITY TO ASSESS OR ACKNOWLEDGE RISK
From an economic and management perspective, similar obserations are expressed within an article entitled "Gambling With The Planet" by Joseph E Stiglitz (full article here32). The article was written just after the onset of the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima, Japan, and during the financial meltdown triggered by markets within the United States:
"Experts in both the nuclear and finance industries assured us that new technology had all but eliminated the risk of catastrophe. Events proved them wrong: not only did the risks exist, but their consequences were so enormous that they easily erased all the supposed benefits of the systems that industry leaders promoted.
Before the Great Recession, America’s economic gurus - from the head of the Federal Reserve to the titans of finance - boasted that we had learned to master risk. "Innovative" financial instruments such as derivatives and credit-default swaps enabled the distribution of risk throughout the economy. We now know that they deluded not only the rest of society, but even themselves.
These wizards of finance, it turned out, didn’t understand the intricacies of risk, let alone the dangers posed by "fat-tail distributions"- a statistical term for rare events with huge consequences, sometimes called "black swans". Events that were supposed to happen once in a century - or even once in the lifetime of the universe - seemed to happen every ten years. Worse, not only was the frequency of these events vastly underestimated; so was the astronomical damage they would cause - something like the meltdowns that keep dogging the nuclear industry.
Research in economics and psychology helps us understand why we do such a bad job in managing these risks. We have little empirical basis for judging rare events, so it is difficult to arrive at good estimates. In such circumstances, more than wishful thinking can come into play: we might have few incentives to think hard at all. On the contrary, when others bear the costs of mistakes, the incentives favour self-delusion. A system that socialises losses and privatises gains is doomed to mismanage risk.
For the planet, there is one more risk, which, like the other two, is almost a certainty: global warming and climate change. If there were other planets to which we could move at low cost in the event of the almost certain outcome predicted by scientists, one could argue that this is a risk worth taking. But there aren’t, so it isn’t.
The costs of reducing emissions pale in comparison to the possible risks the world faces. And that is true even if we rule out the nuclear option (the costs of which were always underestimated). To be sure, coal and oil companies would suffer, and big polluting countries - like the US - would obviously pay a higher price than those with a less profligate lifestyle.
In the end, those gambling in Las Vegas lose more than they gain. As a society, we are gambling - with our big banks, with our nuclear power facilities, with our planet. As in Las Vegas, the lucky few - the bankers that put our economy at risk and the owners of energy companies that put our planet at risk - may walk off with a mint. But on average and almost certainly, we as a society, like all gamblers, will lose.
That, unfortunately, is a lesson of Japan’s disaster that we continue to ignore at our peril."
INABILITY TO ABSORB USEFUL FEEDBACK: Of Chernobyl 25 years later:
'In 2010, Mousseau and colleagues published the biggest-ever census of wildlife in the exclusion zone.
It showed that mammals had declined and insect diversity, including bumblebees, grasshoppers, butterflies and dragonflies, had also fallen.
And in a study published in February this year, they netted 550 birds, belonging to 48 species at eight different sites, and measured their heads to determine the volume of their brains.
Birds living in "hot spots" had five percent smaller brains than those living where radiation was lower -- and the difference was especially great among birds less than a year old.
Smaller brains are linked to a lower cognitive ability and thus survival. The study suggested many bird embryos probably do not survive at all.
"This clearly ties to the level of background contamination," said Mousseau. "There are bound to be consequences for the ecosystem as a whole."
"Radioactive dust and ash spewed over more than 200,000 square kilometres (77,000 square miles) after Chernobyl's No. 4 reactor exploded and caught fire on April 26 1986.
Ukraine, Belarus and Russia were most affected, although deposits reached as far north as Scotland and as far west as Ireland, requiring in some places long-term restrictions on cattle grazing.
Contamination, even in the notorious exclusion zone, is not uniform.
Some areas are quite clean. But a few hundred metres (yards) away, there can be "hotspots" -- determined by the winds and rain that deposited the particles, or the leaves that trapped them -- where radiation is far higher.
Today, the main threats are caesium 137 and to a lesser degree strontium 90, which decay slowly in a timescale measured in decades, according to France's Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN).
Their radioactivity has fallen by orders of magnitude from 25 years ago but in the hotspots it lingers in a 10- to 20-centimetre (four- to eight-inch) layer of topsoil. They thus provide a low-dose but constant and lasting source of exposure.
Radioactive particles pass from the soil into plants via their roots, into animals that eat the vegetation and into the humans that eat their meat or drink their milk.
Absorbed into the bones and organs, caesium emits alpha radiation, which damages DNA in close proximity, boosting the risk of mutant cells that become tumours -- or, in reproductive cells, are handed on in progeny."
"Valery Kashparov, director of the Ukrainian Institute of Agricultural Radiology, said the government cut off funds for radiation monitoring in 2008. Around 400,000 euros (600,000 dollars) are needed annually to ensure this food is uncontaminated.
"The contamination is going down, but it will take dozens of years for nature to bring it down to safe levels," he said.
In research presented in Kiev this month, scientists for Greenpeace purchased food from village markets in two administrative regions, Zhytomyr and Rivne.
Tests found caesium 137 above permissible levels in many samples of milk, dried mushrooms and berries, they said. Levels were extremely high in Rivne, where a peaty, waterlogged soil transmits radioactive particles more easily to plants than other soil types."
Mushrooms are mostly water, about 90% by weight. The Fukushima nuclear mentdowns in Japan give the modern scientist a good opportunity to see how radioactive elements settle through rice fields in terraces of standing water, unless funding is cut off.
The collapses of the 3 World Trade Center towers in New York on 9/11/01 offers a contemporary portrait of the relationship of science to subjectivity in a significant modern day historic event.
The case of the WTC collapses, observers can become transfixed not on the object of study, but on each other, or can support a theory without efforts to fact-check claims. The resulting theory comes to serve as a type of surrogate reality. A false sense of certainty forms in the observer over the surrogate reality.