The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

Random Thoughts

September 13, 2006 | 41 Comments

Throw a hundred pennies up in the air. If when they came down they formed a perfect circle, or picture of a cat, or spelled out your name, or came up all heads, or formed a straight line of head/tail pairs, you’d be terribly surprised. If it happened every time you threw them, you’d be even more surprised. You’d suspect that a trick was being played on you, that some other mind was behind what you saw. The pennies should have landed chaotically, randomly, without forming any familiar pattern.

Of course, there is no such thing as true randomness. The pennies do come down in a perfect order, an order predicted and compelled by mathematics. They do form a pattern which, while not aesthetically satisfying, is dictated by an equation as rigid as that behind a circle. And the equation applies every single time you throw them.

Why are you not surprised by the order governing the “random” arrangement in the way you would be if the arrangement were more visually ordered as the hypotheticals described in the first paragraph? What would be your basis for concluding that the hypothetical arrangement were more “mind-like” than the “random” ones?

Comments

41 Responses to “Random Thoughts”

  1. Kate B.
    September 13th, 2006 @ 11:09 am

    You’ve been watching Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, haven’t you?

  2. Tom Gilson
    September 13th, 2006 @ 12:24 pm

    Or maybe you’ve been reading William Dembski. Apparently random events that meet an independent, complex specification surprise us. And rightly so.

  3. choobus
    September 13th, 2006 @ 12:37 pm

    what you haven’t been doing is studing quantum physics.

    There is such a thing as true randomness. It could be in the radioactive decay of a single nuclei, or in the increasingly random posts that seem to coagulate from the drool of your once interesting mind.

    RA, you have crossed the line from bullshitter to polesmoking shitsucking dadwanking goatfelching assmunching cumchugging christpunching JEETARD. And the worst part of it al is that you have dumped your sense of humour and flushed it away like it was an assful of steaming rancid shite.

  4. JUST_ANOTHER_PRIMATE
    September 13th, 2006 @ 12:41 pm

    Now I’m no mathematician (and I suspect RA isn;t one either) … but I have problems with the statment

    “They do form a pattern which, while not aesthetically satisfying, is dictated by an equation as rigid as that behind a circle.”

    There is no pattern and the event is indeed random.

    Break it down to ONE coin … will it be heads or tails when it lands? One doesn’t know — it IS a random event. Saying that it lands on heads or tails 50% of the time does not make the event non-random nor would a sequence of tosses have a PATTERN just because we know that approximately half the time the coin will land on heads.

    What seems more interesting to me here is what is the ultimate point of RA’s post? Recent events make me suspect that he is intimating at the non-randomness of the universe (or life) ……….. whoa —- and if there is structure in the universe we all know who’s responsible for that.

    I just wish RA would freaking fess up if he’s a damned convert !

  5. JUST_ANOTHER_PRIMATE
    September 13th, 2006 @ 12:57 pm

    I also wonder:

    Is RA pulling our leg on this? I guess it is kind of interesting to play devil’s advocate and posit arguments promoting theism or the existence of god to atheists and see how they react or see how valid and effective the atheist’s counterpoint might be. But, if that is the case, it is indeed getting old. Maybe it’s time for RA to report on how we’ve done … how well have we supported our viewpoints.

    On the other hand. Maybe this guy has genuinely had (or is teetering on the edge) of conversion. I wonder though … are any of our opposing arguments making any sense to him or has he fallen into the abyss to the point of not accepting any argument no matter how sensible or logical?

    I’m anxiously awaiting for a bombshell announcement in the not too distant future.

  6. Newk
    September 13th, 2006 @ 1:03 pm

    I too was wondering whether RA is just putting us on.

  7. Scrotum
    September 13th, 2006 @ 1:19 pm

    Chaos theory.

  8. "Q" the Enchanter
    September 13th, 2006 @ 1:37 pm

    Well, you effectively answered your own question. We expect a different result when we’re talking about the “ordering” effects of natural laws generally (the coins all follow in-principle predictable careers through the air, etc.) than when we’re talking about the “ordering” effects of a mechanism that arranges things in some specified way (e.g., in an “aesthetically pleasing” or otherwise functionally significant manner). Which is why, e.g., the result of tossing coins in the air tends to yield “meaningless” arrangements of coins on the ground, whereas the result of, say, a human being typing letters on a blog tends to yield “meaningful” arrangements of words, sentences and paragraphs. (I will resists the obvious joke.)

    Why do you ask?

  9. "Q" the Enchanter
    September 13th, 2006 @ 1:37 pm

    Well, you effectively answered your own question. We expect a different result when we’re talking about the “ordering” effects of natural laws generally (the coins all follow in-principle predictable careers through the air, etc.) than when we’re talking about the “ordering” effects of a mechanism that arranges things in some specified way (e.g., in an “aesthetically pleasing” or otherwise functionally significant manner). Which is why, e.g., the result of tossing coins in the air tends to yield “meaningless” arrangements of coins on the ground, whereas the result of, say, a human being typing letters on a blog tends to yield “meaningful” arrangements of words, sentences and paragraphs. (I will resists the obvious joke.)

    Why do you ask?

  10. "Q" the Enchanter
    September 13th, 2006 @ 1:37 pm

    Well, you effectively answered your own question. We expect a different result when we’re talking about the “ordering” effects of natural laws generally (the coins all follow in-principle predictable careers through the air, etc.) than when we’re talking about the “ordering” effects of a mechanism that arranges things in some specified way (e.g., in an “aesthetically pleasing” or otherwise functionally significant manner). Which is why, e.g., the result of tossing coins in the air tends to yield “meaningless” arrangements of coins on the ground, whereas the result of, say, a human being typing letters on a blog tends to yield “meaningful” arrangements of words, sentences and paragraphs. (I will resists the obvious joke.)

    Why do you ask?

  11. Dave
    September 13th, 2006 @ 2:15 pm

    Throwing money reminds me of when I was President of the Las Vegas Ministerial Association. How much could we keep and how much to give to GOD. If you had less than ten years preaching, you kept all that stook up above the collection plate. Over ten years service, you draw a line in you office, throw up all the money and keep all that fell on your side. After twenty years, we true believers, would throw all the collection high in the air. All GOD wanted, HE would take. All that came back from heaven we always kept. Praise the “manna” from heaven.

  12. hagiograph
    September 13th, 2006 @ 3:37 pm

    Granted RA has been somewhat obscure in his posts lately, but this is one that is reasonably important. Regardless of where he falls on the issue (since he apparently stopped posting “opinions” on anything a few months back). But that being said, I’ve often had similar arguments with theists who want to declare either you have free will or you don’t, if you don’t then you are wholly driven by some distinct set of physical laws and if we knew all those physical inputs we could predict EXACTLY what you would think or say.

    I am always loathe to bring up Quantum mechanics in such arguments, but I also am not willing to give up my free will for the sake of the argument. It must be a false dichotomy of some sort. STill working on how to shoot back. Just because you have free will doesn’t mean there’s a God. I will often go so far as to say that if there were a God then by definition you couldn’t have a free will since God presumably knows what you are going to do anyway so you are no more free to “Surprise God” than if you had no free will at all.

    I think the answer is, there is no free will for anyone! Except, of course, for the coins tossed into the air. They can do what they want, they usually just choose to act totally randomly.

    -h.

  13. The Unbrainwashed
    September 13th, 2006 @ 4:26 pm

    I second Choobus’ post. Checking for a new post on this blog used to be one of the highlights of my day, now I barely notice. This is actually the first posting I’ve even taken the time to read in about 3 weeks.

  14. benjamin
    September 13th, 2006 @ 4:55 pm

    If I threw the pennies up and they landed in a perfect circle every time, I’d start to wonder… Is each penny landing in the same spot every time, or are they trading spots in some meaningful way. I’d have to number them and repeat the experiment looking for a pattern.

  15. choobus
    September 13th, 2006 @ 6:33 pm

    Scrotum, chaos theory is not truly random.

  16. ocmpoma
    September 13th, 2006 @ 8:28 pm

    It’s called statistics.
    Not to mention a (rather large) conflict with historical observation.

  17. Godthorn
    September 13th, 2006 @ 8:48 pm

    And then there’s Chaos Chaos, the amoeba. Is the constant budding, thrusting and grasping of its pseudopodia truly random, or is every action determined, a sort of Amebic Tai Quon Do?

  18. Godthorn
    September 13th, 2006 @ 11:45 pm

    Just Another P, I don’t see a necessary implication of an I.D. in determined consequences any more than I would concede the necessity of a creator for beings with “free will.” There is no necessary connection in either case. But as far as I have been able to see, free will is a chimera, and necessity is a mother.

  19. Martin
    September 14th, 2006 @ 12:45 am

    While I don’t agree with Choobus’ choice of language (don’t people realise that when they speak/write like that they sound remarkably ignorant) I must second the sentiments of Unbrainwashed. This blog used to be one of best – clear, well written, witty, illuminating, updated regularly, interesting. Now it’s not even worth reading. But I continue to, in the hope that the raving atheist will return. In the words of Australian band Regurgitator: I like your old stuff better than your new stuff.

  20. choobus
    September 14th, 2006 @ 2:03 am

    Martin, you seem to assume that everyone wants to avoid sounding remarkably ignorant. This is a fallacious assumption.

  21. Severalspeciesof
    September 14th, 2006 @ 11:00 am

    I have to stop visiting this site, as I am starting to see a pattern here that is not aesthetically pleasing. Now every time I visit, I roll my eyes, shake my head, and I keep eating pork&beans with only my underwear on.

  22. Marcus
    September 14th, 2006 @ 11:15 am

    The orders that we see compelled by mathematics aren’t surprising because they seem to be natural and perhaps even compelled by nature. They are consistent and don’t change in mystical ways. Basically, laws of nature aren’t of themselves surprising, at least at this point. What is surprising is if something appears to jump outside of what we thought were the laws of nature for no apparent reason.

    Thus, if you throw up some coins, and midair they start assembling into letters and names, that would indeed be surprising, because it would be irreconcilable with everything we know about nature. Essentially, it would suggest some greater set of rules that we didn’t know about. We always assume there’s a set of rules, though, basically I think because we already have sufficient proof that things aren’t random, so it seems fair to conclude that consistency is a law of nature.

  23. Sean
    September 14th, 2006 @ 11:39 am

    “What would be your basis for concluding that the hypothetical arrangement were more ‘mind-like’ than the ‘random’ ones?”

    Statistical probability. In the universe we know, it is unlikely. But it could happen, even in this universe. Or better yet, maybe as the universe expands, it reaches a critical threshold, or bumps into another universe, and the laws that govern it suddenly change, maybe for only an hour or so. In that moment, we conducted our experiment. Asking what the basis for my conclusion is, is like asking why I’d be surprised if I all of a sudden I was a bowl of petunias falling towards Magrathea saying to myself, “oh no! not again.” In the world of quantum mechanics, it’s possible, but improbable.

  24. Forrest Cavalier
    September 14th, 2006 @ 11:42 am

    RA asked…What would be your basis for concluding that the hypothetical arrangement were more “mind-like” than the “random” ones?

    Long answer: Read Hofstadter.

    My answer, after having read many of his writings some time ago, is that “mind” means “pattern recognizer and processor that is self-aware.”

    Humans are really, really good at finding patterns. Show us a random inkblot, cloud, stars, or all of a year’s lotto picks, and we find patterns and similarities to things we already know.

    Are those patterns really “there” in those stars? Perhaps the fact that we can name them, mimic them, discuss them with others comes from our mind’s ability, not the reality. But to deny them is to deny ourselves. In self-confidence, the patterns are “out there” as solidly we are “all there.”

    It’s Both/And, not Either/Or. Denying one requires denying the other. Accepting one requires accepting the other.

    so…

    Can we observe that the the universe, in many senses very chaotic and cold, also has patterns and balances of matter, energy, and processes? Can we see how these collaborate to promote and sustain life throughout history, as a planet, as a species, as countries, as families, as individuals?

    What can stop us from recognizing and naming those life-giving patterns? What denies their existence? If assimilating small patterns into recognizable larger whole patterns is somehow an illogical leap of faith, then we also deny ourselves the abilities to read (patterns of dots) and think (patterns of neural activity.)

  25. Doug Purdie
    September 14th, 2006 @ 12:29 pm

    It only seems random.

    There are many quantifyable factors leading to how and where the coins land – launch velocity, directional vectors, wind interferance, air pressure, object mass & shape, landing surface, etc. If we actually did quantify all the factors, RA is correct, we could use math to predict the result.

    Scrotum is also correct. RA is talking chaos theory, which says there are so many factors that even if we knew what all of them were, the effort would be so energy draining, time consuming and the chance that we would commit errors in the process so great, that it would not be worth doing .

  26. Choobus
    September 14th, 2006 @ 12:39 pm

    the launch velocity is the “directional vector” and chaos theory does not say how “energy draining” it would be to solve a given problem. The power of our computers may not be up to it, and the hard part would be obtaining all the initial conditions, but it’s a thought experiment. (also, it might be possible to do this sort of thing using quantum computers, one day).

    RA states that there is no such thing as true randomness. He is wrong.
    RA implies that there is some guiding force controlling everything in some mysterious way. He is mental.

  27. Thorngod
    September 14th, 2006 @ 12:40 pm

    Aside from those that lifeforms have devised for themselves, I see no evidence that either the patterns or any patterners in the universe collaborate to promote and sustain life. Most of the universe (probably around 99.99999%) is very hostile to life–and our home planet is not exactly cuddly/snuggly.

    But perhaps my pattern-recognition faculty is retarded and I am just not comprehending the universal dot matrix pattern.

  28. Forrest Cavalier
    September 14th, 2006 @ 3:35 pm

    Thorngod,
    claiming that 99.99999% of the universe is non-living and hostile to life may be true, but is in no way a proof that life does not exist.

    Declaring yourself retarded is no way to win an argument.

  29. Doug Purdie
    September 14th, 2006 @ 4:01 pm

    Choobus,

    OK, Chaos theory doesn’t say how “energy draining” it is. That’s just my interpretation of it.

    Launch velocity does not say anything about direction. True that directional vectors do say something specific about velocity. I think that’s what you meant, so I won’t nitpick. Oops, I already did. Sorry.

    I also think you got my point about coin tosses not being random even if my supporting statements lacked absolute accuracy.

  30. Thorngod
    September 14th, 2006 @ 4:33 pm

    Chances are I am not noticably retarded.
    Being a conscious specimen of a form of life, I would have to be insane to try to disprove the nonexistence of life. From whence did that inference bloom?
    It was the “collaboration” that made no sense.

  31. Forrest Cavalier
    September 14th, 2006 @ 4:57 pm

    Thorngod,

    So you admit the patterns are there, and that they exist simultaneously, but deny they “collaborate.” They are inanimate.

    That’s good enough for me. Sorry for my bad word choice. I’ll gamble I am not retarded either, and continue….

    Can you cooperate with those life-giving and sustaining patterns? Work against them? Enhance their effects? Detract from their effects? Encourage others to do so?

    I agree there is no requirement to declare the whitewater and rocks “collaborators” to recognize that together they require us to form a response.

  32. Godthorn
    September 14th, 2006 @ 7:13 pm

    F.C., I happen to be a rocks and whitewater lover, so of course I respond to their “patternings”–but no more than to most others that impinge on my consciousness. Frankly, I’m not sure what your point is. Can you rephrase it? I only objected to your seeming anthropomorphising of inanimate things.

  33. Forrest Cavalier
    September 14th, 2006 @ 10:37 pm

    You cannot resist the river because you are part of the river.

    You cannot follow the river because you are separate.

  34. Forrest Cavalier
    September 14th, 2006 @ 11:21 pm

    Thorngod,

    When you are clever enough that you can hold both meanings of the river in your head at the same time, (without having to drop one to hold onto the other), then we can continue.

    In the first approximation, you and I are arrogant retards, worth about $5 when repackaged and sold as elemental chemicals. Can’t deny that fact, but isn’t it also true we are worth more?

    40 feet away from the screen, these words are a meaningless uniform grayish glow. Can’t deny that, but isn’t it also true that there are words and ideas there that glow brighter and can last indefinitely?

    When I try to call attention to a .00001% portion that is interesting, your true, but irrelevant, reply about the other 99.99999% is a failure to grasp both truths at the same time.

    Saying you “respond to their patternings, but no more than most others” is a failure to grasp both truths at the same time.

    Practice grasping both. Maybe try squinting with your eyes open. I think you can do it, with practice. And if you already can and do, then why be so evasive? Are you afraid you might find something you never knew before?

  35. allonym
    September 15th, 2006 @ 1:48 am

    Holy heck, Forrest Cavalier, you’re just wise with a capital smarmy, aren’t you? I’m so very worried that I’m not good enough to mentally spar with you, what with my total lack of concern over my relationship to the river and all. I’m not sure what ‘elemental chemicals’ are (as opposed to non-elemental ones?), but you should consider taking the $2.50 for your share of them. Sounds like a bargain.

  36. Thorngod
    September 15th, 2006 @ 8:21 am

    F.C., I think I detect a flavoring of New Age spiritualism here. We can both hold the river in our heads, in a manner of speaking, but I would advise you not to be persuaded by your faith to hold your head in the river for too long a time.

  37. Forrest Cavalier
    September 15th, 2006 @ 11:28 am

    Thorngod, I find new age spiritualism too tilted in the direction of Zen. It helps explain how things are, but not how we should respond consciously. Oh, thanks for the advice about rivers. I am sure you are far more experienced than I with rivers.

    allonym, Is the river a wave or a particle? Are you seeing these pixels or words? Are the words reaching your mind or your brain? Does an electron have a position or a velocity? Is the universe deterministic or do we have free will? Are there patterns in the heavens, or random arrangements?

    My challenge to Thorngod was that he scurries to the alternative interpretation when he gets uncomfortable. Thorngod knows that a statement about photons does not add to a discussion about interference patterns. But it requires a response, and that distraction protects him well.

    My comments to him weren’t condescending, just a reminder that in order to discuss, we must focus, and sometimes that requires holding two contrary, but true, views at once, and not allowing one to overpower the other.

    If he can grasp both meanings of these things, then he chooses not to. I can’t force him.

    The river metaphor touched a nerve. It is kind of removed from the discussion of patterns, so may be hard for others to follow. But when you are on the river, sometimes you have to act against it, and sometimes you recognize it is time to go with the flow.

    My eventual point? “River” is a pattern that exists in our mind only. In hard fact, there are only gazillions of molecules of water, rocks, gravity, and other particles and forces.

    Our mind finds the pattern of all that and calls it river. Our mind sees the patterns of how rocks and whitewater interact. Our mind processes it all and formulates ways to navigate it. Our free will chooses which way to respond.

    Is the pattern real? Does the pattern exist the way that rocks and gravity exist? Is there such a thing as “cold” or “white?”

    Thorngod won’t be pinned down here, because he knows what the next step in the discussion brings, and he cannot bear it. I can’t force him.

  38. Thorngod
    September 15th, 2006 @ 4:33 pm

    Okay, F.C., I’m beginning to get at least the bare outlines of the picture. You’re alluding to the seamless continuum of “reality;” to the fact that we perceive the world as it is convenient for us to perceive it; that rivers, rocks, shoes, ships and turtles are not distinctly delineated entities, but are “objects” only as defined in your minds for our own purposes. The actual field is a perpetual flurry of particles from which we create our fictional “world.”

    Yes, indeed. The shoreline of an island as measured by the cartographer might be 900 miles. But if you circumnavigate it by boat, keeping close to shore, you find it measures almost ten times that distance. And if it were measured right at the water’s average edge, say by a muskrat or a raccoon, then the distance would increase another hundredfold. Ain’t it enough to curl your whiskers!

    You misaccuse me of discomfort. You accuse me of being unable to bear some mysterious something you do not identify and that I do not see. And what is your poinit? And what is this “conclusion” you say I am afraid to confront? I would be happy to get to it.

    Every life form, to the extent of its abilities, interprets its environment in the form most conducive to its survival, and then strives desperately according to the recipe. It’s the first commandment of existence. It’s “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” That the features of its environment are far more complex than it knows is not too important to the organism, as long as it can manipulate them in successful ways. Human beings have been able to manipulate the so successfully that we now have the leisure to inquire into their ultimate nature, which is why you and I are able to understand far more than is necessary for our mere survival.

    Of course, we not only have all the scientific knowledge we only recently acquired, but we also have all the old interpretations of things made by our honored but logic-challenged and very superstitious forebears–and unfortunately, most people want to bend the new knowledge to the service of their cherished myths and “faiths.”

    I don’t know whether this mysterious “answer” you say I am afraid to confront is “God” or “free will” or what, but you sure are taking a long, wordy time getting to it!

  39. Forrest Cavalier
    September 15th, 2006 @ 11:15 pm

    Thorngod wrote, plainly:

    The actual field is a perpetual flurry of particles from which we create our fictional “world.”

    I think you described it as it is, but can you defend your use of the terms actual, fictional, and create?

    Please answer the question: does the river exist? Is it real or a fiction you create? If you are its creator, where was it 100 years ago? Your answers will help pin down the definition of “exist.”

    I think if you say the river “exists”, but only in your mind, you lie. You speak of going to it, immersing yourself, exercising your mind’s ability to think and your body’s ability to act. Notably, you can share these experiences with others. If it is fiction, then the term is meaningless, since everything is similar fiction.

    Would you agree with this….

    The actual field is a perpetual flurry of particles that we recognize as patterns.

    If you agree, then let’s go back to my slightly rephrased question…

    Can you move with those patterns? Work against them? Study them? Enhance their effects? Detract from their effects? Encourage others to do so?

  40. Godthorn
    September 17th, 2006 @ 2:33 am

    I have been laboring almost incessantly since reading Just Another P’s #4 above. Intrigued by his random nickel, which hagiograph in #10 endorses as valid, I decided to put this celebrated randomness to a rigid test. Availing myself of a draft-free room, a laser leveler, rifle vise, sphygmomanometer and several other sighting, calibrating and measuring devices, I took a clean nickel, placed it in a precise position on my right thumbnail, and, positioning it at exact angles of cant and declination, flipped it a thousand times in the same direction with exactly the same force. Guess what: The damned thing landed tails up every time! I must report, however, that in examining the landing spot with a micrometer, there was a symetrical pattern of target deviation, with separation in the pattern positionings of approximately a thousanth of a micron. I can only attribute this to a quantum effect, and I am currently refining my experiment at that level I will report on results at a later time–or, considering the wierdness of quantum effects, perhaps a slightly earlier one.

    QUESTION: How can one account for the statistical results and the symetrical pattern that results from a lengthy run of ordinary coin tossing.

  41. Godthorn
    September 17th, 2006 @ 3:22 am

    Hagiograph, neither you, nor those coins, nor the zealously defended “random” quanta, possess “free will.” I can demonstrate that fact easily–and I did so in an earlier and now forgotten posting. I say “demonstrate” instead of “prove” because proof requires recognition on the part of the second party, and the impression of autonomous volition is so elemental to the animal brain that even most humans lack the perspicacity and the intellectual guts to grasp the truth of it.

    You cannot “give up” your “free will,” hagiograph. You either have it or you have it not. You cannot decide to “give it up.” If conceeding to an ironclad, indisputable proof requires abondoning your belief in something, it is a “something” you never possessed to begin with.

    All your life you will behave as an entity with free will–as will I, though I know, because I have proved it, that it is a chimera. We have no choice but to behave as we must, and to obey the volitions that we recognize as our own. If you ever, by some true miracle, find yourself truly free, what wonderful things you will be able to achieve for yourself–and, if you are truly human, for so many others.

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