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PlaidX comments on The Correct Contrarian Cluster - Less Wrong

39 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 December 2009 10:01PM

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Comment author: PlaidX 22 December 2009 09:25:01AM 4 points [-]

Can I ask for your sources or reasoning as to why "WTC explosives: no" is a slam-dunk?

Comment author: radical_negative_one 22 December 2009 07:31:12PM 12 points [-]

At the moment the comment i'm replying to is at -1 karma.

Now, even if PlaidX is on the wrong side of a "slam-dunk" issue here, i question whether it's right to downvote this considering that he's really just asking for an explanation of someone's reasoning.

Comment author: Blueberry 23 December 2009 04:06:40AM 0 points [-]

i question whether it's right to downvote this considering that he's really just asking for an explanation of someone's reasoning.

I don't question this at all. Downvotes signal that the community thinks that the posts in question are not worth considering. As Eliezer has said, 9/11 is a "slam dunk", and I have no problem downvoting posts advocating ridiculous theories like creationism or conspiracy theories. Hopefully, this community agrees that 9/11 conspiracy theories are not worth considering.

Comment author: radical_negative_one 23 December 2009 10:28:56AM 3 points [-]

However ridiculous creationism or conspiracy theories may be, it's still useful to have a clear explanation of why they are ridiculous, if only for the sake of anyone who's not completely up to date on the topic. For the other example you named, creationism, even if creationism is extremely silly it's still useful to have a summary of why evolution is more reasonable.

For myself, i can say that i'm not a conspiracy theorist, but i haven't really researched this topic, so i don't have a justification for "why 'WTC explosives: no' is a slam-dunk" off the top of my head. So, the discussion resulting from PlaidX's initial question has raised at least one good point that i hadn't thought of before.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 23 December 2009 04:55:11AM 3 points [-]

As Eliezer has said, 9/11 is a "slam dunk", and I have no problem downvoting posts advocating ridiculous theories like creationism or conspiracy theories. Hopefully, this community agrees that 9/11 conspiracy theories are not worth considering.

I think that the question is still valid as a way to get clarification on what constitutes a "slam dunk". Eliezer seems to be using it in a way that doesn't exactly mean "not worth considering". He's also trying to delineate certain psychological types.

Comment author: PeterS 23 December 2009 05:00:45AM 2 points [-]

Eliezer has implied in the past that he trusts "domain experts" implicitly. My guess would be that "WTC explosives: no" is a slam-dunk because there is a consensus on the topic among all the qualified engineers (to my knowledge).

Comment author: PhilGoetz 23 December 2009 05:25:42AM 3 points [-]

Or else he's part of the conspiracy.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 December 2009 10:01:46AM 4 points [-]

Can I ask for your sources or reasoning as to why "WTC explosives: no" is a slam-dunk?

I have no sources, so I'll stick with the slam dunk prior until someone finds some.

Comment author: PlaidX 22 December 2009 03:29:47PM *  4 points [-]

A friend of mine once asked me my opinion on the 9/11 conspiracy theories, and I said I didn't think there was much to them, and he said "What about WTC building 7? It collapsed at near free-fall speed into its own footprint, despite not being hit by a plane." and I said "I'm sure you're mistaken, but I'll look into it."

And so I looked into it, and... well, he wasn't mistaken. A 47 story skyscraper collapsed at near free-fall speed into its own footprint, despite not being hit by a plane.

The FEMA report contains the following rube goldbergian explanation for the collapse:

  1. Power to the Twin Towers was wired from the substation in WTC 7 through two separate systems. The first provided power throughout each building; the second provided power only to the emergency systems. In the event of fire, power would only be provided to the emergency systems. This was to prevent arcing electric lines igniting new fires and to reduce the risk of firefighters being electrocuted. There were also six 1,200 kW emergency power generators located in the sixth basement (B-6) level of the towers, which provided a backup power supply. These also had normal and emergency subsystems.
  2. Previous to the collapse of the South Tower, the power to the towers was switched to the emergency subsystem to provide power for communications equipment, elevators, emergency lighting in corridors and stairwells, and fire pumps and safety for firefighters. At this time power was still provided by the WTC 7 substation.
  3. Con Ed reported that "the feeders supplying power to WTC 7 were de-energized at 9:59 a.m.". This was due to the South Tower collapse which occurred at the same time.
  4. Unfortunately, even though the main power system for the towers was switched off and WTC 7 had been evacuated, a design flaw allowed generators (designed to supply backup power for the WTC complex) to start up and resume an unnecessary and unwanted power supply.
  5. Unfortunately, debris from the collapse of the north tower (the closest tower) fell across the building known as World Trade Center Six, and then across Vesey Street, and then impacted WTC 7 which is (at closest) 355 feet away from the north tower.
  6. Unfortunately, some of this debris penetrated the outer wall of WTC 7, smashed half way through the building, demolishing a concrete masonry wall (in the north half of the building) and then breached a fuel oil pipe that ran across the building just to the north of the masonry wall.
  7. Unfortunately, though most of the falling debris was cold, it manages to start numerous fires in WTC 7.
  8. Unfortunately, even with the outbreak of numerous fires in the building, no decision was made to turn off the generators now supplying electricity to WTC 7. Fortunately, for the firefighters, someone did make the decision not to fight and contain the fires while they were still small, but to wait until the fires were large and out of control. Otherwise, many firefighters may have been electrocuted while fighting the fires.
  9. Unfortunately, the safety mechanism that should have shut down the fuel oil pumps (which were powered by electricity) upon the breaching of the fuel line, failed to work and fuel oil (diesel) was pumped from the Salomon Smith Barney tanks on the ground floor onto the 5th floor where it ignited. The pumps eventually emptied the tanks, pumping some 12,000 gallons in all.
    1. Unfortunately, the sprinkler system of WTC 7 malfunctioned and did not extinguish the fires.
    2. Unfortunately, the burning diesel heated trusses one and two to the point that they lost their structural integrity.
    3. Unfortunately, this then (somehow) caused the whole building to collapse, even though before September 11, no steel framed skyscraper had ever collapsed due to fire.

The NIST report says that the failure of a single column near ground level led, first to a vertical progression of failures, causing the collapse of the East Penthouse, followed by a horizontal progression of failures leading to the near-simultainious collapse of all of the building's 27 core columns.

The official 9/11 commission report, in its 568 pages, does not mention building 7 at all.

Comment author: Jack 22 December 2009 09:19:53PM 7 points [-]

Those events are a priori unlikely but given that WTC 7 did in fact fall down the above seems as likely a sequence as any. Certainly more likely that a conspiracy.

Unfortunately, even though the main power system for the towers was switched off and WTC 7 had been evacuated, a design flaw allowed generators (designed to supply backup power for the WTC complex) to start up and resume an unnecessary and unwanted power supply.

Did someone explain the sequence of events that led to the building falling by positing a design flaw or has the existence of the design flaw been confirmed independently? It doesn't really matter but it would be interesting to know. I have the same question re: other mechanical failures and design issues.

The remaining sequence of events seems basically plausible given unique circumstances and an uncoordinated response (which was justifiably focused on the towers). And the rest is just noise- in the exact same way the weird facts about glass on clothing, washing machines and mops are noise in the Knox case.

Actually, what we have here is considerably worse than the case against Knox. At least the Knox prosecutors are able to tell a story consistent with the facts in which Knox is guilty. Here we are expected to believe there was a conspiracy without having any idea how such a conspiracy could have happened. There is no plausible motive given the kind of coordination that would have been necessary. No explanation for how so many people were kept quiet. There isn't even a suspect! Just something seemingly improbable and a lot of hand waving. Knox and Sallecito's prosecutors were privileging the hypothesis, here we don't even have a hypothesis.

Comment author: PlaidX 22 December 2009 09:26:34PM 1 point [-]

I've addressed the motive in another subthread.

As to the design flaw, yes, it's hypothetical, as is the debris falling across the street and through the concrete wall in the middle of the building, as is the fuel system even having any fuel in it, etc.

I certainly sympathize with your complaint about noise as it applies to conspiracy theories in general, this is indeed problem #1. Massive, massive amounts of red herrings. I think this summary is fairly clean of it, but if you have specific complaints I'd be happy to hear them.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 December 2009 06:24:10PM 14 points [-]

That explanation seems a lot less Rube Goldbergian than a sinister conspiracy rigging a side building that wasn't hit by a plane with explosives. What on Earth would have been the point? Which of the conspiracy's goals will fail to be achieved if building 7 does not fall down? All you're doing here is learning a valuable lesson about the ability of conspiracy theorists to present evidence that looks around that convincing in favor of anything. Recalibrate your sensors for how much evidence something which looks "around that convincing" is.

Comment author: PlaidX 22 December 2009 07:51:21PM *  0 points [-]

What on Earth would have been the point?

Well, building 7 was insured for hundreds of millions of dollars.

In addition, building 7 housed documents relating to numerous SEC investigations. The files for approximately three to four thousand cases were destroyed, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Comment author: Jack 22 December 2009 09:25:37PM 6 points [-]

So some shadowing group kills two thousand people, arranges planes to get flown into the WTC towers, the Pentagon, and the middle of Pennsylvania and does hundreds of billions in damage to the economy to pick up an insurance check... when the building was on some of the most expensive real estate in the world? Or to destroy evidence the SEC had? Is that how you would do it? Really?

Comment author: PlaidX 22 December 2009 09:35:15PM *  1 point [-]

Eliezer Yudkowsky has requested that further discussion on this subject be moved to the new 9/11 conspiracy topic he made, over here.

Comment author: Bo102010 22 December 2009 04:38:10PM *  3 points [-]

I agree that the chain seems convoluted, but do we really have a baseline for what is plausible when airplanes start flying into buildings in a dense urban area?

Comment author: PlaidX 22 December 2009 05:07:45PM 0 points [-]

well, it's not like WTC was hit by any of those airplanes, but I suppose one might argue for a certain "the world has gone topsy-turvy" latitude in explanation. How this additional uncertainty results in "no explosives" being a "slam dunk", I'm not sure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Atbrn4k55lA

It certainly LOOKS like a controlled demolition.

Comment author: michaelkeenan 22 December 2009 06:05:12PM 7 points [-]

(Apologies if this is the same question that gets asked in every thread of this kind; I freely admit to not having researched this.)

What motive would the conspirators have for demolishing WTC7 with explosives? If they wanted to start a war or increase wiretapping or get Bush re-elected, or whatever the motive was, flying planes into the towers was enough. Blowing up WTC7, and especially blowing up WTC7 without arranging a plausible explanation (like "a plane flew into it", as they did with the towers) seems careless and unnecessary - out of character for a group of people careful and competent enough to arrange 9/11 and get away with it.

Comment author: PlaidX 22 December 2009 08:02:57PM 0 points [-]

This is a good question, I've replied to yudkowsky's rather more inflammatory version of it above.

Comment author: CronoDAS 22 December 2009 07:15:33PM 6 points [-]

For the record, it's simply not true that fires never cause steel buildings to collapse.

Comment author: PlaidX 22 December 2009 07:48:04PM 0 points [-]

The only total collapse due to fire in that PDF that I see is a 19 story concrete Russian apartment block. That and the buildings from 9/11.

Comment author: Bo102010 22 December 2009 06:20:50PM 5 points [-]

What irks me about this is that you probably don't know what an uncontrolled demolition brought on by massive pieces of falling building, thousands of gallons of rushing diesel fuel, and apparently unstable electric conditions ought to look like. I certainly don't.

Comment author: PlaidX 22 December 2009 07:53:41PM -2 points [-]

I expect it would look like the building FALLING OVER, among other things. Making a building fall straight down into its own footprint is actually quite tricky. Buildings are designed to stay in one piece.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 December 2009 07:57:23PM 7 points [-]

Well then why wouldn't they plant explosives in such a way as to make the building FALL OVER?

Seriously, spend like 5 seconds figuring out what we're likely to reply before you post.

Comment author: PlaidX 22 December 2009 08:40:10PM 0 points [-]

Off the top of my head, pulverizing the buildings into small pieces allows for a much more complete destruction of evidence than simply tipping them over would have. After building seven "fell down", the rubble was quickly shipped off to blast furnaces, ironically under the supervision of a company called "Controlled Demolition Inc."

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 22 December 2009 11:04:19PM 5 points [-]

Evidence of how the alleged demolition was accomplished is best eliminated by demolishing the building?

Ironically, what you find to be an ironic coincidence sends the signal that you're inappropriately excited by cute but totally non-causal coincidences.

Comment author: Bo102010 22 December 2009 08:40:00PM 1 point [-]

They're designed to stay in one piece under normal conditions, and predictable disaster conditions. Clearly this wasn't one of those, but you expect the same thing to happen?

Comment author: PlaidX 22 December 2009 08:45:22PM 0 points [-]

Given that that's what happens in failed controlled demolitions, yeah, I do.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwGE92upfQM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsePUn5-88c

Comment author: Bo102010 22 December 2009 08:49:08PM 2 points [-]

Wait, what? Neither of those tipped like you said you would expect.

And failed controlled demolitions are not unprecedented disaster conditions, but I suspect this discussion is not worth having.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 22 December 2009 08:14:34PM 1 point [-]

Such material should come with a link to an official source. Right now, I lack the motivation to research on my own, but until I see a confirmation, I can't exclude a hypothesis that the above text was concocted by a conspiracy theorist.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 December 2009 09:22:31PM 0 points [-]

Please move further conversation on this topic to the actual post for it, and I should mention that I don't see a good reason for there to be any other posts on the topic on this blog.

EDIT: Not implying that conversation occurring before this comment was blameworthy.

Comment author: PlaidX 22 December 2009 09:29:19PM 7 points [-]

My apologies. In my defense, you wrote the "actual post" ten hours after I wrote that comment, and everyone arguing with me, including you, is doing so here.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 December 2009 07:06:39PM 0 points [-]
Comment author: MrHen 22 December 2009 07:14:18PM *  4 points [-]

Did you just use your future self as a source?