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On this fateful day 100 years ago, 14 April 1912 at approximately 2340 hours, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and began taking on water. Less than three hours later, at 0220 hours on 15 April 1912, Titanic would sink beneath the surface forever. Only 710 of those on board would survive: the other 1,514 passengers and crew would perish.

The collision itself can obviously be attributed to a loss of what military professionals call "situational awareness" (this very useful concept and term has since spread to many other fields, because it is an extremely valuable tool for any situation requiring analysis, particularly the analysis of situations requiring decisions in conditions of uncertainty, especially decisions in which mistakes could entail grievous loss of life or property).

In a military environment, situational awareness entails having an accurate picture of the friendly situation, the enemy situation, and the terrain situation. While this may sound easy, it is not. The famous strategist and military analyst Carl von Clausewitz once said, "in war, everything is simple, but the simple is difficult." Anyone who looks back on complex situations such as the command of a massive trans-Atlantic liner or any combat situation in history and says to himself (or herself), "but it was so obvious! that should have been so simple!" should take care to fully understand this insightful observation by Clausewitz.

It has in the past been the case that a battalion or brigade commander has begun a battle at the US Army's most sophisticated force-on-force training centers thinking that all his subordinate units are ready to go, only to learn later that one of his tank companies actually began the battle with critical shortages of ammunition. This would seem to be impossible -- impossible that it would actually happen, but even more unbelievable that the commander would think everything was just fine when in reality the situation was completely different from the picture in his head. This is an example of being unaware of the true "friendly" situation.

It is also quite often the case that the enemy in a combat or training situation deliberately feeds hints that he is doing one thing, only to do the opposite. It is understandable that the friendly commander might interpret the data points he sees as confirming the picture he wants to see in his mind. When the enemy suddenly shows up out of a totally different direction than the friendly commander anticipated, reality comes crashing in and corrects the false picture that the friendly commander had been carrying around in his mind (although often by then it is too late). This is an example of being unaware of the true "enemy" situation.

Again, it is often the case that a friendly commander will believe that his unit can advance through a certain piece of terrain (perhaps a riverbed that affords him a concealed avenue of approach) but when his vehicles actually try to negotiate that terrain, they discover that they get bogged down in soft wet ground and cannot proceed. Conversely, there are times when a commander will conduct analysis which leads him to believe that a certain avenue is impossible for the enemy to negotiate, only to discover too late that the terrain could be traversed by the resourceful opponent (this happened to the Germans at Pointe du Hoc in World War II, when the US Army Rangers demonstrated that there is literally no terrain that cannot be negotiated by a well-led group of Rangers). This is an example of having a failure of situational awareness regarding the terrain.

In the case of Titanic, it is quite obvious in hindsight that the mental picture of the "friendly" capabilities was altogether too optimistic. Everyone knows that the ship was believed to be "unsinkable" by many -- an unfortunate description in the prestigious British journal Shipbuilder published at the occasion of the launching of Titanic's sister ship Olympic in 1910, which declared that these ships were "practically unsinkable" (Daniel Allen Butler, 11). As Daniel Allen Butler says in his 1999 history Unsinkable: The Full Story of RMS Titanic, "Before long, and perhaps inevitably, the qualifying adjective was forgotten by the general public" (11).

This failure of situational awareness is related to the egregious failure to provide enough lifeboats for everyone aboard. As Chris Berg of the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, Australia wrote in an article entitled "The Real Reason for the Tragedy of the Titanic" (and as Butler's 1999 book also points out), the reason for this terrible failure of situational awareness stemmed from the belief that lifeboats were not needed for every passenger, because they were primarily used to shuttle passengers to rescue ships. This was exactly how they had been used in the relatively rare incidents in the decades prior to the Titanic disaster.

As the Clausewitz quotation above cautions us, we should be very careful to avoid falling into the trap of believing that we would have seen the true situation where those alive in 1912 failed to do so. As Daniel Allen Butler writes:
If builders, owners, and officers of the Titanic were complacent and overconfident, they were simply reflecting the attitude of every shipping line in the North Atlantic trade. If the passengers believed that the Titanic was indeed unsinkable, it wasn't because they had succumbed to the blandishments of the shipping line's advertisements or the pronouncements of the experts: in the forty years prior to the Titanic's maiden voyage, only four lives had been lost on passenger ships on the North Atlantic trade. Imagine how blithely air travel would be regarded by present-day travelers, who usually seem to express little enough trepidation about the hazards of commercial flying, if the major airlines possessed a similar safety record. never had any form of transportation been so safe and hazard free. xi.
As for the "terrain," so to speak, we now know that an extensive and dangerous field of ice stretched across Titanic's path, much further south than the captain anticipated (he had already adjusted his course ten miles further south based on warnings received, but not far enough).

Recent analysis suggests that an extremely rare proximity of the moon, combined with the earth's passage through the point in its orbit where it comes closest to the sun, just a few months prior to Titanic's collision with the berg may have created larger tides which enabled larger icebergs to stray further south by April of 1912 than in previous years. This unusual situation may have in some way contributed a bit to the incorrect mental picture in the mind of Captain E. J. Smith (who had successfully plied the Atlantic for forty-five years, beginning at the age of 12, and had been the Captain of the sister ship Olympic for about a year before Titanic's maiden voyage), but as even those who proposed the exceptional-tides hypothesis are careful to state, Titanic sank because she steamed at night into an ice field her captain could have known about, and without slowing down.

Even after the collision, however, a lack of situational awareness appears to have played a decisive role. Daniel Allen Butler provides evidence that -- while the passengers may have been kept from knowing the seriousness of the situation in order to prevent a panic -- the leadership on board were not given a briefing on the grave condition of the ship, although they could and should have been. He writes, "One of the most remarkable aspects of Titanic's sinking is that very few people on board regarded the situation as serious for more than an hour after the collision -- in fact it was nearly 1:15 before Fourth Officer Boxhall was told the ship was going to sink. While no doubt Smith wanted to avoid a panic among the passengers, and quite possibly the crew as well, not letting his officers know just how serious the emergency was may well have contributed to a false sense of security among them, which in turn caused them to allow a number of the boats to leave the ship less than half full" (250 - 251).

An even more awful failure of situational awareness (perhaps not as well known to the public because not included at all in the 1997 film) involves the nearest ship to Titanic, a small liner of 6,000 tons (Titanic was 45,000 tons), the Californian. There is significant evidence that Californian was stopped at the edge of the ice field just five to ten miles north of Titanic (see map above), that her officers including Captain Stanley Lord visually saw Titanic when she first came into view at 2330 on the night of the 14th (only ten minutes before the brush with the iceberg) and in fact even tried to hail her with a Morse lamp, that Captain Lord ordered his wireless operator to tell the other ship that Californian was surrounded by ice and stopped (this message was received and rebuffed by Titanic's operator, who was busily sending a backlog of messages at the time and angry that Californian had failed to ask permission to break in), and that the officers of the Californian saw the other ship come to a stop (not thinking anything unusual about this, which is understandable).

However, after Captain Lord retired for the evening (giving instructions to let him know if the other ship altered course or moved closer), the officers on duty saw the ship extinguish its lights, and later fire eight white rockets (the distress signal). They report that they informed their captain, who told them to note it in the log, and that Captain Lord then went back to sleep. The official log prepared by the captain later did not report anything about the rockets, and the "scrap log"(a sort of rough draft log from which the official log would later be compiled) for the night of the 14th - 15th was later discovered to be missing.

Had Californian's captain perceived the true situation, or taken appropriate action, the terrible loss of life might have been completely avoided or at least greatly reduced. Afterwards, of course, the true situation became quite clear, and it appears likely he tried to hide the evidence of the rockets and to alter the reported location of his vessel to make it seem farther away at the time of the Titanic disaster. The evidence surrounding this aspect of the disaster is presented in Mr. Butler's book in a chapter entitled "Watching Eight White Rockets" and in an Appendix entitled "The Titanic, the Californian, and the Culpability of Captain Lord."

A very good source for those interested in the events surrounding the Titanic, including the inaction of the Californian, can be found online in the 1912 report issued by the US Congress entitled "Loss of the Steamship Titanic." It concludes that Captain Lord was culpable of failing to respond to the white rockets of distress. Some continue to work to exonerate Captain Lord to this day (this web page describes some of the controversy) but the weight of the evidence does not seem to be in his favor (defenders of Captain Lord have tried to argue that a third ship came between the Californian and the Titanic during the time in question, and fired off flares -- perhaps a fishing boat communicating with its longboats -- before sailing away again, but there is absolutely no evidence to support this assertion).

The human tragedy of the Titanic story is enormous in scope, and the entire story far bigger than can be discussed here. However, the perspective of "situational awareness" is extremely valuable, and one which bears directly on all forms of analysis, including the analysis that is the subject of so many of the discussions in this blog and in the Mathisen Corollary book as well. The difficulty of perceiving the true situation, even when evidence is available that should make it possible to do so, is evident at every turn. The importance of examining the data points available, and of looking at different ways to "connect the dots" (not just the first one that suggests itself) comes through quite powerfully.

There is always a human tendency to want to "confirm" the picture we have in our minds -- to confirm the picture that we want to see -- with every new data point we encounter (and to push aside those data points that might disrupt our desired picture). We see this in the events described above, but it is also in operation among supporters of the conventional theories (such as the geological theory of tectonics, or the picture of human history that involves slowly evolving and slowly progressing stages of civilization, even though substantial data points appear to call these theories into question). And, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that this tendency to want to confirm our own pet theory with every new data point cannot fail to be operative in our own mind as well.

Carefully pondering the Titanic story is therefore a very valuable exercise, and never more appropriate than on this, the one hundredth anniversary of that tragic night.

Respect -- RIP.

Note: for my most recent thoughts on the Titanic tragedy, see "Titanic conspiracy, due diligence, natural law and mind control," 04/13/2014.  

Titanic, premonitions, and the nature of consciousness

On this day one hundred years ago -- April 10, 1912 -- the RMS Titanic loaded the majority of her passengers and crew at Southampton, England, and departed on her maiden voyage.

Sailing from Southampton at 12 noon on Wednesday the 10th, the ship would then dock at Cherbourg, France (arriving four hours later that same Wednesday) where more passengers would board, and then left Cherbourg that evening for Cork Harbour in southern Ireland, arriving late in the morning of Thursday the 11th. There, some passengers who were only going as far as Queenstown (as the city was renamed in 1850 following a visit from Queen Victoria) departed the ship, about 130 other passengers and crew members boarded, and the ship departed on its ill-fated crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

As Titanic steamed out of Southampton on the 10th, an incident that at least one spectator found extremely ominous took place. As described in the outstanding 1998 book Unsinkable: The Full Story of RMS Titanic by Daniel Allen Butler:
The immense bulk of the liner displaced an incredible volume of water in the narrow channel, creating a powerful suction in her wake. As she approached the entrance to the channel, the Titanic drew abreast of the small American liner New York, which was moored side by side to the White Star's Oceanic. Both ships had been immobilized by the coal strike, and neither had steam up. As the Titanic passed, the suction of her wake drew the two smaller vessels away from the dock where they were tied up. The strain on the six lines mooring the New York to the Oceanic grew too great, and with a series of loud cracks they parted in rapid succession as the New York was pulled helplessly toward the Titanic. For a moment a nasty collision seemed inevitable as the stern of the New York swung to within three or four feet of the bigger liner's hull. Quick thinking on the part of Captain Gale of the tug Vulcan and prompt action on the Titanic's bridge by Captain Smith averted an accident. 41.
Mr. Butler recounts that one passenger, Renee Harris, the wife of an American theater producer, "suddenly found a stranger standing at her side, asking, 'Do you love life?'" When she answered in the affirmative, he told her, "That was a bad omen. Get off this ship at Cherbourg, if we get that far. That's what I'm going to do." According to Mrs. Harris, she laughed it off at the time, "but later she would recall that she never saw the man on board again" (Butler 42).

This was by no means the only such premonition of disaster recorded prior to the voyage of the doomed liner. While skeptics might dismiss this recollection of Mrs. Harris as something that only took on significance after the disaster, there are examples of foreboding letters that were posted to relatives prior to the ship's sailing which are more difficult to explain away.

For example, Major Archibald Butt, military aide to President William Howard Taft and also a personal friend of Theodore Roosevelt, wrote a last letter to his sister-in-law before the Titanic sailed, in which he said: "If the old ship goes down, you'll find my affairs in shipshape condition" (Butler 31).

There is also the letter sent by Chief Officer Wilde (the second-in-command of the ship after Captain E. J. Smith) to his sister which was posted at Queenstown, which said: "I still don't like this ship . . . I have a queer feeling about it" (Butler 52).

Even more remarkable is the story of a young fireman (one of the over three hundred crew members assigned to stoke or otherwise tend to the mighty engines of the ship) named John Coffey, who was seized by a sense of foreboding and hid aboard one of the tenders that pulled away from Titanic with the last sacks of mail in order to skip out on the voyage (reported in several sources including Butler 51, although some have argued that this story might be fabricated, saying his name was not listed on the ship's rosters, although it is a fact that many crew particularly those shoveling coal were not permanent White Star Lines employees but were hired by recruiters who went out looked for workers for the voyage only days beforehand, and it is also a fact that several passengers and crew for reasons of their own decided to list themselves under fictitious names).

Another remarkable story that appears to indicate accurate premonitions comes from a family traveling in Second Class, Benjamin and Esther Hart, along with their seven-year-old daughter Eva. Apparently, Mrs. Hart was besieged by a sense of impending disaster and was certain that it would strike at night, so she stayed up each night reading or knitting, and slept during the day (Butler 56).

Do these premonitions of impending catastrophe indicate that the human mind is perhaps in possession of senses beyond what can possibly described as strictly "natural" (in the sense of the natural or material world)? What physical forces in the strictly materialistic world of atoms and molecules can possibly explain the perception of an impending collision with an iceberg that still lay thousands of miles away, separated by the breadth of the vast Atlantic?

If we think about these reports from Titanic (and there are other documented instances of similar premonitions surrounding other disasters), and if we entertain at all the possibility that not all of them were simple "coincidence," then it leads to all kinds of questions about the nature of our consciousness. Is it possible that our consciousness is not simply a physical product of chemical and electrical activity in the cells of an organ we call the brain? If our consciousness is simply a byproduct of a jumble of electrical and chemical impulses emitted by a physical mass of nerves and brain cells, then how does one explain all of the premonitions described above surrounding the maiden voyage of Titanic?

This historical evidence would seem to be additional evidence to other evidence we have examined previously (see here and here, for instance) that consciousness is somehow greater than the physical matter that supposedly generates it (in the eyes of the strict materialist).

Perhaps, as some have speculated -- including American philosopher William James (1842 - 1910) and brother of Henry James (1843 - 1916) -- the brain transmits consciousness rather than generating it, in much the same way that a lens transmits or focuses light without actually acting as the source of the light, or the way an organ pipe transmits or focuses sound without actually generating or originating the sound. This fascinating subject is treated at greater length in a fascinating examination entitled "Does Consciousness Depend on the Brain?" by Chris Carter.

If what we might call the "lens suggestion" of William James is correct (or at least closer to the truth than the idea that consciousness is strictly a byproduct of the physical activity of the brain), then animals might "transmit" or "focus" similar extra-material perceptions, perhaps sometimes being more attuned, sometimes less attuned, to the same extra-material awareness that some humans can also perceive.

On the night that Titanic struck the iceberg (the collision took place at 11:40 pm on Sunday night, April 14, or within a minute or two after), Mr. Butler reports that passengers in Third Class were engaged in "another of the seemingly endless dances" when, "In the middle of the merriment, a large rat suddenly appeared out of nowhere, eliciting screams of terror, some real, some feigned, from the young women. A handful of the men dashed after the offending rodent, and the dance was under way again" (65).

The behavior of rats deserting a sinking ship is of course so legendary as to have passed into proverbial idiom, but how can one explain unease among rodents hours before a ship hits an iceberg? Again, this incident is perhaps only coincidental, taking on perceived significance only in hindsight of the disaster, and if it were the only one that was reported by the survivors of the tragedy that night it could and should be dismissed as such, but in the presence of so many other data points, it is at least prudent to consider the possibility that something other than coincidence might have been going on prior to that fateful collision.

Here is a link to another website examining premonitions of disaster prior to the Titanic, in this case mostly dealing with fictional accounts published years earlier that seemed to share numerous details with the actual voyage, in some cases remarkably many details.

Here is an even more interesting article, published in Atlantis Rising in 1999, dealing with the subject of premonitions, and detailing accounts of premonitions from other disasters as well as those surrounding the Titanic's sinking. That article also contains a helpful paragraph discussing the difference between simple fear or dread and a premonition, which says:

For most people, the difference between a fear and a premonition is that fears are vague and not unusual. Premonitions, on the other hand, seem to come spontaneously, and often with great force and clarity. In fact, for most people, the problem is not recognizing a premonition, but acting upon it.
This is an important distinction. As someone who has made hundreds of skydives and participated in dozens of military tactical airborne operations (often at night with heavy gear and sometimes in atrocious weather conditions), I can report that I have had several occasions where I experienced what the paragraph above would describe as "vague and not unusual" feelings of general fear and unease prior to some jumps, but nothing ever came of them. They were not at all specific, spontaneous, or full of "great clarity." They were just ordinary fear, not premonitions (if true premonitions even actually exist).

Perhaps some of the incidents surrounding the voyage of Titanic also fall into this category, but the number and urgency of some of the feelings of awareness of impending disaster in that incident and in others argues that we should not be too quick to dismiss the possibility that true premonitions may have been involved in some cases. Before asserting that all the examples above are only "fear" and not premonitions, note that I myself never wrote any letters of the sort mentioned above prior to any airborne operations that turned out to be uneventful, and note also that Chief Officer Wilde was a very experienced officer with many ocean crossings under his belt (and no indication that he wrote his sister with ominous letters prior to other crossings).

If true premonitions were involved in some cases, it also seems that the existence of premonitions raises other important questions about the nature of consciousness, and that the existence of premonitions is very difficult to explain with a strictly materialistic view of the universe.

For more musings on the significance of the tragic voyage of Titanic, be sure to also visit the recently-published essay, "Titanic and the Fall of Civilizations."

Note: for my most recent thoughts on the Titanic tragedy, see "Titanic conspiracy, due diligence, natural law and mind control," 04/13/2014.  

Titanic and the Fall of Civilizations

Just published on Amazon: "Titanic and the Fall of Civilizations," an essay on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, exploring the concept of "situational awareness" and the parallels for civilization as we know it.

The concept of situational awareness is one introduced by the military, particularly the US Army, during the past fifteen years as an invaluable tool for tactical planning and analysis. Situational awareness refers to having a true picture in one's mind which corresponds to the actual reality of the enemy situation, the terrain situation, and the capability of the friendly forces. Due to factors of human organizations and human psychology which famous military tactician Carl von Clausewitz called "the fog of war," the mental picture can diverge quite drastically from reality in all three of these areas, leading to lack of situational awareness and often to disaster.

This relatively new military term is invaluable for the analysis of the Titanic disaster, because it is quite clear that loss of situational awareness -- and the failure to correct the mental picture in spite of six wireless messages received on the fateful day of April 14, 1912 -- led to the collision with the iceberg and the grievous loss of life (over 1,500 lives lost, with only 700 survivors).

After an analysis of the use of situational awareness as a tool for examining the Titanic catastrophe, the essay explores evidence that we may have formed a similar incorrect mental model of our own civilization's history, one which has led to a mistaken belief that forward progress is our natural birthright, and which ignores salient evidence (or pushes it to the margins) that could help us avoid a catastrophe of similar magnitude.


This is an essay, not a full book. It contains about 5,000 words. Hope you find it valuable -- if so, please consider telling others with a short review.


Note: for my most recent thoughts on the Titanic tragedy, see "Titanic conspiracy, due diligence, natural law and mind control," 04/13/2014.