Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Random Numbers

OK, I've finally discovered something that I absolutely cannot do. I lack the native skills. It's simply not in me to do it. Sigh...

"What is it", you ask.

Here goes.

I can never think of a random number.

I just can't do it.

Someone asks me to think of one,  I blurt one out and before they've jotted it down, I think, "Damn, that's not random. I know why I said 169."

I'm not one to think that things are impossible. In fact, there's very little that I would ever consider to be impossible. Nonetheless, I'm pretty darn sure that coming up with a random number may in fact be impossible.

To be clear, I'm not talking about an impossibility of convenience,  you know, what you hear when you ask you accountant or IT person for a Mac rather than a PC. Nope, I'm talking high-grade impossibility like anti-gravity or inter-dimensional travel or creative bureaucrats. In fact, those impossibilities pale when compared to my coming up with a random number.

Sure, I could be completely wrong. I'd welcome insight and correction.

OK, I'm not really open to random insight or correction (so to speak), but I'd like to hear some well-reasoned insight and/or correction. I'd love for someone to explain to me how (outside of quantum effect) randomness exists, period. I hesitate to use the word "quantum" because it's been absconded with by the new-age, crop-circle folks, but nonetheless, from a physics perspective, quantum effect is the only thing that appears to be random (heavy emphasis on 'appears').

Outside of quantum physics, I don't know of anything in science that supports the existence of randomness, let alone my ability to come up with a random number. Everything is deterministic. Roll the universe back to the beginning, or for that matter, to last week, start it up again, and it will play out exactly the same way. Every atom will do what it previously did. Every action taken will be repeated. Every causal relationship will play out as it had before, even the North American butterfly flapping up a tropical storm in South America.

All science points to determinism, i.e., there is no randomness.

The absence of randomness means that absolutely everything that happens is predictable. Granted, collecting all the necessary data, analyzing it and predicting exactly what will happen is a tad bit harder than knowing that everything is predictable, but being able to predict something is only tangentially related to its being predictable. It's not unlike Archimedes' lever, fulcrum and a place to stand.

Hey, wait a minute. You know what this means?

You can't think of a random number either. Every "random" thing you do was preceded by a series of events that led to it. All those events influenced your thinking. Were you to replay them and consider the influence of each, you'd be able to see how you got to what you'd previously thought to be random thought or action.

So what?

Good question.

I guess I just randomly thought of this and...

No, seriously folks, the "so what" is that everything we do can be understood and explained; there is nothing that we "just do". Even the most bizarre and "random" behavior can be understood in terms of precedents and motivations. In some cases, you may have to pay closer attention than in others; in some cases, you may need a place to stand that's far enough away to see everything. Nonetheless, there's nothing about ourselves that can't be understood; it seems that way.

Let me amend my original thesis to: I can never come up with a random thought nor can I ever take a random action. Therefore, there's nothing about me that I can't understand.

Happy Tuesday,


  1. Tef*--

    I agree with you that we can explain anything about ourselves to ourselves, though as I type this, I'm thinking the determinism lies partly in recognition of a past logical progression and partly (perhaps principally) in our present desire to create order and meaning through subjective selection and interpretation of the data of our lives.

    The filter is everything. (Yes, but your present choice of this particular filter can be deterministically explained!)

    What does the deterministic model do to choice? (I don't have a particular investment in arguing for choice, by the way.)

    It seems that the next step would be instead of "Happiness is a Choice" it would be more accurate to say "Happiness is the next logical determined step in your evolution based on all the actions and influences leading up to it."

    Which would make the journey to happiness less of intentional journey and more of an unfolding, an education, water flowing in the direction that its internal gravity and physics direct it.

    Hmmmmm, he said. Points to ponder, if his conditioning so determines.***

    Kristoof :-)

    *I call you "Tef" in part because it is evocative to me of "Toof," one of my chosen I mean determined nicknames for myself and so it's a way of creating connection and solidarity with you. And with myself, by bolstering my own identity with the associations of the things that I admire about you.**

    **So, everytime I call you Tef, I'm at least in part masturbating. Which, again, I don't have a problem with. Oh wait, I just realized that I started calling you Tef before I started calling myself Toof. Same principle, I guess, just different arrangement of the links.

    ***A slightly inelegant dismount from a conversation that his conditioning leads him to believe that he doesn't have any more time for today. :-)

  2. It's interesting to me in looking back that I made this about determinism vs. choice (a debate that goes back to college for me), while you posed the question in terms of determinism vs. randomness. Hmmm, he said again. We answer the questions we care about, not necessarily the ones that are asked of us. (At least, I apparently do.)

    BTW, the masturbation reference is just my somewhat crude metaphor for stimulating oneself in some way to feel good. I estimate that, in approximately 99% of human interactions, we're all masturbating in front of mirrors. An endless series of chosen figurative mirrors (including the people around us) on which we project or see reflected our concerns/insecurities and respond in a way to help us feel better about ourselves. Tickling might work, too. If you're into tickling.

  3. Toof, I so enjoyed reading and rereading and then inviting Iris to read and reread your comments. What fun!

    Where to start?

    OK, here goes.

    I would guess that the first trigger was "free will". Over the years, I've noticed that scientists will argue that the universe is deterministic until confronted with the implications regarding free will, i.e., then there ain't none. It turns out, that determinism is a strong argument for the existence of god, or at least a good proxy when speaking with the anti-creationist scientist.

    Why? Because no self-respecting scientist would ever see herself as the result of all the events that preceded her, at least, not in practice. Nope, scientist (specially academics) tend to have a strong (yet scientifically unfounded) belief in their free will.

    So, when confronted with the juxtaposition of a deterministic universe and a belief in free will, they're left with but one choice. If there is such a thing as free will, it must originate outside the physical universe.

    Let me know if that makes sense or not, and why.

    Perhaps there's an inverse determinism or redrum that explains the Tef-to-Toof/Toof-to-Tef association. I'm sure whatever it is, it's beyond me. Hmm...

    Regarding intellectual masturbation: 1) I believe I understand your reference, and 2) I believe you may be projecting (in this case, onto all humanity).

    Masturbation is singularly beneficial. That doesn't mean that anything that benefits self is masturbatory.

    In fact, it's not about actual benefit; it's about intended benefit. I believe that people often do what they do with the intent of benefitting others, even if they receive no acknowledgment for the benefit they've provided.

    Sure, even without acknowledgment, one can draw satisfaction from having benefited others, but that doesn't make the activity masturbatory.

    As I think about it, the transition from an actual person to masturbating in the mirror is probably more accurately described as sociopathy, than just masturbating. Though, to the sociopath, it would be masturbatory, which is kind of the point of sociopathy. As I think about it...

    Anyway (as you pointed out), I was just thinking about the implications of nothing being random. It would be really hard for me to see what you wrote as anything but inspiring and useful.


  4. Teef--

    Sorry I had to hit and run. I appreciate (as always) the thoughtfulness (as always) of your reply. I'm about out of steam for today, but here's a couple of reflections.

    I see yer point re: how God gets pulled out of a hat when determinism crashes into free will. Well put.

    I reckon I overstated the masturbation case for effect. Maybe the word I was going for was narcissism (or narcissisming), though masturbation sounds so much more, um, provocative. (And Dude. Singularly beneficial? You need to expand your repertoire.)

    I am probably projecting to some degree, and I am probably at least a mild sociopath, but I also think I probably have plenty of company. That's based partly on my own experience with myself and partly on helping folks to disentangle the threads of their motivations in dialogues.

    There's always The Observer, what one of my college philosophy professors called "lateral self-presence." And I thnk The Observer has a pretty steady gig in PR management, though some of us throw a lot more work his or her way. Mine certainly isn't starving. :-)

    But, to the extent that I can--and I think it is possible--in my obsessively self-involved way, know that I love and appreciate you.*


    *Cool. I like the way that came out. I sound like a nice guy.

  5. Dear Kris-toof/tof,
    I would love to learn more about this here Observer; sounds awfully fascinating. Would you please elaborate sometime, when your conditioning allows :-)?

    1. Sho nuff. Though my instinct for self-preservation tells me it's time to get my Observer's ass to work right now. :-)

  6. Thinking about it again this AM, narcissism doesn't land right with me either. There's a negative valence to that word. I lump this in with self-regard and self-care. We're always trying to take care of (benefit) ourselves in some way, even when we're caring for (intending to benefit) others.

    On the other hand, maybe I find that because I look for it.

    Still, I don't usually judge it. For me, it's just part of the dynamic that makes up the cute complex packages we are. And we are awfully darn cute.

  7. As I observed myself observing myself, I thought, "Wait, who's the observer's observer."

    ToofooT, There are ultimately two kinds of bullshit, the blatantly untrue, and the absolutely true, but irrelevant.

    The notion that we do anything (even the most self-sacrificing things) for ourselves is pretty much matter of fact and I think, an instance of the latter. You can always trace action back to a motivation, and although it may be multifaceted, every motivation provides some direct or indirect benefit to the actor. Expos-facto-illugiamo: Every action is narcissistic.

    That would be a "true, but so what".

    Still there's something about being narcissistic or not that can nag at us. I think the answer lies in proportion. Although it may be hard to trace, anything I do benefits me somehow. That's a given. The question is, how much does it benefit others in proportion to how much it benefits me.

    Of course the narcissist could accidentally provide disproportional benefit to others and still be a narcissist. So we could dig into intent, but maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe all that matters is outcome, not motivation?

  8. Chris, as Iris drifts of to post-whatever slumber, I find myself drawn to my keyboard. I realize that, over the past couple of days, I've been so interested in the thread of our digital conversation that I've neglected some of the more significant (at least to me) things you've said.

    In particular, I was deeply touched by your almost footnote: "But, to the extent that I can--and I think it is possible--in my obsessively self-involved way, know that I love and appreciate you."

    In my enthusiasm for topic, I totally failed to say how touched I was by your afterthought.

    Further, as a side-effect of my somewhat blinded pursuit of conversational thread, I failed to point out that the very fact of your being concerned about being a sociopath pretty much takes you out of the running for sociopathy. (Check out the "This American Life" episode on the "sociopath test".

    All that ineffectively said, let me get to the point.
    1. You not only masquerade as a nice guy, you are one.
    2. Despite your desire and beliefs, you'd no sooner be a sociopath than I'd think of a random number.
    3. So, hot shot, what're you going to do?
    4. So, hot shot, what're you going to do?
    PS, the Keanaue references are only somewhat arbitrary.

  9. Thanks, Pal. :-)

    Much to say here. I had a really cool time processing your previous post. I'll talk to you about it sometime, preferably over Scotch. Alas, I've got an early call tomorrow.

    Just think about the territory we covered: we ranged from randomness to determinism to free will to the existence of God to the complex and multi-faceted motivations for loving action to the divisions of the psyche to gesturing toward a framework for assessing which activities are worthwhile and which are not. Frankly, I'm exhausted.

    In response to your points:

    1. I suppose I could be somewhat guilty of that. I'll try to reform.
    2. Can't you at least let me be a *mild* sociopath? I can be other stuff, too.
    3. I'm going to send you a monster virtual hug (a proxy until I can deliver the next one in person).
    4. I'm going to snuggle into my comfy warm bed next to my snoozy snorey pit bull, fall asleep with a smile, and catch a dream or two.

    PS: Dude. Most Excellent.


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