9/11: a Simple Matter of Epistemology

Do you ever feel some reluctance at the idea of exploring 9/11? Do you perhaps fear the paradigm shift it could lead you through? What if it offered you a radically fresh, bold and optimistic perspective on the whole world? Welcome to what is arguably the easiest point of entry into 9/11!

Do you know that late in the day of 9/11, in the World Trade Center, apart from the twin towers, a third skyscraper disintegrated? If you do, would you care to recall when you learned about it? If you do not remember it from the day of 9/11 itself, don't worry, for very few people do. Indeed, the first oddity of this episode of 9/11 is that memory works in reverse: as time goes by, people do not forget it, but instead become cognizant of it. Anyway, welcome to Building 7 before 9/11:

missing fish-eye picture of WTC

Since Building 7 was barely half the size of the twin towers, you may find it natural that the twin towers' explosions would destroy it as some kind of collateral damage. Yet it was a very large skyscraper in its own right. With 47 floors, it would have been a landmark in most metropolitan areas:

missing WTC7 stand-alone picture

Besides, the twin towers’ destruction did not inflict catastrophic structural damage on Building 7. Behold its picture, engulfed by the powder generated by the North tower’s destruction:

missing WTC7 in WTC1's powder

However, the U.S. government’s relevant technical report asserts that the North tower’s disintegration planted the seeds of Building 7’s destruction. You may recall that many members of the North tower's steel frame were expelled away with high momentum. Some hit Building 7 and—according to the official report—ignited office fires. These fires—and nothing but these fires, contrary to rumors that are still propagated on the internet—eventually destroyed the whole skyscraper seven hours later, essentially breaking its steel frame into linear segments and dropping them into its own footprint. Behold the resulting amazingly well-centered pyramid of debris:

missing WTC7 debris pyramid

This is the first and only time in history that a steel-framed high-rise has been unintentionally brought down. The destruction itself took only a few seconds, as seen on CBS later that evening:

Anchorman Dan Rather’s unexpected comparison with some "old building deliberately destroyed by well-placed dynamite to knock it down" calls for a reality check. Behold a side-by-side video comparison of Building 7's failure with a controlled demolition. A controlled demolition is a process in which a team of experts—specialized engineers and support personnel—studies the construction and condition of a steel-framed skyscraper, designs the demolition, places a multitude of calibrated explosive charges at key spots, and detonates them in a pre-calculated sequence. To provide a rough overview, first the basement columns are blown up. The whole construction suddenly misses its support and accelerates downward. Before the next floor hits the foundation, another round of charges cuts its own support columns, and so on. The whole building appears to fall straight down as if the Earth suddenly gave way underneath it:

The video match between Building 7 and this controlled demolition is striking. Nevertheless, the above-mentioned official report includes a demonstration that Building 7 could not have been demolished. Instead, it explains that the internal fires suddenly initiated a chain of structural ruptures inside the skyscraper while hardly affecting its envelope, hence the misleading impression the unaware observer gathers from the video evidence. The U.S. experts produced a video illustration of their simulation:

Inconsistencies between this model and the reality are obvious even without the benefit of a side-by-side comparison:

Let us recapitulate:

This leads us to your first 9/11 action items:

You will reasonably agree that the exercise you just went through raises a highly intriguing epistemological conundrum:

The first step toward solving a problem is usually to gather relevant information. In this case, one possible avenue is to bring the above pictures and videos to the attention of a significant sample of TV producers worldwide and ask them why they missed what appeared to be a once-in-a-career opportunity. Another one is to analyze the shortcomings of Building 7’s official simulation and the amazing resemblance between Building 7’s destruction and a controlled demolition. The latter carries the advantage of potentially adding important information that would narrow down the former’s context. Accordingly, whenever you are comfortable with this page's conclusions, consider a technical excursion in layman's terms into Building 7's destruction.


Daniel Noël, 2011-July-20