14 October 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Random Events + news

Dear Friends,
This Sunday we are discussing: Random events.
And despite my intentions to spend a lot of time on my essay, non random events militated against
that happening; so in all honesty I cannot really say I am happy with the result. We'll see what you
In the meantime Margie would like to share the following message with you:
Hi Lawrence,
I see you keep going with many interesting topics. How wonderful. Could you please let everyone know
about the next Mad Open Mic, there is still time to register? Thank you. Margie
The 8th Mad Open Mic: Captured Words
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Free and open to the public.
Cafe Concierto La Fidula
Calle Huertas 57
Start up 9pm
To register and for more information: www.elasunto.com/mkd.htm and click on the open mic icon
Best Lawrence
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
PS don't forget that Ignacio and friends are now meeting at Triskel Tavern (San Vicente Ferrer 3) on
Thursday at 7:30pm.

Random Events
In our quest to make sense of the world around us we have had to perform some very spectacular
mental gymnastics. Of course, I have no idea what it is like to be a bat let alone a cat nor even an
other human being. But whilst the world is probably just as chaotic and confounding for a cat as it
is for us, I am quite confident that a bat or a cat are not as perturbed by the whole situation as
we are.
And to confound the situation what we perceive as a chaotic environment, we are assured by
astronomers that our world does not get better than this: indeed they tell us that we live in that
part of the solar system that can be described as having the goldilocks effect. Not too hot and not
too cold, just right.
Does this mean that the first thing we did with our rational brain is to complain about our
situation and the chaotic state of the world we live in? That human beings can be ungrateful so and
so's is not in doubt, but we are also inquisitive beyond the necessities to cope with nature.
So making sense of the world around us is not only justifiable but in my estimation necessary for
our progress and tranquility. On the other hand seeing things in perspective might be more fruitful,
than marching head into irrationality.
Throughout, the ages two prominent theories have been put forward to help us understand all this
chaos: fatalism, usually described as a function of the will of a god, or determinism, usually
described as a function of the laws or regularities of nature. And despite the problems these
theories present to those who advocate free will we sort of manage to live with the paradoxes.
The real problem for philosophers and scientists and every one else is the issue of random events.
We can live with god and we can live with laws, but randomness? Maybe even out of duty we have to
ask ourselves: are there such things as random events? And what do we mean by random events anyway?
Now, if we had to search the meaning randomness we get as many meanings as there are contexts and
ideas, so this is not going to help us much. Suffice it to say, that despite the fact we cannot
really pin a meaning, we know how to use the word in our day to day conversations. So, one possible
meaning is the strict meaning of random that it is: something that happens which is not predictable.
In our daily life we might equate random with a chance meeting in the street with someone we haven't
met for decades. Or maybe the result of a fair lottery draw. In science we might consider a random
event to include a mutation of a gene, a collapse of an atomic particle, result for a non linear
calculation etc.
We might say that these events are not only unpredictable but also cannot be predicted by doing an
investigation into what could possibly have been the causal chain of events for them. We might know
what and why something happened but we cannot tell why a specific event took place when it did and
how it did, and where it did. For example, we know why a number comes up in a lottery draw but not
why a specific number came up.
So, although we might be privy to an explanation, these events take place without any specific
causal chain. Things just happen.
Or we might opt for a weak definition of a random event, something like: although the principles of
causality and a causal chain of events are not violated in random events it would be difficult or
near impossible to find out what really happened. And so since we cannot predict the event before or
after it occurrence it is as good as being random.
In the first case we cannot explain why something happened because these is nothing to explain,
whereas in the second case there is an explanation but we do not have access to it.
What bothers most of us is of course the idea that things just happen. Not only do we want things to
have a cause, but most important of all for us is that whatever happens to us, good or bad, we can
ascribe some sort of responsibility to something or someone. We want to blame something or someone
for any misfortune or get credit for any good fortune.
The philosophical question that is worth investigating and which only science can answer, is what
evidence do we have for the strong interpretation of random events, and how common are they? Is it
really possible for something just to happen? It is one thing to say that a gene randomly mutated
because we have no idea of what is going on, but an other because it just happened.
An alternative idea would be not that things just happen, but that things happen independent of our
epistemic state of mind. In other words, things don't happen not the convenience of our
understanding. So the situation is that we either can understand how an event happened or we cannot.
But just because we cannot explain an event it does not mean that it has no pedigree. Nor does it
mean that it must have some specific type of pedigree. This could very well be analogous to trying a
real experiment on another planet in another galaxy to see if tossing a fair coin, heads or tails
would tend towards 50% in the long run. Except that no such experiment is going to take place any
time soon on another planet in another galaxy. So, for all intents and purposes we are just excluded
from this knowledge. Sure we can build a model to see how things would probably turn out, but we can
also build a model to see what it feels like to eat as much as we want remain healthy.
Although some events just might happen, it would not be practical for the universe to be made up of
random events. One of the drawbacks of there being more random events than causal events is that
there would be no stability or consistency. And the logical conclusion of this must surely be that
even randomness would be subject to randomness. But that does not make sense because randomness is
already random. Nor does this mean that randomness is a linguistic property. We may chose to give
the word many different meanings but we cannot choose how events happen: either an event is caused
or it is random or both, but it cannot be a meaning of a word.
Therefore, irrespective of how long we haven't met our friend, and how random the meeting might be,
there are at least three consistent events: 1) we were both still in existence (i.e. not dead) when
the chance meeting took place, 2) we were in existence at the same time and 3) in the same place.
Yet, other things being equal, my being alive, had no causal effect on my friend being alive or dead
at a certain time nor being at a certain place at a certain place, and vice versa.
Hence to conclude, I am inclined to think that random events are possible, sometimes things just
happen, but also it is not possible for the universe to be made of only random events. As for our
concern about the chaotic state of the world we live in, if it feels too random it is probably
because we complain too much. In the meantime cats don't seem to have this concern with random
events. At least not the cats in my model of the universe.

Best Lawrence

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Random Events + news

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