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Transportation Technology

Did the Titanic Sink Due To an Optical Illusion? 166

Posted by samzenpus
from the that's-no-iceberg dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "According to new research by British historian Tim Maltin, records by several ships in the area where the Titanic sank show atmospheric conditions were ripe for super refraction, a bending of light that caused a false horizon, concealing the iceberg that sank the Titanic in a mirage layer, which prevented the Titanic's lookouts from seeing the iceberg in time to avoid collision. According to the new theory, Titanic was sailing from Gulf Stream waters into the frigid Labrador Current, where the air column was cooling from the bottom up. This created a thermal inversion, with layers of cold air below layers of warmer air, creating a superior mirage. The theory also explains why the freighter Californian was unable to identify the Titanic on the moonless night, because even though the Titanic sailed into the Californian's view, it appeared too small to be the great ocean liner. The abnormally stratified air may also have disrupted signals sent by the Titanic by Morse Lamp to the Californian to no avail. This is not the first time atmospheric conditions have been postulated as a factor in the disaster that took 1,517 lives. An investigation in 1992 by the British government's Marine Accident Investigation Branch also suggested that super refraction may have played a role in the disaster (PDF, see page 13), but that possibility went unexplored until Maltin mined weather records, survivors' testimony and long-forgotten ships' logs."
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Did the Titanic Sink Due To an Optical Illusion?

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  • Ptheh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tqk (413719) <s.keeling@mail.com> on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:46PM (#39241653)

    I think the fact that all the watertight doors of the "unsinkable ocean liner" were open sort of makes everything else irrelevant.

    User error, in the extreme. Bad Captain!

    • Re:Ptheh. (Score:5, Informative)

      by zippthorne (748122) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:52PM (#39241697) Journal

      I'm not sure that that would've mattered either, as the "water-tight" compartments weren't sealed at the top. Interestingly, they're still not sealed at the top, which i suspect contributed to the sinking of the costa concordia recently.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        If the compartments were sealed at the top the water within would not be able to distribute freely along the length of the vessel. There would be a mass of unstable liquid concentrated in one small section of the boat that would cause it to sink anyway.

        • by Dutchmaan (442553)

          If the compartments were sealed at the top the water within would not be able to distribute freely along the length of the vessel. There would be a mass of unstable liquid concentrated in one small section of the boat that would cause it to sink anyway.

          In the same way that when you fill one compartment of an ice cube tray, it lists horribly then sinks?

        • Re:Ptheh. (Score:5, Informative)

          by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @05:45PM (#39242057)

          Warships seal the compartments all the way to the top. Even the cable penetrations are watertight.

          It's expensive, so I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that's the reason they don't do it.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by SlashV (1069110)
            I don't think cost was the issue here. It is just very inconvenient for a passenger liner. Moving around the ship will become very difficult if you have to get through a watertight door every few meters.

            Also there may have been structural issues. Even if the bulkheads would have been completely watertight, the flooding of all forward compartments would have caused the ship to pitch forward, which might have caused here to break in two like she did anyway. I am no expert on early twentieth century passenge
            • Re:Ptheh. (Score:5, Interesting)

              by A nonymous Coward (7548) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @07:54PM (#39242853)

              I am no expert on early twentieth century passenger liner design, but I am sure they had their reason to design her the way they did.

              It was cost. Ships just a few years before were mostly either one big space (especially sailing ships) or just a very few compartments. Adding more compartments not only requires more material and construction time, it adds weight which reduces carrying capacity, and it makes travel between compartments slower and more complicated. Sometimes there is no direct path and you have to go up over and down, or sideways.

              All that costs money. Besides, as crummy as it was, it was better then most designs beforehand, so they thought it good enough and figured any further expense would be entirely wasted. They were thinking of one or two big holes, not hundreds of small holes from popped rivets and burst seams.

            • Good point, and one I missed, was MODERN warships. They probably learned the lesson from the Titanic.

            • I don't think cost was the issue here. It is just very inconvenient for a passenger liner. Moving around the ship will become very difficult if you have to get through a watertight door every few meters.

              Nonsense. During normal conditions, the bulkhead doors remain open to allow easy travel. During an emergency, then they are closed.

          • I am basing this on the John Wayne-Kirk Douglas-Patricia Neal movie In Harm's Way along with Tom Clancy's Red October, so you know this is authoritative. And Star Trek The Wrath of Khan.

            I was under the impression that a Navy Captain sometimes had to order one or more compartments sealed with sailors still inside. The idea is that you sacrifice some of your men to save the ship and the remaining crew. Do I have this wrong?

            • by macslut (724441) on Monday March 05, 2012 @05:15AM (#39245511)

              Well there's that and only 2 other things that make up every submarine movie ever made.

              Spoiler alert: here are all 3:
              1) Sealing of bulkheads with "good" men on the other side. Order must be given with a followup command, "dammit, I know there are good men in there, I'm thinking about all the other good men aboard my ship!"

              2) Going deeper than the sub was designed for. Order must be given with a followup command, "I know what the engineers designed her for, I'm telling you she can take it!" Also, the command, "come on baby" must be given at each increment on the depth meter until it maxes out.

              3) All silent. The sub turns everything off, except the red light. The sounds of the ships circling overhead are broadcast through the sub. This always works despite the resident onboard cat always knocking over the stack of pots and pans in the galley.

              Take the above and add the following accent for the movie:
              Russian accent: Hunt for Red October
              German accent: Das Boot
              American accent: Crimson Tide

          • by RockDoctor (15477)
            Watertight cable penetrations are normal on most vessels I've worked on - mostly for fire and flammable gas control rather than for water control, but both purposes are served by the same "MCT" blocks (Multiple Cable Transit).

            And what a pig they are to work with too. A great disincentive to fucking with the wiring loom.

      • Re:Ptheh. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2012 @05:07PM (#39241779)

        They don't fully seal the tops, because you're only supposed to breach 1 or 2 in case of trouble. If you breach 4 or 5, the ship won't stay afloat on the remaining ones (for long). The top of the breached compartments would end up bursting due to the water pressure contained in those compartments if they were fully sealed at the top.

        Both Titanic and Concordia stayed afloat long enough to evacuate safely. In Titanic's case, there were not enough lifeboats, and the ones that were launched were not filled to capacity. In Concordia's case, the captain waited so long to order the lifeboats deployed, that many were unusable due to the severe list (tilt) of the ship. In both cases, high speed impact tore open too many compartments to save either ship, but the design worked long enough to move people to lifeboats and deploy them.

        There have been many passenger shipwrecks where loss of life was minimal, because another ship came alongside and took the passengers to safety without using lifeboats at all.

        • Concordia wasn't a huge problem because it drifted onto solid ground shallow enough to keep it mostly above water. If it had not been carried by onshore winds, it would have been a much different story. The captain waited far to long to declare it time to abandon.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by maxwell demon (590494)

            Concordia wasn't a huge problem because it drifted onto solid ground shallow enough to keep it mostly above water. If it had not been carried by onshore winds, it would have been a much different story. The captain waited far to long to declare it time to abandon.

            Well, he made up for it by not waiting long afterward before getting himself off the ship ...

        • There were not enough lifeboats because that was standard practice at the time, the thinking was that the lifeboats were not for sitting in awaiting rescue, but for ferrying passengers across to the rescuing ships, along with the rescuing ships lifeboats, not as mad as it sounds, there were 3-4 ships in the area who could have helped, but didn't either because their radio was off, or thought they were too far away ...there was normally a lot of ships in the Atlantic it was very busy ...

          Because of the Titani

      • by tqk (413719)

        I'm not sure that that would've mattered either, as the "water-tight" compartments weren't sealed at the top ...

        That might have mattered to the Edmund Fizgerald, but I don't think the Titanic was experiencing high seas when it ran into that iceberg.

        Interestingly, they're still not sealed at the top, which i suspect contributed to the sinking of the costa concordia recently.

        What? That was a cruise ship that ran aground due to an arrogant captain ignoring the charts (and radar!) trying to impress his friends.

        • The point they are making is that it mattered that the water tight compartments weren't sealed at the top because once one eventually filled up (from the leak towards the bottom) the water spilled into the one next to it.
    • Re:Ptheh. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Brett Buck (811747) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:55PM (#39241715)

      Incorrect. It was designed to remain afloat with "n" compartments flooded. The gash opened up "n+1" compartments. If it had hit head-on they wouldn't have sunk, the glancing shot (possibly or possibly not due to a last-second attempt at a turn) caused too many compartments to flood.

              Brett

      • Re:Ptheh. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by rikkards (98006) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @05:05PM (#39241765) Journal

        Actually about 5 or so years ago someone did an experiment to see if they had hit nose on instead if it would have stayed up. Unfortunately it would have still sunk. They also did a test to see if they had let the water flow through the bottom of the ship rather than sealing up would it have sunk slower and more upright. That ended up sinking it faster by an estimated hour and the last of it would have been really fast.

        • There were metalurgical tests ran on the samples recovered when the wreck was found. Those tests showed that the hull plating was not what had been specified. Instead it was brittle due too high a Carbon Content and the information was on I believe the Discovery Channel so the video's may still be available.

      • by tqk (413719)

        It was designed to remain afloat with "n" compartments flooded. The gash opened up "n+1" compartments.

        Hmm. Well, if they'd had those doors closed, rescuers may have been able to show up in time to save all souls. It'd probably have sunk a lot slower. Still, bad captain, monumental user error, they should have known better, *it was a British ship* after all and the Brits believed the oceans were their "biatches."

        Arrogance kills innocents (so what else is new?), film at eleven.

        • by ryanov (193048)

          What evidence do you have that they were open?

        • by fnj (64210)

          Utter nonsense. The doors were closed right after the collision, long before enough water entered to sink the ship. It was the fact that water kept progressively flooding over the tops of the bulkheads with the doors CLOSED that caused the sinking.

        • No. The doors were closed. The compartments were not sealed, nor sealable at the top, which means that the air in those compartments escaped, allowing the water to enter. If the compartments were sealed at the top, you'd have a bunch of upside-down cans and the ship would have remained afloat.

          If the compartment doors were left open, the water would have ran the length of the ship. This would have had the effect of keeping the ship level as she sank. It would have taken longer for the ship to sink, an
    • They are supposed to close when an emergency arises, not before it happens.
      • by tqk (413719)

        They are supposed to close when an emergency arises, not before it happens.

        Why wait for an emergency to happen? Convenience? When lives are potentially at stake?

        I'm not an, "Oh god, oh god save us DHS!" safety freak, but I do believe that automated systems should default to safest/most benign function. I take "Do no harm" much more seriously than any doctor I've known.

        If you can't do good, do nothing. If you can't do nothing, at least get out of the way. Thx.

        • No, you only need them closed before hand if there's a chance of imminent catastrophe. Warships generally steam with frequently used hatches and doors open. At general quarters, all are closed. There are intermediate stages where some are closed when steaming in war zones but without imminent battle expected.

          My carrier could set battle stations in 4-5 minutes. A cruise ship could probably set them in ten minutes (wild assed guess) because they don't have as many doors and hatches, don't have as many cre

          • On a cruise ship all watertight doors can be closed remotely from the Bridge in 60 seconds max.

            There are different types of WTDs and some are kept closed all the time, some are closed when in navigation, and some are closed in navigation when there is a higher than normal chance of having a problem (fog, rough sea, manouvering in/out of port etc).

        • Convenience is exactly the reason, and having the doors open except in an emergency *IS* the safest/most benign function. These doors are heavy. If they have to be opened and closed all the time as people go back and forth within the ship, then someone is going to get their hand or foot caught in the door. It won't just hurt, it will break the bones. Furthermore, people will simply prop the doors open anyway, and when you need the bulkheads sealed, the door will be jammed open.
    • Re:Ptheh. (Score:4, Funny)

      by Gideon Wells (1412675) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @05:17PM (#39241875)

      Frankly, so many plausible reasons for the Titanic's sinking have been proposed and proved to be plausible that I won't be surprised if there is a time traveling insurance agency right now back then looking into the possibility of insurance fraud.

      • Insurance Scam (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Actually you are not that far off. There is an alternate theory that the sinking of the Titanic was an elaborate insurance scam [wikipedia.org].

        One of the most controversial[6][7] and complex theories was put forward by Robin Gardiner in his book, Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank?[8] In it, Gardiner draws on several events and coincidences that occurred in the months, days, and hours leading up to the sinking of the Titanic, and concludes that the ship that sank was in fact Titanic's sister ship Olympic, disguised as Titanic, as an insurance scam.

        Olympic was the older sister of Titanic, built alongside the more famous vessel but launched in October 1910. Her exterior profile was nearly identical to Titanic, save for small detailing such as the promenade deck windows. These were not glazed in Olympic. In Titanic, the front half of the promenade deck was fitted with smaller glazed windows to protect passengers from spray.

        On September 20, 1911, the Olympic was involved in a collision with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke near Southampton. The cruiser smashed its ram into the side of the Olympic, seriously damaging both ships. The inquiry found Hawke free of all blame. This set in motion Gardiner's theory. White Star Line was allegedly not insured for the cost of fixing the damaged Olympic (which, according to Gardiner, had damaged the central turbine's mountings and the keel). The White Star's flagship would also be out of action during any repairs, and the Titanic's completion date would have to be delayed. All this would amount to a serious financial loss for the company. Gardiner proposes that, to make sure at least one vessel would be earning money. Olympic was then converted to become the Titanic. Gardiner states that few parts of either ship bore the name, other than the easily removed lifeboats, bell, compass binnacle, and name badges. Thus, Gardiner believes the Titanic spent 25 years in service as the Olympic.

        Gardiner uses as evidence the length of Titanic's sea trials. Olympic's trials in 1910 took two days, including several high speed runs, but Titanic's trials reportedly only lasted for one day, with no working over half-speed. Gardiner says this was because the patched-up hull could not take any long periods of high speed.

        Gardiner suggests the plan was to dispose of the Olympic to collect insurance money. He supposes that the seacocks were to be opened at sea to slowly flood the ship. If numerous ships were stationed nearby to take off the passengers, the shortage of lifeboats would not matter as the ship would sink slowly and the boats could make several trips to the rescuers.

        Gardiner maintains that on April 14, Officer Murdoch was not officially on duty yet was on the bridge because he was one of the few high-ranking officers who knew of the plan and was keeping a watch out for the rescue ships. One of Gardiner's most controversial statements is that the Titanic did not strike an iceberg, but an IMM rescue ship that was drifting on station with its lights out. Gardiner based this hypothesis on the idea that the supposed iceberg was seen at such a short distance by the lookouts on the Titanic because it was actually a darkened ship, and he also does not believe an iceberg could inflict such sustained and serious damage to a steel double-hulled (sic) vessel such as the Titanic.

        Gardiner further hypothesizes that the ship that was hit by the Titanic was the one seen by the Californian firing distress rockets, and that this explains the perceived inaction of the Californian (which traditionally is seen as failing to come to the rescue of the Titanic after sighting its distress rockets). Gardiner's hypothesis is that the Californian was not expecting rockets, but a rendezvous. The ice on the deck of the Titanic is explained by Gardiner as ice from the rigging of both the Titanic and the mystery ship it hit. Researchers Bruce Beveridge and Steve Hall took issue with many of Gardiner's claims in their book, Olympic and Titanic: The Truth Behind the Conspiracy.[6] Author Mark Chirnside has also raised serious questions about the switch theory.[7] There is also evidence that Gardiner's theory is not true. When parts of the wreck were recovered, the construction number 401 was found on all of them. 401 was the Titanic's construction number, the number of the Olympic was 400. However after Olympic's collision, it was fitted with temporary repairs and many of Titanic's parts already stamped with the number 401 were fitted to Olympic.

    • Re:Ptheh. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @05:19PM (#39241891) Homepage

      ... The watertight doors on the Titanic weren't open when it went down. That's part of why it went down nose first, because the front section of the ship flooded faster than the rear.

      • by tqk (413719)

        The watertight doors on the Titanic weren't open when it went down.

        You guys are really straining my faith in historians today. When I was growing up, everybody *knew* those doors were left open.

        Damnit. Damnit. Damnit. :-P

        • You must be nearing 110 or so. I have a book from 1980's that mentions the doors as having been closed immediately after the collision. Somehow I don't think that was considered news at that time, either. There were, like, two independent tribunals, you know? US Senate Subcommittee led by William Alden Smiths and a British Board of Trade investigation headed by Lord Mersey. The whole unfortunate affair had been documented in considerable detail even by the end 1912.

          You don't have to "*know*" anything, it's

    • by tomhath (637240)

      I think the fact that all the watertight doors of the "unsinkable ocean liner" were open sort of makes everything else irrelevant.

      Well, almost everything. Hitting the iceberg in the first place is still relevant.

    • I think the fact that all the watertight doors of the "unsinkable ocean liner" were open sort of makes everything else irrelevant. User error, in the extreme. Bad Captain!

      No, the error isn't on Captain's part.

      In pretty much every ship, including warships and submarines, those doors are routinely left open to allow normal fore-and-aft working access. They're closed (in the case of warships) before going into battle, or (for all ships) in the event of a casualty (fire, flooding, etc...). That's why

    • by AmigaMMC (1103025)
      Nope! It sank because of an iceberg
    • by hairyfeet (841228)
      Well that and the fact that the steel used to make both the rivets and parts of the ship weren't of the best quality and were found later to become brittle easily which meant a good whack and rivets would pop. Any way you slice it that ship was pretty well screwed from the second it slid out of drydock, it was just a matter of time. Remember folks this thing was built at the turn of the 20th century, our knowledge of metallurgy and the effect of different levels of impurities on metal strengths simply wasn'
  • No (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:49PM (#39241675)

    It sank because it filled up with water.

    • Re:No (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2012 @05:28PM (#39241947)

      It sank because it filled up with water.

      No, it sank because it stopped displacing enough water to stay buoyant. FTFY

      Hello! Nerd site!

      • by jimicus (737525)

        You've been modded funny but you're absolutely correct.

        More-or-less all ships take on water in one form or another. Maybe tiny bits that aren't 100% watertight, maybe spray landing on the top deck and dripping down, maybe a problem with sewage disposal that results in black or grey water not being jettisoned. Whatever - the upshot is that the very bottom of the ship - the bilges - invariably has a certain amount of fairly disgusting water in it.

        So you have (depending on the size of the ship) a number of pum

    • I think you have the chops to become a government consultant. Lucky for you, IBM is recruiting!

    • by siddesu (698447)
      Putin would have been even more succinct: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqDqvKYDv9M [youtube.com]
  • by jholyhead (2505574) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @04:54PM (#39241709)
    What's more likely?

    Lookouts weren't paying attention or a rare optical effect making the iceberg invisible.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2012 @05:09PM (#39241799)

      Occam's world must've been very, very boring.

      • by tqk (413719)

        Occam's world must've been very, very boring.

        ... but he slept very soundly.

    • by LateArthurDent (1403947) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @05:12PM (#39241835)

      What's more likely?

      When playing poker, the probability any individual has a pair is higher than the probability he has four of a kind. Therefore, by Occam's Razor, nobody has ever gotten a four of a kind.

      Clearly the above doesn't make sense. What's more likely, that Occam's Razor is worthless or that you don't understand Occam's Razor?

      Occam's Razor only applies to two theories that give the exact same prediction. The moment they can be differentiated by testing hypotheses, you don't invoke Occam's Razor. You test the hypotheses.

      • The simplest conclusion of the two is that Occam's Razor is worthless, therefore no one has ever had four of a kind in poker. Also, we must conclude that the lookouts were not looking, and so the rare optical effect does not exist. In conclusion, Libya is a land of contrast. Thank you.
      • by Kittenman (971447)
        Tut. I agree with the OP. Occam's razor (or actually 'William of Ockham's razor') states that when faced with two solutions for the same problem, the simpler of the two solutions is more likely to be the correct one.

        The poker reference is probability. To Occam-ize it, you could say "What's more likely - that the person giggling like a maniac and raising my bet is possessed by the devil, has gone insane or has a very good idea - possibly four of a kind". It's more likely that he has a good hand - but

        • by LateArthurDent (1403947) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @06:47PM (#39242401)

          Occam's razor (or actually 'William of Ockham's razor') states that when faced with two solutions for the same problem, the simpler of the two solutions is more likely to be the correct one.

          No, no, no, no. That's a huge pet peeve of mine, and it's what I was trying to correct. Occam's razor says NOTHING about correctness.

          All it says is that if you've got two hypotheses that make the exact same predictions, there's no reason to use the one that involves more variables to arrive at your predictions. You take the simpler one, since it will give you the same answers anyway. The example I like to give, and have posted before on slashdot, is this:

          You and I are given a black box that takes an integer input and returns an integer output. We are tasked with coming up with a hypothesis for the algorithm with the box. We give it the input 3 and it returns 5. We give it the input 7 and it returns 9. We give it 21 and it returns 23. You come up with the hypothesis, "the black box adds 2 to the input." I come up with the hypothesis, "the black box first adds 7 to the input, and then it subtracts 5." Both our theories of what the black box is doing internally give the same prediction for any input, and neither is getting invalidated by the input. In fact, if one of them gets invalidated by an output, so does the other. However, my hypothesis is unnecessarily more complex by adding an additional operation to arrive at the same prediction. That additional complexity also adds more questions. Does it really add 7 and subtract 5? Why not add 9 and then subtract 7? We could spend tons of time trying to figure out exactly what numbers it adds and subtracts when really, all we need to make the proper predictions is your simpler hypothesis.

          Which one is actually correct? Who knows? And it doesn't matter if all our theory is meant to do is explain the output. Now let's say we introduce more tests. We consider how long the box takes to come up with the output, we have a comparison black box that we are assured has the same hardware, and we code the software for that second black box ourselves. We make it just add two to the input, and it gives us the output twice as fast. Now we have reason to believe that more than one operation is going on. We have something to differentiate the theories, and Occam's Razor no longer applies: different predictions are at work and your hypothesis predicts a faster computation time than my hypothesis.

          • by nahdude812 (88157) *

            You're doing God's work here, LateArthurDent. Thanks for defending the right definition. It's ridiculous how often people posit two theories which don't predict the same outcomes, then side with the simpler theory on the basis of its simplicity alone, invoking the razor as though the theories were in quantum flux, and they collapsed the multiple theories into truth by having observed the name Occam.

      • by mysidia (191772)

        Occam's Razor only applies to two theories that give the exact same prediction. The moment they can be differentiated by testing hypotheses, you don't invoke Occam's Razor. You test the hypotheses.

        But we do have two hypothesis: (1) Titanic's lookouts were slacking / not doing their job properly, therefore there was no warning about the iceberg
        or.. (2) Titanic's lookouts were fooled by this complicated weather phenomena that masked the iceberg from their view, therefore there was no warning about the ic

        • Occam's Razor only applies to two theories that give the exact same prediction. The moment they can be differentiated by testing hypotheses, you don't invoke Occam's Razor. You test the hypotheses.

          But we do have two hypothesis:
          (1) Titanic's lookouts were slacking / not doing their job properly, therefore there was no warning about the iceberg

          or.. (2) Titanic's lookouts were fooled by this complicated weather phenomena that masked the iceberg from their view,
          therefore there was no warning about the iceberg

          And they give different predictions. In particular, the authors claim that (2) explains something (1) does not, regarding Titanic's visibility by the Californian. So you can't just say "(1) is a simpler hypothesis than (2), let's go with that." You have to examine the claim and put it to the test. Can the visibility issue also be explained by (1)? If so, then you can invoke Occam's, assuming the authors' hypothesis don't make yet other claims that would also have to examine.

      • by mysidia (191772)

        When playing poker, the probability any individual has a pair is higher than the probability he has four of a kind. Therefore, by Occam's Razor, nobody has ever gotten a four of a kind.

        No. Occam's razor is not a rule of inference. Occam's razor is a standard for comparing the plausibility of different theories.

        Occam's razor would not predict "Nobody has ever gotten four of a kind"; Occam's razor would predict that the observed probability of having four of a kind when picking cards from the deck would

    • by gl4ss (559668) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @06:08PM (#39242195) Homepage Journal

      What's more likely?

      Lookouts weren't paying attention or a rare optical effect making the iceberg invisible.

      optical illusion makes it harder to pay attention.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Doesn't this situation still come about from time to time? What do captains of huge ships do nowadays to prevent collisions with icebergs hidden by mirage?

  • The unsinkable sank.
  • Yes, the Italian captain forgot his classes before he went to the bridge, no shit.

  • by VinylRecords (1292374) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @05:15PM (#39241861)

    The 'optical illusion' might have added to the many reasons that the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage but it certainly was not the main cause. The ship was legendary at the time before it had even made its maiden voyage. The largest and most elaborate and ornate vessel of its time. A floating palace. A moving island on the sea. The Titanic.

    The ship's captain and others postulated that running the ship at full speed from its last stop in Europe all the way to America would make enormous headlines. If the ship arrived in New York ahead of schedule by a day it would be a media sensation and basically the best advertising that they could buy. So the ship's operators plowed through the ocean at the fastest possible speed (which was a common practice though).

    To make things worse the ship's operators both ignored and missed warnings about dangerous fields of ice that they were approaching. An area of ocean crowded with frozen solid and tremendously large icebergs. A nearby ship, the Californian, stopped near where the Titanic sank that night, only a few miles away, because they were extremely cautious and nervous about smashing the ship into a mass of ice. So they waited to resume travel until the morning. The Californian even sent messages to the Titanic warning them of the ice fields. Those messages were essentially ignored.

    At the time that Titanic was built it was considered unsinkable. There had been accidents in the past where large ships had smashed head first into icebergs and stayed above water. And the Titanic had been built stronger, sturdier, and tougher than any ship ever made. The Titanic's captain even said before the first voyage, "there is no condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that".

    The ship is going full speed. It's traveling into an area where there are icebergs the size of small islands. The lookouts are not equipped with binoculars and are not aware of what kind of field they are traveling into. The moon is black so there is no light over the ocean. The water is completely calm so they can't hear waves crashing against the icebergs to warn them (years later it is then known that calm water indicates fields of ice). And by the time that the lookouts spot the iceberg...they are traveling full speed right for it and there isn't enough time to turn. They were traveling full speed, blind, deaf, and into a death trap.

    The ship smashes into the iceberg and grinds its side into the mass of ice tearing a few small holes into the side of the ship. The tears are only a few feet long and inches wide but the ocean water is relentless. The Titanic was designed to survive the front two below deck compartments flooding with water. Or any other four compartments located below deck flooding completely. Instead, the first five compartments are almost instantly flooded from ocean water raging through the breaches, the ship is doomed. The ship will sink in less than two hours and there is nothing to stop it. Trapped in the middle of the ocean with nowhere to go and lifeboats for less than half of the passengers.

    While there were only half as many lifeboats as would have been necessary to save everyone, over two-thirds of people on the ship were not able to escape. One reason is that people were so zealous about the "women and children" first rule that they were sending half empty lifeboats off of the ship without loading any men on them. Also they were loading lifeboats according to your travel class. First class passengers were more likely to be saved. Third class passengers had to wait their turns. That's why for the blockbuster Titanic they had a first class woman paired with a third class man. Those two had the best and worst odds of surviving the disaster based on lifeboat placement.

    So no it wasn't an optical illusion. It was a series of many things that contributed to the Titanic sinking on its maiden voyage. Poor lookouts. Dangerous speeds. Lack of modern understanding of calm water indicating dangerous conditions. No moonlight. Purposefully ignoring warnings of dangerous conditions including icebergs. Even without an optical illusion that ship unfortunately still sinks.

    • The biggest problem, as is disclosed in the inquiry transcripts, is that the lookouts were unbelievably not issued binoculars.
      • by ryanov (193048)

        I believe it was Seconds from Disaster on National Geographic that said they looked into this and that binoculars are not a significant help under those conditions. It's not that easy to scan the horizon with them, apparently. That said, they did have them but were apparently locked up somewhere in the boat and no one had seen them since Southampton.

        • by fnj (64210)

          A U-boat lookout who failed to use his binoculars because "it's not that easy to scan the horizon with them" would have been chewed out, beat senseless, keel hauled, and thrown off the boat, in that order. Same with any lookout on any warship.

          I.e., it's complete nonsense.

          • by ryanov (193048)

            It is not the same thing. I suspect warships are using binoculars to identify foreign objects. Identification was not needed on Titanic -- it didn't matter what it was, they shouldn't have been slamming into it. I can't find anything specific and detailed online, but I've heard a number of times that generally you look with your eyes and then take out the binoculars to look at something you've already seen. Another factor I've heard is that with the temperature and wind, eyes would have been tearing up maki

          • You can't be keel hauled without being thrown off the boat.
    • The ship was legendary at the time before it had even made its maiden voyage. The largest and most elaborate and ornate vessel of its time. A floating palace. A moving island on the sea. The Titanic.

      All that, and at the same time the Titanic being of the Olympic class it is just a good copy of the Olympic

      • That's like saying the USS Enterprise is just a good copy of the USS Constitution, Galaxy and Sovereign for which those starship classes were named, when we all know it's the *second* ship in each of those classes that's worth following around with a a film crew and documenting everything.

    • The Titanic sank because of hubris.

      Not an uncommon problem.

    • by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @05:48PM (#39242081) Homepage

      Also they were loading lifeboats according to your travel class. First class passengers were more likely to be saved. Third class passengers had to wait their turns. That's why for the blockbuster Titanic they had a first class woman paired with a third class man.

      This is one of those myths that gets repeated despite not being true. The first class passengers had an advantage in that the lifeboats were located on the upper decks and thus the started physically closer to them, but no attempt was made to keep third class passengers from the lifeboats, nor where the first class passengers given preferential seating.

      And the actual best/worst survival case was second class children and second class males (in fact, the survival rater for third class males was 50% higher than for second class males).

    • years later it is then known that calm water indicates fields of ice

      You know, if this is true, I'm pretty sure it was figured out a loooooong time before the Titanic sank. Whalers had been operating in icy waters since the 1600s.

    • by epine (68316)

      If the ship had made it to port a day ahead of time, the captain could have participated in an ebullient quarterly shareholders' call. No one wants to be late for a photo op.

      The abnormally stratified air may also have disrupted signals sent by the Titanic by Morse Lamp to the California to no avail.

      Let's boil that down: Abnormal air disrupted (signals sent to no avail). Tragic. Seems like not such a great resume item for a Senior Chair at the Academy of Five Whys.

    • Even without an optical illusion that ship unfortunately still sinks.

      A conjecture, not a fact. (Even though you've cleverly slipped it in at the end of a long series of facts, assumptions, myths, hyperbole, and misinformation all presented as fact in an attempt to pass it off as a fact.)

  • 1. Lookouts not paying attention
    2. Ship was going too fast
    3. Rivets and steel were sub-par
    4. Pure arrogance
    5. Captain was a dunce
    6. Etc

    Like a woman talking on the phone while driving an SUV full of children - an accident looking for a place to happen.
  • Less likely, but more interesting to consider.
  • by Zandamesh (1689334) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @05:41PM (#39242031)

    Turn the ship around and go back to the floating iceberg, board it, and wait for help there?

    • Turn the ship around and go back to the floating iceberg, board it, and wait for help there?

      Because icebergs are not stationary objects. As they melt, their bouyancy shifts and the iceberg flips over. Plus it is near impossible to maintain a steady footing on the slippery surface of an ocean borne iceberg, much less board it.

      Another fact contributing to the sinking is the report from the lookouts (they survived the sinking) that the iceberg was very dark. If the iceberg had recently flipped over, its

  • Regarding this statement:
    "...creating a thermal inversion with layers of cold air below layers of warmer air..."

    Isn't that normal? Cold air falls, warm air rises. What's inverted about that?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Actually no. Air temperature normally decreases with increasing altitude [about.com].

      Temperature inversion layers, also called thermal inversions or just inversion layers, are areas where the normal decrease in air temperature with increasing altitude is reversed and air above the ground is warmer than the air below it. Inversion layers can occur anywhere from close to ground level up to thousands of feet into the atmosphere.

      Inversion layers are significant to meteorology because they block atmospheric flow which causes the air over an area experiencing an inversion to become stable. This can then result in various types of weather patterns. More importantly though, areas with heavy pollution are prone to unhealthy air and an increase in smog when an inversion is present because they trap pollutants at ground level instead of circulating them away.

  • There's an apocryphal story about a journalist who asked an Astronomer for an article on life on Mars. The Astronomer replied "Nobody knows". Not satisfied with this, the journalist hounded the expert and finally ended up sending him a prepaid telegram (those were the days!) for 2000 words on Life on Mars. The Astronomer replied "Nobody know. Nobody knows. Nobody knows. Nobody knows..." etc
  • ... did James Cameron fund some research to get the marketing machine for Titanic 3D going?
  • lol... not... but he definitely would like to claim it was the case at this point :p

  • Shoddy construction caused it to sink. Optical illusions may have hampered the rescue efforts, but it was dark - the other ship could not approach in the dark. There was no RADAR or night vision systems in those days.
  • The Captain (or whoever was manning the bridge at the time) made the wrong decision on how to avoid the iceberg. They tried to steer around the iceberg and also slowed and then reversed the engines to reduce speed. This probably doomed the ship. A ship as large as the Titanic cannot "turn on a dime" and the slow water movement over the rudder at reduced speed destroyed it's ability to turn the ship. Even worse, reversing the engines caused the water to cavitate around the rudder reducing it's effect even more. Had they ordered "Full Speed Ahead" the rudder would have been more effective and the ship might have been able to steer clear of the iceberg before it hit.

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