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Featured Randomness

Discussion in 'Science and Religion' started by Polymath257, Sep 13, 2018.

  1. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Think & Care
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    The concept of randomness comes up pretty frequently in our discussions. In particular, I have seen frequent complaints concerning the development of order out of 'randomness'. This shows up in discussion of evolution (mutations being random), quantum mechanics (quantum events being random), and cosmology (matter interacting randomly).

    Often, randomness is conflated with 'accidental' and contrasted with 'intelligently produced'.

    I'd like a discussion/debate about the meaning of randomness, its role in our beliefs, the contrast with causality, the issue of 'accident', and the role of 'intelligence' as opposed to 'randomness'.
     
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  2. exchemist

    exchemist Well-Known Member

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    Good idea. Let me open the batting, then.

    To me, randomness is a total absence of order or predictability.

    Conversely, non-random systems or occurrences have some measure of order or predictability.

    The presence of order does not, it should be needless to say, necessarily signify purpose or intelligent agency. The high degree of order in a crystalline solid is a case in point. Such ordered structures can appear spontaneously, for instance when water freezes on a cold day.

    The foregoing is from a scientific perspective. There are however many religious believers who feel, aesthetically, that the presence of order in the cosmos may point to the existence of God. Einstein, indeed, came close to identifying the order itself with God - a sort of pantheistic outlook.

    In this sense, then, randomness can come to be seen as the absence of the guiding hand of God.

    I would not subscribe to that view, knowing as I do some kinetic theory and statistical thermodynamics. To me, randomness and order dance together, to make the world we know.
     
    #2 exchemist, Sep 13, 2018
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2018
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  3. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Think & Care
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    OK, so in the traditional flipping of a coin, the fact that over the long run, there is an average of 50% heads and 50% tails (a new level of order) makes it non-random?

    It is possible to go to the next level and say that there is order in the second order means as well.

    The *complete* absence of order would mean that the coins turn into dice, or elephants.
     
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  4. Nakosis

    Nakosis crystal soldier
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    Generally I see randomness as more unpredictability. Mostly because there is a lot of missing information that perhaps if we were privy to, we could maybe predict the outcome.

    However I heard in quantum mechanics, or maybe it's just the position I've heard in various arguments, that there exist true randomness. I suppose the idea is that if true randomness exist on the quantum scale that somehow through the "butterfly effect" can affect happenings on the macro level. While this is true the actual effect on the macro level is barely worth noting.

    Also I've heard that randomness in QM is a bit of a misnomer a better term for it would be uncertainty. If that is true, what really differentiates the two terms?
     
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  5. Daemon Sophic

    Daemon Sophic Avatar in flux

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    Interesting. The term ‘accident’ to me implies that there was an order that was supposed to exist, but something went wrong, whether globally or locally, and the accident occurred.
    Randomness on the other hand does not suggest that order was ever supposed to have existed in the first place.

    That said, I would point out that in the formation of stars and galaxies, or the interaction of atoms and molecules, and/or in evolution: there are certain background features or laws which lead to interactions between particles of matter and energy.
    Some of these features or laws include such things as gravity; ionic atomic and molecular attraction; .....all the way up to conscious selection of mates based on physical and/or intellectual properties of candidates.
    In this way the nearly infinite interactions throughout the universe are not occurring by accident, and in fact are not purely ‘random’ either. This in no way suggests an intelligent invisible hand at work, but rather the fundamental laws of physics, along with their corollaries in biological motion, hormones, and even consciousness.
     
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  6. exchemist

    exchemist Well-Known Member

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    Excellent! So my definition breaks down immediately. How would you define it, then?
     
  7. Jumi

    Jumi Well-Known Member

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    I see randomness as simply being that we can't predict a result to some measure of accuracy. If we have a deck of cards, we can predict what the "values" are between A to K, but unless we know that the deck isn't full and have no other information, we can't be sure what the next one will be. Over the period of 52 cards we can expect to see each card once, so that process isn't random in a sense while the order of the cards is random.

    With summer temperatures, we can say they are random, but also predict what the top temperatures are likely to be based on previous years averages.
     
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  8. nPeace

    nPeace Well-Known Member

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    The way I see randomness is as it is defined - the quality or state of lacking a pattern or principle of organization; unpredictability.
    So to me randomness cannot create predictable patterns, or order, because if at any time, something maintains order by a series of actions, then it is not random.

    The way I see it, randomness depends on causality. Once any action is started, it's effect can either be seen to be random, or ordered, but the random effects will never be ordered.
    A law that is fixed, is not random, and randomness cannot create a law.

    As an example - a snowflake.
    People say that randomness produces the various patterns of a snowflake, but how can that be, when the formation of a snowflake follows certain laws?
    Randomness occurs during the process, but randomness is not responsible for the process.

    In this way randomness is conflated with 'accidental' and contrasted with 'intelligently produced', but randomness being a product of, or dependent on causality, can be 'intelligently produced'.

    Example...
    I write a program that creates randomness. I write a program that creates order. I write a program that creates both.
    I am the intelligence. I am the cause.
    The laws I set will create order. The process I started, will include randomness.
    Randomness is not an accident, because I deliberately created it, so is is 'intelligently produced', but randomness will always be accidental. and its effects are not 'intelligently produced'.

    Sorry if I mixed everyone up.
    Sometimes it's not easy putting my thoughts in writing, especially when I have something else in mind to do.... for which I have to run.
     
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  9. Skwim

    Skwim Veteran Member

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    If by "it" you mean an individual flip, then no it wouldn't. And isn't that what you're talking about: can a single event be random?

    My position on randomness usually comes into play when talking about free will and determinism. That if an event is not caused, often where free will discussions end up, then it has to be random, and u t t e r l y random. Not an instance where it's random because we don't know the cause of a event---how a roll of dice ends up---but because it has absolutely no cause whatsoever. So far the only arena in which this is said to occur is at the quantum level where events like atomic decay take place; however, from what I've read the randomness of such quantum events still comes down to a matter of our ignorance: we simply can't pinpoint their cause. So, I take a cautionary position on randomness. TRUE, Uncaused Randomness does not appear to exist; however, I'm not ready to rule it out entirely. As for using "randomness" to describe events whose exact cause is beyond our ability to discern---the roll of dice---fine. Go right ahead.

    .
     
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  10. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest Ignorant Atheist Libertarian Capitalist
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    I stopped believing in randomness after seeing the documentary, "Contact".
    Even the number, pi, has semi-hidden patterns which betray order, proving
    creation by a higher intelligence.
    It's a joke!
    Anyone else remember this aspect of the book/movie?
     
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  11. JoshuaTree

    JoshuaTree Active Member

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    Suppose God based all of creation on a random number generator, then creation is repeatable for any seed God chooses meaning God could select a seed to order the events of all creation exactly as he desires. While God sees order, man sees only chaos that doesn't really exist.
     
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  12. Brickjectivity

    Brickjectivity simple man
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    I do not know but think that all things which are connected actually have a single state, and I mean that I think the universe is one thing. It is not I think a conglomerate as it appears but one object. I could be right or wrong, so let me consider that to be the only two options for moment.

    If I am correct then randomness is not real and is merely a failure on our part to understand order that is too complex or too interconnected for us to catalogue. It means that causality is limited to the big picture, the event which is our universe. It means accidents are all part of that one event, not separate events. It means that intelligence is built into that single event and part of it.

    If I am wrong then randomness is genuine as is chaos, and it is as the ancients thought that all of existence arose from chaos. Then order is a subset of chaos consisting of those things which entangle with one another, building up together due to accidental similarity such as the way similar shapes sometimes adhere. Then causality is not absolute, and its defining characteristic is that causes can have no cause only the appearance of it. Rather than an ordered universe with seeming accidents we then must consider every event to be individually accidental, merely entangled with other events. Intelligence and choices are guided by all that they are connected to but ultimately random since they are connected with other random events. So nature and nurture still dominate choice, but choice can sometimes checkmate.

    The problems I see with the second option are that any random number can make sense within some system. In physics any random event can make sense and seems like it can be caused by some other event. In psychiatry any person can be forced to make a choice, and they can be manipulated into making it a particular way.

    The second option has this going for it that the universe appears to have random events in it, but is there any way to prove that they are random?
     
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  13. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Think & Care
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    I would say an event is random if there is no way to predict the outcome of that specific event given previous events.

    I am more than willing to have the *probabilities* and *averages* be predictable. Hence, a coin flip *could* be random.

    If it is simply very difficult to predict, but possible, I would consider it chaotic rather than random. Either way could have predictable averages, though.
     
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  14. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Think & Care
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    I disagree with your characterization of quantum randomness. As far as we can tell, it is truly random by your usage: there is literally no way to predict quantum results given previous events. It doesn't appear to be simply a matter of ignorance, as shown by things like the violation of Bell's inequalities.
     
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  15. Bob the Unbeliever

    Bob the Unbeliever Well-Known Member

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    In the book, the main character kind of lost her non-belief after having experienced her travels to far and distant lands-- and back again.

    She, being something of a celebrity (post-trip) had both leisure time and funding, to dabble in Interesting Questions: She queried a very powerful computer system to look for non-random patterns in the endlessly long chain of the number Pi.

    in the book, at least, the computer found patterns, using various different BASE (i.e. base 10, base 16, etc) and the pattern was always a BMP picture of a circle.

    BMP is a photographic format that is not compressed, and it is therefore possible to figure out what the picture is from the string of numbers, using logic (and perhaps a bit of trial-and-error not unlike assembling a jigsaw puzzle).

    In the book Sagan (the author) expressed this "easter egg", (c.f. video gaming) as a kind of Cosmic Joke from the Creator of the Universe-- at least the main character did.

    Many critics of the book found that ironic, that Sagan being an out-and-out atheist in a time where such things were Dangerous to one's livelihood, would write such a thing in his novel.

    Me? I saw it as a kind of message to theists: THIS would be one possible piece of evidence in support of Deism. In direct contrast to bronze age books purporting to be "evidence".

    I rather liked the whole thing myself, and I agree with Sagan: it would take such a piece of Evidence to be realistically convincing that the universe had at least a nominal "designer".
     
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  16. Skwim

    Skwim Veteran Member

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    So, if we're unable to predict the outcome of a specific event given previous events, which would make it random, would it loose its randomness if we were later able to predict the exact same event?

    .

    .
     
  17. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Think & Care
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    Well, the distinction I make between chaotic and random is that randomness *cannot* be predicted, even in theory, while chaos could be given enough information. Turbulence is chaotic. Quantum events appear to be random.
     
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  18. Bob the Unbeliever

    Bob the Unbeliever Well-Known Member

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    One thing I like to point out, in discussions of Randomness? (a bit of a digression) Is the difference between reality/math random numbers, and computer random numbers.

    In math/reality/physics, random events seem quite possible, and indeed it's quite possible to generate "high quality" (i.e. non-predictable repeatability) random numbers using various aspects of reality itself.

    Two of my favorites are the number of miliseconds between the decay events of a sample of radioactive material, and the exact frequency and timing of a detector being struck by a cosmic ray. Both of these seem to be very high quality random events. A third is the audio frequency at any given milisecond, of the FM radio frequency, between stations-- that hiss you hear is simply randomized audio frequencies. Pretty high quality too.

    Those are in contrast to Computers: which are *terrible* at generating random numbers.

    You'd think computers would be very good at it, but in fact, they are not; and indeed, not being good at generating random number strings is kind of why they work so well in the first place. If you had to worry about the information contained in any given memory cell, being a random value? The usefulness of said cell is ... less than optimum. :)

    Of course, there are many ways to trick a computer, into generating seemingly random values-- the most common, is used in modern Encryption Schemes: use a complex mathematical equation, with a pair of seed values. The public encryption key method uses exactly this. The numerical result of solving the equation will always be the same, provided you use the same two key values. Using any other keys? Generates values that do not match the original information-- and thus would be "random" (but not really random... just not meaningful).

    I do find it ironic that people often refer to computers as being good sources of randomness-- and accidentally, they can be (when something goes terribly wrong). But the great majority of the time? They are the opposite of random. Which is a good thing.

    :)

    I learned about such things, due to long careers and long college study, with computing machines. I've always been fascinated by these infernal contraptions. Digital computers are so engineered as to limit or eliminate random events to the best the engineer is capable of. One of the values of using Digital? Is that the data is discrete packets of meaning: Is it a One or a Zero? All other values are safely ignored as irrelevant. VERY useful trait.

    In contrast to an Analog Computer-- yes, there are such things, and it's quite possible to build an analog computer, as opposed to our preferred digital design.

    The principle problem with analog devices? Is best illustrated with the old analog cassette tapes, containing audio information. Being analog, both noise (random non-information) and content (music) are of the same type: Analog signal imposed on a strip of rust, which is glued to a strip of polyester or mylar plastic. It's absolutely time-dependent too, for precise retrieval of the useful information. Users of these things, quickly learned about HISS-- unwanted, non-information content that interfered with enjoyment of the useful information (music). So. How does a machine differentiate between HISS and MUSIC on a purely analog media? Answer: it can't. Not very well. :)
     
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  19. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Think & Care
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    Properly speaking, the 'random numbers' generated by computers are called 'pseudo-random' for exactly this reason. It is very, very difficult to produce high quality pseudo-random numbers. Most fail badly with simple statistical tests.
     
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  20. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Think & Care
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    I am old enough to have had a debate with a friend on whether analog or digital computers would be more useful.....the answer was probably already there when I had that discussion, but I didn't know it.
     
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