Randomness and unpredictability

I’ve been reflecting recently on the concept of “randomness” and how it differs from “unpredictability”.  We apply these terms rather loosely to a lot of things, from lotteries to stock markets to ballgame scores.  All these are unpredictable, meaning we cannot know the outcome in advance, but are they truly random?

A lottery appears for all practical purposes to be truly random–at least, as random as human ingenuity can contrive.  Stock markets may appear to behave at random, yet we know that this is an illusion: in reality the prices are determined by the actions of many competing participants.  This is also true of a ball game, yet we do not consider its final score to be random: we know it’s the result of human inputs, and can see the processes leading to it in action.

When we consider a process (something that develops over time, like a sequence of numbers, or a series of coin tosses) we naturally look for patterns.  We cannot help doing this, it’s the way our brains are designed to work (as well as being a very useful survival skill).  If we spot a pattern, then we can use it to predict the process.  But what if we can’t spot one?  Is it because no pattern exists, or just that we haven’t found it?  Consider the sequence of digits 2, 6, 4, 5, 7, 5, 1, 3, 1, 1, 0, 6, 4, 5, 9, … .  It may look random, but once we recognize it as the square root of 7 then we know how to predict it–and, of course, we know that it is not random.

This highlights the difference between randomness and unpredictability: unpredictable events follow no discernible pattern, but truly random ones follow no pattern at all.

Can a process ever be truly random? The people that run the lottery hope that no-one will ever discover if there is a pattern underlying the numbers they draw.  (Or at least that if one is ever discovered, it will be too complicated to permit predictions.  Otherwise, they would very rapidly be out of business.)

Likewise, the theory of Quantum Mechanics is based on the assumption that subatomic processes are truly random.  But what if there is an underlying pattern, but it’s just too complicated to calculate in practice?  That wouldn’t invalidate the theory, it would just change our interpretation of it.  And that is what PQR Theory asserts: nothing that happens in our Universe is truly random, even though for all practical purposes we may assume it to be.  We may discover the formula that guides our destiny, but we will never be able to predict it.

In the words of the old song: “Que sera, sera: whatever will be, will be.”  But the future’s not ours to see.


11 Responses to Randomness and unpredictability

  1. ed van der meulen says:

    The Universe had a single point of origin, associated with the number 1.

    However in one single point do you mean that NICK

    physically can nothing exist in a single point

  2. When your single point is the whole Universe then EVERYTHING exists in it. Of course, the Universe has subdivided since then and now has many, many points. So many in fact, that it looks like a continuum, but it is not one.

  3. ed van der meulen says:

    However a point gives a total equal universe in all directions

    • Yes, the model I’m working on (the Four-D Froth) is symmetric, although not uniform. The point generates a tetrahedron (i.e. 4 points) which subsequently generate more and more points. But the resulting space defined by these points has the same 24-way symmetry as a tetrahedron. This gives rise to the interesting concept, that there could be 24 copies of me in the Universe: twelve of them left-handed and twelve of them right-handed. Of course, you could say that all these copies are mathematically equivalent and the Universe is really just a slice of a tetrahedron bounded by mirrors on all 4 sides. It comes down to the same thing.

  4. ed van der meulen says:

    How can a single point generate a tetrahedron? Can you explain me that? In physical terms?

    • It’s hard to explain in physical terms since there really is no concept of “space” at the start of the model. The best way I can put it is that the single point is in four “places” at once; if you consider these “places” to be the four corners of a tetrahedron, you can then use them to define (“span”) a three-dimensional space. You could also imagine the point to be in only two or three “places” at once, that would give you a one- or two-dimensional model. I don’t like to think about models with more than three dimensions: it’s hard enough to work with three, and the philosophical implications are unnerving. (Since the one-dimensional model is embedded in the two-dimensional model which is embedded in the three-dimensional model, it would imply that our Universe is embedded in higher dimensional spaces, whose inhabitants would look on us as toons.)

  5. ed van der meulen says:

    And this one;
    Heisenburg uncertainty is to cobine with mathematics

  6. Yes, in PQR theory Heisenberg uncertainty arises for two mathematical reasons: (1) Because spacetime is not continuous, but exists as discrete “bubbles,” and (2) Because although there is a definite formula for everything, it is too complex for us to calculate.

  7. ed van der meulen says:

    a mathematical formula?

  8. ed van der meulen says:

    I discrete mathematics

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