I am learning about computer programming at the moment and I was reading about how to write a computer function that will select a random number – this made me wonder how the hell could a computer (which can only take instructions and precisely carry them out and cannot be spontaneous) generate a random number. So I googled it. And apparently they can sort of, but they really can’t. They can just obfuscate the means of arriving at the number and generate a sequence of numbers that seems random to an outside observer.

How it works is that if you want a computer to pick a random number between 1 and 9, you make a program that tells the computer to take either a changing lumber or numerical sequence and plugs it into a calculation which then spits out a number and the program selects say the 10th number in the result as it’s “random” number. But it’s not random, it just seems random to the person who can’t see inside the guts of the computer. Another way to do it is to use something in nature like say tell the computer to download the magnitudes of all the earthquakes in the last six hours and use that string of numbers as a component of an equation that spits out a sequence of numbers which is converted into a “random” number. But that’s not random either, earthquakes are deterministic, we just don’t have the ability to quantify the necessary data to predict them so they seem random.

So randomness it seems is an illusion created by ignorance and our subjective point of view. All “random” really means is that we lack the ability to predict it. The weather used to be “random”, now we have the five day forecast. The word chaos itself comes from the ancient concept of the essence that gave birth to the universe. How ironic that after thousands of years we now have “chaos theory” that attempts to explain the most basic properties of the world.

We talk about order and disorder, but a bomb blast is extremely orderly – every microscopic event is occurring like clockwork in a very logical fashion, like pool balls bouncing off each other. We only call it chaos because we can’t control it or quantify the events that make it up, and it happens too fast for us to perceive in detail. Chaos, randomness, disorder, etc, are more of those words that say more about us than the things we use them to describe.

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Random means that the result of an activity can’t be expressed as a mathematical function.That means the result is objectively unpredictable.Brownian motion is random. Much of what happens in weather is random. That is why weather forecasting is problematic.The computer program that generates random numbers uses mathematical functions true. But it does so in a way that makes the results unpredictable.If computer program could predict the results of a random number generating algorithm, then that would be proof that the random number generating program were not random.Chaos theory is not about randomness since chaotic phenomenon can be expressed mathematically.

The question I ponder is, is anything truely random, or if we were able to take into consideration every force, mass, action and reaction would we be able to predict the outcome of every sequence of events. Even the most random appearing things might fit into a mathmatical formula if we were able to study it complete enough and plug in all the elements to the equation. we merely need to uncover the equation.You weather example is a good one for demonstrating this. The more information we are able to plug into the forecast the more accurate the prediction.Many changing security codes use a function of complex numbers to generate a seemingly random code, but as you pointed out, the number is truly only unpredictable to us because we are incapable of computing the process in our heads.I prefer the term seemingly random.

@ImNotUglyIJustNeedLove – The point is that it is not in principle un-predictable, we just lack the ability to do so. Weather is deterministic, it happens according to fixed properties. We just lack the ability to perceive the trillions of variables required to predict it with any precision. That doesn’t mean we won’t be able to someday and that in principle it isn’t possible.

@agnophilo – There are things in nature that are truly random. Quantum mechanics, one of the most mathematical sciences around can only define the location of an electron as a probability.That isn’t through ignorance. It’s just the nature of the beast.The same with weather. Randomness is a fundamental property of weather.

@ImNotUglyIJustNeedLove – Yes, because we have a perfect and complete understanding of quantum mechanics.

@agnophilo – Here’s another example of random: meteors striking a planet or moon.Astronomers used that type of randomness as solid evidence to determine that Venus has or had some heavy duty geological activity going on that totally reshapes its surface periodically.

@agnophilo – Perfect and complete are only criteria for neurotics and crazy people. The rest of us deal with the world the way it is especially when it comes to science.

@ImNotUglyIJustNeedLove – Again, that is only “random” in that we lack the data necessary to predict it. If we could quantify every supernova that had occurred since the dawn of time and the configuration of every gas cloud and billions of years of interactions of interstellar matter we could see the causal chain that results in every meteor impact. Do you get what I’m saying?@ImNotUglyIJustNeedLove – What are you saying?

@agnophilo – In other words, if we were God and understood everything then things wouldn’t be random.But we are not God. Science deals with what is possible, practical and reasonable for sentient, finite creatures like man.

@ImNotUglyIJustNeedLove – And I’m saying things like the weather are (theoretically) not random, but that we simply lack the perception/cognition to predict them. This is evidenced by the fact that as we invent things like doppler radar we can predict them more precisely and accurately.

@agnophilo – Weather is caused by heat. Heat causes atoms and molecules to vibrate. Vibration is random.Therefore the very basis of weather is the random vibration of atoms and molecules.

@ImNotUglyIJustNeedLove – If it were that simplistic there would be no weather forecasting at all. Weather is caused more by how heat and moisture are distributed by wind and ocean currents.

@agnophilo – There is nothing simple about the weather. What is simple is understanding the randomness inherent in it.The random vibration of atoms and molecules caused by heating becomes subject to the thermodynamics of water and gas which possess non-random properties.All of that makes predicting the weather, one big mess.