The nature of random

Programmers know something about random number generators. For the edification of civilians, the simplest of those generators can be asked for a random number between 3 and 5, for example, and with a certain level of precision, say 5 digits, and will immediately respond with an answer like 4.28694, always randomly. The next time the number might be 3.74812. An almost unlimited number of possibilities exist. The random number generator is useful for programming most games of chance and for performing any number of other tasks, like selecting a random quotation out of a file containing thousands.

I believe in another kind of random, events generated by the vast uncaring universe that surrounds us all. That is “uncaring” in the sense of simply not being interested, like any other force of nature. Sunshine is not interested in whether or not you get a burn, a tornado is not interested in whether one home is destroyed while another is not. Both just are, without thinking or feeling much of anything.

So, when you least expect it, your left rear tire goes slowly flat. Or you find a twenty-dollar bill that you didn’t know you had. Just like the random number generator, the scale of events differs, randomly of course, so you are just about as likely to get a broken leg as a flat tire or to win big on a scratcher as finding $20. The Universal Randomness Generator (URG) is always set to provide a number between infinity and minus infinity with any possible magnitude, with all possible events to choose from, though “choose” is probably the wrong word.

This theory is pretty much the exact opposite of predestination. Instead of all events having been willed by god in advance, the universe provides each of us with random events, sometimes in serial and other times in parallel, sometimes good and sometimes bad; we simply get to react to them. It is likely that our reaction has nothing to do with what the next random event or events will be. Instead, they just keep coming, randomly.

Like the randomness of flipping a coin, sometimes we get a head, then a tail, and at other times we get a tail followed by 34 heads, or vice-versa. All the while the importance of each event is also random, from life-changing to miniscule in meaning. There is a theory that predicts that randomness in things like a coin toss, heads and tails will come out more or less even after a sufficiently large number of tosses. In URG, there is no such rule, although similar results could possibly be obtained in a life sufficiently long.

There is no need to ask why that nice Mr. Anderson died of cancer. It was random. There is no need to ask why that rotten politician got both rich and away with it. That was random, too. None of this means that we can avoid responsibility for our actions; how we respond to these random events measures us as a person. The quality of our responses to the random good and bad that enters our life will be the essence of how others remember us, which is as close as we can ever come to eternal life.

Great people are often those who respond magnificently to randomness of great magnitude. It is possible that those of us who never attain greatness were confronted only by random events of a smaller magnitude, so that greatness really is as random as it seems. We are not responsible for the events. We are just responsible for our reactions, no more, no less. We are only as good as our non-random reactions to the completely random universe.


The nature of random — 2 Comments

  1. A very nice reminder why we keep getting up right back on that horse called life every morning. Speaking of mixed metaphores, I’m going to go break some eggs.

  2. That is indeed one of the reasons. To work on yesterday’s random and to welcome today’s.

    Michael []

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