Jun 1, 2009
Randomness: A Myth Scientists Created to Simulate Ignorance
by Charles Carreon
May I propose a bet? I bet you think that life is kind of random. Even if you’re religious, and think that not a sparrow falls except it is marked by your father-figure in heaven, or that the All-knowing Maha-Kleptonanda keeps track of it all in the infallible Karmic Record, fundamentally you think that what comes next is no more knowable than the next roll of the dice or number about to come up in a lotto game. And as a result, you think that life is “random.” So I won the bet, right? Well now, give me three more minutes, and I’ll prove you wrong, and you’ll be so satisfied with my argument you’ll kiss the concept of randomness goodbye forever. Ready?
Randomness is a mathematically created concept used to simulate ignorance. What do I mean by that? Well, just imagine that you live where I live, on a cul-de-sac in a neighborhood where it’s easy to get lost. All day long, cars come through the cul-de-sac and they don’t stop. They just buzz through, obviously lost. Now if I were to write down all the car license numbers and give them to a math professor or an investigator on a list, and ask them to tell me what they all had in common, they couldn’t figure it out. They would just say they were random. But there’s nothing random about them. They were all cars driven by people who were lost in my neighborhood, almost certainly looking for someone else’s address nearby, but not on our cul-de-sac. Every car was driven by a person loaded with intention, not some random cruiser out to see what the front of my house looks like. Nothing random about them, but if you were ignorant of how I compiled the list of license plate numbers, you’d just have to assume they were random.
Take another example. We’re sitting on a park bench in front of a pond, and it’s just starting to rain. I ask you, “Where will the next drop fall?” You say, “I don’t know.” Or maybe you say, “How the hell would I know?” Right then, the next drop falls, making a ripple on the surface of the pond. Well, that wasn’t a random event. That raindrop had been falling out of the clouds for miles, and finally, it reached its destination, after being buffeted by crosswinds and polluted with dust, falling and falling with perfect purpose toward its inevitable collision with the surface of the pond. Nothing random about that. At no point did anything random happen to that raindrop, because everything other event that took place that affected the speed and direction of its fall, and determined the moment and place of its contact with the surface of the pond, were all, equally non-random. But since both you and I were ignorant of all of those factors, we simply say, “It’s random.”
To finish my explanation, I have to explain why I say it’s a “mathematically created concept used to simulate ignorance.” Here’s what I mean by that. Mathematics is not a process for generating random outcomes. It is a system for generating and analyzing determinable outcomes. Remember that’s what’s so awful about math – only one right answer – and you don’t know it. You might wish that math problems could be solved with random answers, but you could only peddle that notion in literature class, not math class. Computers are big calculators with clever layers of articulation laid over them called interfaces. You might, logically, conclude that computers have a hard time with the concept of randomness. Actually it’s worse than that, and I’ll now indulge in a literary digression. It’s said that Samuel Johnson once criticized someone’s book, and some nice person next to him said that he should be more charitable in his assessment, because it had been very difficult to write it. “Difficult!” Johnson retorted, “I wish it had been impossible!” Well, that’s how it is with computers and random numbers. It’s not only difficult for computers to generate a random number – it’s impossible.
Computer programmers know this, so they have these things they call “random number generators,” but all they do is generate a number that is good enough to be impossible for you to predict. In other words, since you are ignorant of how the computer generates the number, it’s as unpredictable as where the next raindrop will fall on the pond, or what the number of the license plate of the next car will be when it drives through my cul-de-sac. That’s just because you don’t know all the variables that would go into generating a solution. Since mathematicians want to generate solutions even to problems where there are too many variables, they turn dark holes of ignorance into wells of randomness. They start pulling numbers out of a hole, and say that since no one can predict which one will be next, there’s no order to it. It would be more honest for them to say that they do not know the order, but they’re too proud to do that, so they have enshrined the notion of randomness in mathematics as a tool for predicting outcomes using the data that is available. But it doesn’t mean that randomness is real. It’s not. Everything has a cause, nothing comes from nothing, and you shouldn’t confuse a mathematical tool with a cosmic reality.