Yesterday’s entry leads nicely to the whole problem of randomness. I would like to challenge everyone to carefully consider what it is that we call “random”.

I think that “random” is just a mental box, where we put everything that we cannot explain because the chain of causes and effects is either too complex or to remote in terms of time. This box is sometimes also labeled “god’s will” or “gods’ will”. However, this label is less popular now in our secular, modern and presumably rational society. We prefer “science” as our universal source of answers and thus “random”. This has this advantage over “god’s will” that it can be measured and analyzed. Hence the probability theory and statistics which are great at describing and analyzing the events, but which don’t explain anything by themselves. So, for example we can say that a given percentage of smokers would die of cancer. Or that a given percentage of buildings in a given area collapses each year. This doesn’t explain at all why this particular given building collapsed or this particular person developed a tumor. So, we say it was… well… just random.

This is totally contrary to the whole basis of scientific discovery and in fact our approach to almost everything in life. In this we rely on cause and effect. In other words, we assume that if we discover what causes a given effect we can repeat that cause to get it or avoid creating causes of effects we don’t want. So for example we assume that if we plant corn seeds we will get corn, not, say, prunes. And we assume that if we give up smoking we increase our life expectancy. We also assume that if we mix some wheat, water and other stuff and bake it in the oven for an hour we will get bread – each and every time we do so. And there is no chance that, say, a personal computer would come out of the oven.

But if everything would be just random then we couldn’t do nothing about it. If, for example, buildings would collapse at random (as they seemed to before structural engineering was invented) we could do nothing to prevent it. And we couldn’t be sure at all what would come out of the oven. We could just hope it is not a swarm of killer bees this time. We would be effectively paralyzed because no action could be expected to yield a predictable result.

It is amazing how we can continue with our lives and everything our civilization created and still mumble about things being random. It is amazing how bright and educated people can ferociously renounce the idea of all things having causes and gleefully continue to arbitrarily put events they can’t explain in the “random” box.

Now, as I wrote above this box has sometimes a different label on it. The “god’s will” has the advantage that it explains why given event took place… sort of. And you can do something about it – you can pray to god (or gods) to change his mind. Or to turn his mind in favor of your wishes. Or against your foes.

But this concept leads to other problems. But that’s a different story.