Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Nothing is Random (almost?)

Dice are one of the oldest random number generators in existence.

They are not actually random.

Just think about it for a minute. When you throw a die. It leaves your hand traveling in a certain direction, and a certain speed, with a certain angular velocity. 

Then, carried by momentum and influenced by gravity, it travels to the ground where it comes under the influences of elasticity (how much it “bounces”) and friction, which cause it to tumble until friction and gravity finally win out and the die comes to a complete stop.

If you knew precisely the elasticity and friction values of the die and the surface you were rolling it on, and if you had incredibly fine motor control, such that you could very precisely control the angle and speed at which the die left your hand, and the direction and speed at which it was spinning, you could roll whatever number you wanted to roll every single time.

In other words, the only reason die rolling seems random is because we are incapable of accurately measuring environmental characteristics, and precisely controlling muscles.

Computers don’t generate truly random numbers either. They use tables of numbers; they grab values off the clock… Things which appear random to us, but in reality aren’t.

There are systems which are considered "True Random Number Generators", which use radioactive decay or atmospheric events as the source for randomness. Those things certainly seem random to us, and are certainly random enough to work for our present purposes, but are they really random, or are we just failing to see the pattern? Certainly there are a number of variables involved in creating weather patterns in the earth's atmosphere, but ultimately, thunderstorms don’t just magically appear ‘at random’ . They are the result of thermal activity and moisture, which could conceivably be accurately measured, given sufficient resources.

If you are a creationist, then you believe that someone (or something) built it all and set it in motion, just like throwing a die… (only it was more like several bajillion dice all at once…)

If you subscribe to the big bang… well, there was a whole bunch of mass in a starting state, and an explosion occurred and stuff started moving based on the directions and angular momentums imparted. Still there was a starting state and an initial force, or set of forces which initiated the motion.

The only reason anything appears random to us, is due to our inability to precisely and accurately measure all the necessary values at the starting state, and precisely and accurately measure the forces which set events in motion.

Nothing is random.

There is one possible exception to this.

Free will.

As a thinking, feeling being I have the ability to introduce true randomness to the system by the choices I make. Certainly some (many? most?) of my choices aren’t random, but are instead the result of parents, peers, genetics, environment...

But perhaps, occasionally, I defy the momentum those sources have imparted to me, and spin off in an entirely random direction, of my own free will and choice…

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