Judging A Random Garbage Of Names

You will start reading this blog, is that your conscious decision?

Blog about randomness, chaos, determinism, and free will!

Yesterday, I decided to show an old blog of Technothlon to my friend and asked him to edit it. In one of the paragraphs, he removed the semicolon; it looks like he got two consecutive sentences. Gotta obey the laws of ‘the court of grammar’(well forgive my lame attempt at a joke). Anyways, that was too random of an anecdote to tell. But what really is random?

Of course, first, we will have to know what ‘random’ means, according to the definition being random means ‘in the state of being unpredictable and lacking patterns.’ But how can we decide if something has a pattern or not? Let us consider an example: the distribution of stars in the night sky is pretty random yet we have found patterns in those, say in the form of constellations. Now let’s say Bellatrix (one of the stars in the Orion constellation) was hidden behind a thin layer of a cloud or he/she simply missed it. Does this mean that pattern never existed in the star-filled sky we are observing and is completely random? Or are we not observing them enough?

Usually, we tend to think that it is easy to spot if something is random but let’s consider this case. You may have read or heard about the Infinite Monkey Theorem, which says that if you let a monkey hit random keys on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time, it will almost surely type any given text you can think of, even the set of Harry Potter books or complete works of Shakespeare. If you observe enough it is easier to identify that something might not be random than it is to say it is random. Think of it, why would we write huge algorithms to find the value of Pi(π) to its quadrillionth place if we knew it was not random and some logical pattern exists to explain it?

Photo by Edge2Edge Media on Unsplash

Anything which is not random can be compressed into a smaller, more compact form. For example, however random it may seem, a scrambled Rubix cube has its information compressed by stating the algorithm to solve it. After performing those algorithms, the solved cube has an order to itself or the language we communicate in is not random because it can be compressed! Let’s take an example — “u cn rd ths txt! gd jb!” These letters don’t form any word but you could still read/decipher them and that is because a language has patterns and those patterns are embedded in your mind subconsciously. Hence it’s not random.

Everyday life doesn’t seem that random though, or does it? Some things are predictable and we know they will happen. For example, the gravitational attraction between two bodies won’t change, or that you will still feel cold if you take a shower in icy water on these chilled winter mornings. Now we are so sure about this because of course common sense but at the fundamental level, we know that everything in this universe is made up of 24 fundamental particles that interact in 4 predictable ways, and hence we are certain about certain things (blame English if you read that part again).

Subsequently, let us consider a box filled with randomly moving Hydrogen atoms; if left long enough there for long enough there is a chance that the atoms would momentarily align themselves such that they form a portrait of your face in the 3D space or this blog. But what are the odds of this happening, infinitely close to zero? So can we still consider the system to not be random?

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Plausible explanation can be found by studying something termed as Chaos theory. A popular multidisciplinary concept of mathematics, statistics, and mechanics is the study of random and unpredictable things governed by deterministic laws. You must have heard of a term coined by statistician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz which is ‘The Butterfly effect.’ In his paper “Deterministic non-periodic flow” he proposed that a mere flapping of butterfly wings in China can change the weather so dramatically that it can lead to a Hurricane in the Bay area of San Francisco after a few days. Another example of it is the double pendulum, where a very minute change to the initial condition can cause its subsequent motion to differ in a drastic way. Yet another example is the game you all know- pinball. Even though we know the ball which underlies the basic measurable principles of physics like collision and force still the final outcome is highly unpredictable. Again, a very minute difference in the system snowballs into giving an unpredictable outcome.

All three of the pendulums started from almost exact same initial position, still, you can see their subsequent motion changes drastically, chaos! (Remember, this is a simulation so no external factors like friction affect the motion of the system)

Ever heard of Laplace’s Demon? A concept of determinism (by French scholar Pierre Laplace) states that if you (the demon) know the current state of every small entity in the universe, then you can predict our future at any given time. So in this way, nothing would be unpredictable which in turn can be thought of as nothing would be random (quantum mechanics would disagree though). Imagine a truly random universe, let’s say the Universe was a box. What are the odds that when you pop open the box it consists of say stars, planets, chipmunks, the sound of your favourite music, and everything around us? But that is governed by the fundamental laws of physics you might say, but if the universe is all random, shouldn’t the laws of nature also be ‘random’?

In case you are still reading this blog, then I appreciate your decision to continue. But are your decisions yours or are they mere effects of what has led till now.? Like falling dominos of your previous decisions, your subconscious mind already made a new decision that you are going to read “this.” Libet’s experiment was the first prominent study that transformed the course of thinking about free will from mere philosophy to psychology; it gave rise to a flurry of new research and analysis of the concept of free will (hover over and click to visit the embedded link).

As the quote goes, “The experience of willing an act arises from interpreting one’s thought as the cause of the act” simply put, what you feel is your sense of making choices or making decisions is just your awareness of what your subconscious mind has already decided for you. Have you ever noticed that sometimes you wake up from a sound sleep in the dead of night? So, who made this decision? You know that it wasn’t your conscious decision to face this realm by getting up. Is this true for every choice and decision? Do you just feel in control because you are aware that you took some decision? I feel we have free will over what not to choose than what to choose. The what-to-choose part is the effects of the previous domino which fell. These dominos include your childhood experiences, the music you just listened to a few days ago, or the first book you read, your mood 1346 seconds ago or, the number of goals your team scored last night… Perhaps the ‘urges’ are delivered outside our control but which urges we surrender or give in to and which ones we don’t are in our control. But again, you can argue that even your ‘veto’ power could also be something that bubbles up unconsciously before we are aware of it. The goal of a thermostat is not to preserve the thermostat of the heat pump.

Lastly, I would like to end by saying that somehow I feel the universe works intricately and harmoniously but still exhibits enough chaos to permit freedom. That chaos is what gives us the freedom and the power of our free will and hence in this ‘World of Nobody,’ we continue to live our own chaotic yet emotional and rational life.

Edit- Someone pointed this out -if you were to consider the first letter of the sentence after each line break, it would spell out “YOU ARE SPECIAL.” Now was that random? Of course not. But anyways there is no denying the fact that it’s not true :)

More questions were asked than answered. So don’t be ‘random’ (pun intended), be opposite of ran-dumb, i.e., stay smart. Keep visiting.

The Registrations have started, you can randomly visit our page at any random time.

By Team Technothlon ‘21

Technothlon is an international school championship organized by the students of IIT Guwahati. Technothlon began in 2004 with an aim to ‘Inspire Young Minds’

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store