A few months back, Overcoming Bias big dog Robin Hanson took a recreational stroll into the looking glass world of 9/11 conspiracy theory and found himself hedging the odds, one way then the other. Now he's back on the bad subject, speculating over how to account for that purportedly anomalous hot stuff in the rubble that the Truthers find so intriguing. His pet theory is that storage facilities housed in the main towers "probably held big chucks of hitech pyrotechnic materials quite uncommon in office buildings," and that once ignited by burning jet fuel, this stuff catalyzed the subsequent structural collapse. He notes that there were CIA offices in the towers, which might somehow explain the presence of said hitech pyrotechnics.
My own sense is that Hanson is placing too much credence in the first-order claims made by Steven Jones and other critics of the official line, that the explanation he posits against a more implausible counter-scenario is very likely unnecessary. Fact is, we don't know shit about what sort of strange chemistry might be expected when giant office towers full of computers and insulation materials and moldy donuts and god knows what else are are kersploded by giant commercial aircraft. If I had a trillion dollars to blow, I'd buy the Sears Tower (or whatever they're calling it now) and hit it with a remote control jet, just to see what happens. When — and if — it toppled, I'd scoop up a sizable mass of hot rubble and let the Truthers run their electron-scanning gadgetry over it to see what they find. Better still would be to use the results as a control, to see if the intrepid dissidents could make accurate predictions about which pile of pulverized skyscraperstuff was which. Wouldn't prove anything, but it would be more interesting than the spider-sensing speculation being bandied by the current lot of Loose-Change-convinced consensus-contrarians.
To be sure, Hanson has a better face-saving point to make — one that goes to the mission of the OB forum. To wit, he wonders
…why moderate uncertainty here feels
like "uncanny valley." If I told everyone there was a 10% chance of
something they thought pretty crazy, nine times out of ten, it would
confirm that I'm crazy. One time out of ten I'd be vindicated, but
even then folks might say I was crazy but lucky.
Epistemological boundary tests are sporting good fun, I admit. Especially so when there's meat on the table. And Overcoming Bias is usually reliable for a savory fix. It's top shelf cerebration is what it is — often beyond my depth, but I dig it like Pop-tarts and Nabokovian jeu de mots. While I'm more than willing to play my biases against long odds, hedging and shoring as whim and sensibility and sifted information dictate, I hope I am wise to the problem of overconfidence and that special hypnotic brand of seduced certitude that leads a smart kid to bristle before earnest grown-up opposition. As Robert Anton Wilson reminded us, there's a hunchback behind every soldier.
(! … ?)
I've read enough. I've seen the movies. And I think the strong claims forwarded by the 9/11 Truth gang are preposterous. Oh, I think it's possible there was foreknowledge — perhaps some Mossad intelligence ops were on the case, as Justin Raimondo plausibly argues without wading too far off. I suppose there's even a remote possibility that Flight 93 was shot down. It would surprise me, but not much. But high-tech controlled demolition? Calculated in long-guarded secrecy and carried out with lockstep precision in a world full of snitches and electronic eyes? I don't buy it for a second, and certainly not on the basis of the evidence being showcased by heeebie-jeebie-afflicted doyens of doubt. The Truthers aren't facing prison time. They are debated in civil forums and their best evidence is routinely and diligently interrogated by counter-skeptics who are then loudly castigated as liars and shills. I think the 9/11 attacks were a real conspiracy executed after considerable trial and error by well-funded Islamist guerrilla warriors. They had their reasons. They deserve the credit.
Of course, I also think that homicidal Nazi gas chambers are probably the stuff of rumor and myth tracing to culture-bound anxiety and wartime propaganda. So where does this put me? Back in uncanny valley, I suppose. At least by default reference to consensus. And so be it. Spill the hunchbacks and soldiers on the chessboard and line them up. I'm pretty sure that HIV causes AIDS. I believe there is NO GOD and that life is meaningless, though Pascal's wager hurts my forehead. I think Jesus Christ is most likely a fictional character. I think the bombing of the USS Liberty was probably a fog-of-war accident. I have no idea who plotted the JKF assassination, though I feel pretty confident that Oswald squeezed the trigger. I don't believe that Sarah Palin is the biological mother of a Down Syndrome child. I believe that men walked on the moon, that Shakespeare was Shakespeare, that cold fusion is bunk. I think it unlikely that Jack the Ripper was a renowned artist or a Victorian VIP. I believe that average racial differences in intelligence are rooted in biology, and are largely intractable. I don't believe in free will or natural rights. I believe in a whole lotta holocausts. I believe that lobsters and bugs — and fetuses — probably experience pain. I have no idea about lab universes. I believe the thought of Noam Chomsky's "O-face" is funnier than a bubble-farting dog. I believe that no one should ever have children, and that it is better never to have been. I believe that "parenting" matters less than genes and peers, that rape is about sex, that children are sexual beings, that stepfathers are dangerous, that the Noble Savage is a myth, that Margaret Mead was deceived (even if Derek Freeman played fast and loose). I believe Vincent Gallo is a great artist and that that James Lorinz is a profoundly underrated actor. I can never shake the suspicion that JonBenet was killed by her big brother. I don't think abortion reduces crime, but I suspect that guns and pitbulls and incarceration do. I believe there was something rotten in Jonestown, though I can't put my finger on it. I believe that Wayne Bertram Williams was probably innocent and that OJ was not. I think cocaine is more enlightening than weed. I think the Singularity is boring. I believe every individual's death is tantamount to the end of the world. I believe that bottled water is a bizarre fad. I hear voices in my head. As a child I never played hopscotch. I believe that Washington was a greater man than Lincoln. Sometimes I feel I am no good at all.
And I could be wrong about all of it (except the bit about Chomsky). I suppose I could tabulate bookie's odds, the way Hanson does. But I've never been a numbers guy, and fickle rank-assignments always remind me of something you'd find on a pedophile's hard-drive. Don't ask me why. It's not as if I have anything against pedophiles. Or the Truthers. To me, it all collapses to a reeling dreamy loop of pointless synaptic ones and zeros. Remainder bin surf rock and existential threnody and who the fuck knows anyway because I can't grow out of it and I'm doomed to give more of a shit than I could ever hope to justify. It's like that sequence near the end of Donna Tartt's first book, where the slideshow of human accomplishment craters into a kind of fragile nihilistic dirge. Cosmic futility and all that. But I am prone to drift.
No matter, let's not kid ourselves about this much: Robin Hanson is hooked on a devilish mystery. He's testing the waters, and I suspect he's holding back. It doesn't hurt that the rationalist pretext is actually quite interesting and relevant. I'm just saying. It takes one to know one, even when knowledge is a chimeric bitch.