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September 23, 2008

Is there randomness?

Computers, for one, is incapable of producing a random number by itself, but produces pseudo-random numbers by using mathematical formulae and e.g. the system clock. Such systems are known to be flawed when it comes to security, as the industry often show exploits due to predictable number generators.

Science often proves by proving or dis-proving the inverse, in this case, the inverse of randomness could be predictability.

A computer system could be used to predict the landing location of a cannon ball fired from a cannon. Given information such as direction, vertical angle, amount of gunpowder used and the laws of gravity, we are able to calculate the location where it should land. Is it always accurate? Why not? Is it randomness? Or is it because we have not included all the information? What if we added more information such as air resistance and wind strength and direction to the prediction? Will it be more accurate? What if we now add all minute (adjective) details such as dust particle movement and magnetic field effects to the predictions? Won’t we get absolute predictability?

If we knew the exact shape and position of a cubic die in your hand, the motion of your hand to throw the die, the surface the die will land on, and all else, won’t we be able to use physics laws to predict how the die will fall and bounce, thus arriving at the ultimate side that will face up when it comes to rest?

And pushing predictability to the extreme: given all past experience of a person, and the current environment of the person, we can create a model of the person’s brain and body, thus determine the response of the person to a question, or evaluate the subsequent action(s) of the person from its current state? Fate – as a science?

Prediction with object physics may just look amazing, but will stretching it to life have unpredictable effects? Maybe we are able to produce such models after all. And in the future these devices could become smaller, self-powered and Apple-packaged, it’ll actually look like a crystal ball.

Edit: A search of what I was thinking yielded the formal term, known as Philosophy of Determinism. The article on Fatalism was also very thought-provoking.

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