Randomness

July 28, 2007

Rough Draft

As a kid I remember driving down the street when I saw a dog randomly jump out of its window. It bounced and rolled to a stop, probably injured but obviously not dead.

It bothered me enough that I sat down somewhere and decided not to get up until I’d figured it out. Eventually, right before dinner, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t random. The driver shouldn’t have had his window down because dogs don’t understand the dangers of driving.

If you throw a set of dice do they land randomly? …Doesn’t your hand’s position, sweat, force, twist, etc. really determine what happens? I think so. But that doesn’t prove randomness is a physical impossibility, it simply proves throwing dice isn’t random. …Or isn’t it? Suppose the person throwing the dice doesn’t know the shape of the surface they’re throwing a dice on? From the throwers perspective it would defiantly be random, but I don’t think their perspective changes the cause of the effect. So this is still defiantly not truly random in my book.

Look at the picture of computer generated “random” numbers below. Squint your eyes and you’ll see a pattern formed by the shapes of each letter and their spacing.

This might seem like a random pattern, it certainly doesn’t resemble any common objects. But this pattern isn’t. It’s the effect caused by aligning these particular numbers by their decimal point, sorting them from smallest to largest and spacing them evenly apart. Each of those factors may have been determined by different people, or other computer systems, but ultimately we know the pattern is the effect caused by these factors.

Towards my point, the computer generated “random” numbers aren’t random either. They are usually based on the number of nanoseconds since 1980, than multiplied by many math formulas. Surprised?

Did you know computers can’t even divide properly? It’s true. Actually division brings up an interesting sub-topic: Did you know the idea of having two equal halves of anything is a physical impossibility? Two values can always be measured more accurately and divided more evenly, and no two things (of any kind) are exactly alike. Upon close inspection everything is unique.

People have been fascinated by the idea of randomness throughout history. In ancient times they cast lots to both gamble and tell the future. Today we do the same thing. On the one hand our sciences all acknowledge that nothing is random. On the other hand we use “randomness” as the basis many seemingly rational things.

It seems that there are two small decided groups, those who believe nothing is random and those who believe everything is, while the majority of people tend to think it depends on the subject. …Which makes no sense to me …But then again, who am I? Just some random guy. 😉

So, what exactly does the word Randomness mean?

Princeton defines Randomness as…

Lacking any definite plan or order or purpose; governed by or depending on chance; “a random choice”; “bombs fell at random”; “random movements”. taken haphazardly; “a random choice”

Click here for my source

Wikipedia defines Randomness this way…

In ordinary language, the word random is used to express apparent lack of purpose or cause. This suggests that no matter what the cause of something, its nature is not only unknown but the consequences of its operation are also unknown.

Click here for my source


Why is there such a critical discrepancy between Princeton and Wikipedia? I think there are two reasons; 1) Wikipedia has a big culture with many perspectives. Mathematicians, etc. wouldn’t allow the article to misinform. Mathematicians know randomness hasn’t been quantified. That’s where the theory of probability actually came from. …And yeah, they never figured it out.

I prefer Wikipedia’s definition. Everything seems to serve a purpose. In fact, I can’t find a single thing that doesn’t. Maybe you’ve had better luck?

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7 Responses to “Randomness”

  1. Alex W Says:

    Brien, I know we’ve had this conversation several times, and like you I’m not sure exactly where I stand on the issue, I thought I’d put in my two cents on the subject in general: 1.) I really dislike the common sentiment people utter when hearing bad news “Everything happens for a reason”. Bullroar, I say. Everything that happens is the result of a confluence of factors, timing, etc. But there isn’t always a ‘reason’ for it. A eight-hundred pound branch in the woods falls and kills an eight year old boy(this happened in the seattle area recently), now, years of ‘random’ environmental factors led to the branch falling. If you want to hurt your brain you can go back to the tree even sprouting from the ground, maybe a hundred years earlier, wind, rain, sun, etc the sub-atomic degradation in the fibers of the wood. All of this led to the inevitable conclusion that that particular branch would fall at that exact moment in time. Forgoing all the generational factors that created the boy, imagine all the tiny details that led him under the falling branch that morning: Maybe he woke up five minutes later than he meant too, maybe he stopped to tie his shoelace and thus his path on the trail that day synchronized to a collision course with the branch. Like you said in a general way, it wasn’t random, but certainly without reason. I can’t stand it when I hear someone say, perhaps about a fender-bender a friend was in “Well, everything happens for a reason” as though there is a cosmic force involved in day to day tragedies and mishaps that seeks to punish people in order to ultimately extract some ‘goodness’ or ‘morality’ from us. I find that absolutely disgusting. Yes, people can rise above and respond positively to their circumstances, but that doesn’t prove that tragedies happen for a ‘reason’. Eck. Sorry to be so long winded, it’s a pet peeve of mine. Also maybe got a little off track oh well.

  2. 8r13n Says:

    Alex, thanks for the comment. I love having this convo…Maybe too much. Anywayz, I’ve got a few comments are your comments…

    The first is a bit about the terms we used…

    “…I thought I’d put in my two cents on the subject in general: 1.) I really dislike the common sentiment people utter when hearing bad news ‘Everything happens for a reason’. Bullroar, I say. Everything that happens is the result of a confluence of factors, timing, etc. But there isn’t always a ‘reason’ for it…”

    …You also mentioned reason again in this context…

    “..Like you said in a general way, it wasn’t random, but certainly without reason…”

    Maybe you can help me. I need to find a way to clarify my terms in the article. I am trying to use “reason” as the cause in cause-and-effect, and “meaning” as the purpose (the real ‘Why?’ question).

    I liked your example, it was colorful and made sense. I don’t think we can ever truely understand the “root-cause” of something. I think that would require going back to the beginning of time.

    “…I can’t stand it when I hear someone say, perhaps about a fender-bender a friend was in ‘Well, everything happens for a reason’…” I’m totally with you here. Those are annoying and pointless comments.

    “…Sorry to be so long winded, it’s a pet peeve of mine. Also maybe got a little off track oh well.” …I love long comments. (<- *hint* for anyone reading this)

  3. Alex W Says:

    Brien, I think we agree for the most part on the principals of ’cause’ ‘randomness’ etc. It does get clumsy trying to define the terms when you and I ultimately have views on the subject that tend to actually redefine what most people mean when they say ‘random’. Sorry if my comment went off track, it wasn’t necessarily intended as a counter-point to your blog, I kind of went off on a tangent, but I think it came around to what you were talking about. Another thought on people’s day to day perceptions of ‘randomness’. Take for example a fictional meteor the size of a golf ball, streaking towards the earth at the speed of sound(don’t really know how fast meteors fall, too lazy to wikipedia it!), this meteor also happens to be falling more or less out in the middle of the atlantic ocean, where it lands, but not before putting a gaping hole in the chest of a man in a lifeboat. Now, most people would say, ‘what are the odds of him getting hit?’, and of course the overall ‘odds’ of a meteor hitting a person in a lifeboat versus falling harmlessly into the ocean are miniscule. What I would say is this; the damn thing had to land somewhere, and it doesn’t know or care if its you, a lobster, or Paris Hilton(we can only hope) that is impeding its gravity-inspired voyage. Did I just repeat my prior comment? Make any sense? I think we need to discuss this more around the campfire with a half-rack of Milwaukee’s Best Ice 🙂
    Alex

  4. 8r13n Says:

    Brien, I think we agree for the most part on the principals of ’cause’ ‘randomness’ etc. It does get clumsy trying to define the terms when you and I ultimately have views on the subject that tend to actually redefine what most people mean when they say ‘random’.

    …yeah, I’m with you on that. I’d still like to fix the article though, or at least improve it. I think talking with you has helped, I’m going to update it soon.

    If there’s a deeper meaning in your analogy I’m missing it…But I’m down for a campfire. Maybe liquor can bring some light to this subject.

  5. 8r13n Says:

    Somehow I think I want to add this into my article…

    Being raised in a traditional Christian family I was taught everything had a purpose from day 1. Since this is the case I presume I have a bias toward the idea of a meaningful existence, and that’s why I’m ever critical of my conclusions.

    All the same, whenever I question the idea of meaning in life I always end up with the same problem. A lack of randomness. In my mind it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with my upbringing, but wouldn’t this be the case?

    The idea of meaning everywhere does perfect sense to me, and always has. Maybe initially because I was led to believe this by my parents, but as an adult I’ve demanded empirical evidence.

    I think there’s too much obvious cause-and-effect in Nature to be ignored. An impossibly large number of systems working in perfect harmony and balance. There just doesn’t appear to be any randomness anywhere.

    Since I’ve never seen any evidence for true randomness why should I base my world view on it?

    Basically, if nothing is random, then there must be a purpose for our mental states, emotions, love, etc. …Because everything else in nature has a system, it’s foolhardy to presume these are exceptions. If nothing is random then there are no random exceptions.

    Now, I’ve heard many people claim everything works in perfect concert because, “…if it didn’t we wouldn’t be here to see it”. …That’s bad logic. That would only explain a lack of randomness leading up to our existence. It doesn’t explain why there is no randomness in anything else. In fact, if a random event caused our existence it would seem more probable that we would be surrounded by examples randomness.

    I’d really like to see someone make an argument for randomness that isn’t dogmatic. It’s not that I’m looking to argue, I’m just looking for an argument to bounce around in my head.

  6. Alex W Says:

    Hmmm, we seem to be teetering precariously on the edge of a discussion about free will and predestination, do we not? And we know where that leads, 7am-no sleep-no-resolution!:) Also, you seem to be steering towards a discussion about evolution. Not my forte. But, like you, my logical(and propagandized)brain rejects the notion that the myriad manifestations of life and the many complex relationships at the environmental as well as organic level came about through ‘random’ mutations. It seems absurd, really. But, like I said, not my forte.
    It is wonderful to contemplate these wonders, though, isn’t it? Cogito, ergo sum!:)
    Alex

  7. Stephanie Says:

    Hey cousin!
    I love reading your blogs! You express yourself quite well, and I find echos of my own thoughts in what you write. Next time you are up for a good conversation…let me know. “Randomness” is a great topic…so is “predestination”, “evolution” “”science””, (yes–it deserves double quotes!), “greek history” or any ancient history, “education”, etc. My brain thinks WAY TOO MUCH and I question everything! Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I was raised so black and white, but I don’t like accepting anything without thinking it though myself. Even as a kid, I’d ask my teacher, “but why do you multiply this by that that to get xyz?”, no algorithims without understanding for me! What I find to be frightening is that no matter how far I travel from what my mother taught me, I still end up rather close to where I started…just a little less I’m right/your wrong…(judgemental)…or so I hope. Anyhow, it’s always fun to toss ideas around with someone who’s not afraid to explore unconventional thought.


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