Posted in Philosophy

Ticking Bomb Scenario

Imagine a situation where a terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in a major city and has it rigged to explode in 24 hours. Only he knows where the bomb is and how to disarm it. The authorities successfully capture him but he is not volunteering the information after hours of interrogation. Millions of lives are at stake because one man hides behind his rights and the control of his tongue. In such a scenario, is it morally justified to torture him until he gives away the information needed to prevent a catastrophe?

Torture is an unacceptable violation of a human being’s most fundamental rights. By inflicting pain and terror, the torturer systematically destroys the victim – physically, emotionally and psychologically. However, in the above scenario, not torturing the bomber will result in the death of countless innocent lives. Is the right of a murderous madman equivalent to a million other human beings? When asked this, the majority of people would answer that yes, in this scenario, torture can be justified.

However, this scenario is a hypothetical philosophical model to outline the argument that torture may be morally justified in certain situations. It is not a way to prove that governments should legally use torture as part of interrogations. The ticking bomb scenario has many weaknesses, such as the fact that such a scenario where all the elements line up so perfectly is highly unlikely to arise. But even so, it may be used as a base of a slippery slope, with people arguing that if a million lives can be saved by torturing an individual, what about a thousand lives? A hundred lives? Or even five lives? What if we have a legal system in place where a judge must issue a warrant after assessing the scenario? Then surely an argument can be made that in certain scenarios, there is no time for this process and lives are at stake. Ultimately, the legalisation of torture is an extremely dangerous slippery slope that can facilitate the violation of human rights with ease.

An alternative system is the so called Dirty Harry case. In this case, torture is still illegal, but a single individual in law enforcement decides to go rogue and takes the matter into his own hands. Because he decides to torture the suspect as an individual, not as part of an institution, he will be committing a crime for which he will be tried in the future. If the jury finds him guilty, he will be punished by being imprisoned. Therefore, the “Dirty Harry” must weigh the potential benefit of torturing the suspect (i.e. saving lives) versus the potential risks (i.e. going to prison), giving him incentive to make a more careful decision.

(Source: Check out this Reddit comment for a more elaborate explanation with references)

Posted in Science & Nature

Nuclear Explosion

Nuclear weapons are quite possibly the most dangerous weapons mankind has ever developed. Through the use of nuclear fission, atoms are split to release the massive amounts of energy contained within, causing a gargantuan explosion. When a typical nuclear bomb detonates, energy is released in various forms: blast energy (40~50%), heat (30~50%), radiation (5%) and fallout (5~10%). The distribution of the energy varies according to the type of bomb (e.g. neutron bombs produce significantly more radiation than heat and blast energy).

The initial damage that follows a nuclear explosion is from the blast energy, much like a conventional weapon. The sheer amount of kinetic energy creates a shockwave that pulverises everything in its path, travelling at speeds over 1000km/h. In addition, the heat from the explosion, over ten million degrees celsius at one point, causes vaporisation of all matter within a certain radius, causing a massive release of gases, fuelling the shockwave from the expansion. In the case of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, all structures within 1.6km were vaporised and those within a 3.2km radius suffered moderate to severe damage. A modern nuclear weapon is at least tens of times more destructive and will affect a significantly larger area.

At the same time, thermal radiation spreads out in all directions much like sunlight. Thermal radiation travels far further than shockwaves and can cause severe burns and eye injuries (flash blindness) to people in the vicinity (if they are close enough, they will spontaneously combust or melt). Near ground zero (point of explosion), a firestorm may erupt from the sheer amount of heat energy, as observed as a fireball. 

Next comes the indirect effects.
Ionising radiation is produced when atoms are split and these have detrimental effects on living organisms. Not only are they responsible for mutations in the genome, leading to deformed offspring, sterility and cancer, but if there is sufficient radiation, a person will immediately die from acute radiation poisoning.
The same radiation, especially gamma rays, creates what is called an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). EMP is caught by metal objects and induces a high voltage surge, destroying unshielded electronic devices. Sometimes, nuclear bombs are detonated at very high altitudes so that only the EMP affects the ground, damaging enemy communications and destroying entire power grids.
Lastly, radioactive material rains from the sky for long periods of time, also known as fallout. Fallout causes continuous radiation damage in affected areas.

A nuclear bomb is truly a weapon of mass destruction as it utilises various forms of destruction to devastate all life forms within an area spanning several kilometres, even killing over the course of time in the form of radiation.