“Randomness means lack of pattern or predictability in events. Randomness suggests a non-order or non-coherence in a sequence of symbols or steps, such that there is no intelligible pattern or combination.”
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
Quick, pick a number between 0 and 100. Most of you probably picked an integer, and if I’d had to guess it was something like 3, 7, 17, 47, or similar “random sounding” numbers. Few of you have probably picked ten, twenty, thirty, etc. (or fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five, and so on for that matter). Very few of you have probably picked Zero or one hundred. You don’t have to be ashamed. Humans suck at coming up with random numbers.
Why the random subject? Well, today is the hundredth day of my travels. Like the numbers discussed above, it is a day like any other. Yet we ascribe meaning to numbers, and we ascribe meaning to special days as well. So let me celebrate this day by sharing 100 – rather random – pictures with you. One hundred days – seen through my eyes.
Getting ready for wild growth.
Goodbye house, goodbye family.
My last possessions.
Enjoying a last evening with friends.
Either looking something up or playing Ingress.
Visiting friends on the way.
Thank you guys for taking care of me in the first (very very rainy) night!.
My parking spot.
People from teh interwebz!
The end of the tunnel.
This guy knows how to party!
Convenience store in Sáp, Hungary.
Thanks for the fire, Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Architecture in Budapest.
A random shop in Budapest.
Fighting holocaust denial.
The lovely Eurovelo 6 sign.
Sharing a meal.
Die mosquito die!
Visiting new places with new friends.
My hotel room.
“Müsli” aka the stuff they pick up on the ground of the biscuit factory and put in a box.
Just a regular shop in Bulgaria.
Bulgarian welcome sign.
Visiting a market.
Dipping my toes in the Black Sea.
Der hat ‘nen diggen Säck!
Quadruple bypass incoming!
Best Leggings I have seen up to now.
Caressing a cat.
Confined and oppressed.
Someone tell me what the sign in the top-right corner says, please!
I only took this picture to show it to Michi. Sorry Michi.
Waiting for the airport shuttle.
Back home for a few days.
“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”
With friends again, saying goodbye once more.
The last supper.
A fellow traveler.
Having breakfast, waiting for the minibus.
Full throttle to Railay Beach.
Favourite mode of transport.
One of the best climbers in Tonsai.
Destruction. Thank you big-resort-to-come.
Why is there a doll behind the counter?
Aww so cute!
“Drübermänteln” oder so ähnlich.
Monkey doing monkey things.
Best restaurant in Tonsai.
Sunburn! (Sorry Tristan I had to.)
Hail to the king, baby!
Ain’t nothing but mammals!
Never bring your new white shirt to the Lagoon. Never bring any shirt to the lagoon for that matter.
Chill Out Bar.
Life finds a way.
We Are Legion.
Looking and reading.
Enjoying the sunset.
You probably scanned through the pictures really quickly, to see what is at the end of this post. And I can’t blame you. One hundred pictures is way too much for a single post.
Anyway, after this visual bombardment let me talk about randomness for a little bit. What follows is a (random?) brain dump about randomness. Bear with me.
“Perhaps randomness is not merely an adequate description for complex causes that we cannot specify. Perhaps the world really works this way, and many events are uncaused in any conventional sense of the word.”
Stephen Jay Gould
First things first: What is randomness? This simple question is surprisingly hard to answer. I have read (or heard) a fitting quote some time ago. Unfortunately I can not find it anymore, but it went something like this: A random number is a number whose shortest representation is the number itself. Or, to put it differently: if you can write a program that is shorter than the number which generates the number, the number is not truly random. So are the digits of pi truly random? After all anyone could write a small program that generates pi, given infinite runtime.
“Any one who considers arithmetical methods of producing random digits is, of course, in a state of sin.”
John von Neumann
You can generate pi quite easily. In theory, that is. In practice you would probably have to stop somewhere after 100 quinvigintillion digits. It’s a shame, really, that practice always differs from theory. In practice you can’t write most numbers. I guess I have to stop now, before my math friends come and kill me.
Speaking of mathematics: it is peculiar that randomness can not be generated mathematically, or as Brian Hayes puts it:
“The fact that randomness requires a physical rather than a mathematical source is noted by almost everyone who writes on the subject, and yet the oddity of this situation is not much remarked.”
Very odd indeed. We can’t even define randomness in the first place. Yet we rely on randomness for every secure transaction on the internet. Computers suck at generating random numbers as well. And to make matters worse, “security” agencies such as the NSA are implanting backdoors in “random” number generators to break encryption. Don’t worry, this will not be a rant about government agencies and surveillance. Back to randomness.
“Random numbers should not be generated with a method chosen at random.”
What is randomness? As stated at the very top of this post, “randomness means lack of pattern or predictability in events.” So what, then, is truly random? According to Newtonian physics, nothing is. Everything works like clockwork. All future events can be predicted by examining the present state of the universe. Total determinism. (You might raise the valid objection that we will never be able to measure the exact state of a system, since there are just too many things to measure – the whole universe! Granted, but what fun are thought experiments and philosophy if you stick to the physical realm? In any case, it turns out that as soon as you leave Newtonian physics behind it is even worse than that.)
Well, Newton is long dead, and we are left with the heroes of quantum mechanics. Some dead, some alive. (I hope at least one of you get’s this amazingly funny pun). As you can see by scanning the Schrödinger’s Cat article, quantum physics is very weird. This weirdness is fascinating in its own right, and if your brain is not about to explode already, check out any one of these experiments (the first one you can do at home using a laser-pointer and sunglasses): double-slit, quantum eraser, and to top it off the delayed choice quantum eraser.
What to make of all this? Why am I talking about quantum mechanics and not randomness? Well, you see, everything in this world is connected – from the very small to the very big. (Don’t worry, I will not go into astronomy either.) Quantum physics. Randomness. Same same but different. (I’m so sorry, but I had to.)
It turns out that, at least according to some interpretations of quantum mechanics, many quantum events are truly objectively random (radioactive decay, for example). The underlying events of this world are random, or at least indeterministic. We live in a probabilistic universe. Those are all big words. But just take two dice and have a couple of rolls. You can not predict what you will roll each time, yet if you do it often enough you will roll 7 more often than 2 or 12.
Mathematics, computer science, quantum physics, philosophy. Where am I going with this? I don’t know, to be honest. I told you that this will be a random brain dump about randomness. Or as one of the greatest personalities in Starcraft once said: “It is what it is.”
The real reason I care about all this is a metaphysical one. If physical determinism is true, I was bound to write this sentence from the very beginning of the universe (shut up you nasty compatibilists). If physical determinism is false, there might be some wiggle room. Emphasis on might. The question of free will is a tricky one, and I will leave it at that. Plenty of people have written about the subject, and I don’t intend to expand the literature. That said, the debate on free will vs. determinism is still ongoing and sometimes keeps me up at night. After all, if determinism is true, what is the meaning of our clockwork lives?
“Even if life as a whole is meaningless, perhaps that’s nothing to worry about. Perhaps we can recognise it and just go on as before.”
We like to think that we are in control of our actions, and in consequence of our lives. I like to think that too; it is a very comforting thought. While comforting, it might be wrong after all. Most of the things we do, including actions like moving a hand or a finger, we do unconsciously. Our conscious awareness of it comes later.
I have the feeling that the same is true for our thoughts. Try to think of something – anything – consciously. I bet you can’t; at least I can’t. I have to let my thoughts rush by and pick one. I can not summon a thought out of thin air. Where and why do thoughts originate in the first place? Are we even able to have random thoughts, thoughts without cause? What about our actions?
“We must believe in free will – we have no choice.”
Isaac Bashevis Singer
In the end it might boil down to this one simple question: What is randomness?