You are Here: Home

# Is anything actually completely random? Watch

1. (Original post by QuantumOverlord)
Please dont write that in a first year physics exam, it will be marked wrong. The whole point of the uncertainty principle is that it is Not a result of the innacuracies of measurements, it is indeed a fundamental property of nature. People need to understand this, it explains so many phenomena perfectly from Nuclear fusion to Chemical Reactions.
Please direct me to an explanation of why. It can still plug the mathematical holes and explain these phenomena while being an approximation of what's really going on, surely.
2. (Original post by QuantumOverlord)
Everything on the level of Atoms is random, EVERYTHING. Its what the whole field of thermodynamics is based on
Not at all.
So far no science, including Thermodynamics (why have you pointed out thermodynamics, by the way? I studied this while I was at University and I'm taking part in Nuclear Engineering subjects next year. Serious question, I'm interestd.), has found anything to be random.
The location of a electrode, for example, can only be predicted through statistics due to the complexity of factors that influence it's movement.
If a million different factors determined a location of something, our best guess would to be that it's movement is random. Though, in reality, it's not at all.

This is the big debate at the moment.

So the existence of randomness is purely down to personal oppinion... which means absolutely nothing in science.
3. The way I see it is that random events can and do exist, however nothing can be completely random. It sounds paradoxical in itself, so I'll explain.

For example, imagine there's a hat with a bunch of cards in it, each card has a name on it, and you need to take one out. You close your eyes and put your hand in the hat, and then you pick a name out of the hat. You picked a name at random, because you did not consciously know who the person was when you picked them. However at the same time you consciously put your hand into the hat and someone had consciously put names into the hat. Therefore the event of the card getting picked out of the hat is arguably calculated and not random.

A better example would probably be straws. If you would imagine that there are a set of straws, and one of those straws is shorter than the others, but you don't know which. When you pick a straw, you may think that you're picking a straw at random, but at the same time you're subconsciously picking a straw for a particular reason (whether it be a colour, etc).
4. (Original post by Implication)
I *think* Hume was referring to the problem of induction when he spoke of this; not cause and effect specifically. Ironically, our perception of cause and effect could be a false inference of cause and effect - just because I intend to pick up my glass, and very shortly thereafter I pick up the glass, does not necessarily mean that I caused myself to pick up the glass. The argument does not follow deductively i.e. the premises do not entail the conclusion. So yeah, deductively invalid cause and effect inferences are often justified inductively, but the problem with inductive reasoning doesn't only apply to cause and effect.

The problem of induction is fairly simple - inductive reasoning obviously cannot be justified deductively and, if we use inductive reasoning to justify induction, then our argument clearly becomes circular. What other forms of reasoning can we employ? Hume admits, I think, that we basically have no choice but to use inductive reasoning despite the fact that it is unjustified, because it is only very rarely that a deductively valid argument can be made about reality.
Right. What about Kant's idea that mathematics making apriori synthetic claims as being a valid in deductive reasoning?
5. (Original post by Arekkusu)
Please direct me to an explanation of why. It can still plug the mathematical holes and explain these phenomena while being an approximation of what's really going on, surely.
Well explaining the the uncertainty principle is what it is, isn't really something someone can explain; it's built into the Universe, as unsatisfying an answer as that is.

As already said, it is an absolute fundamental limit to how accurate we can know something. But it is also a requirement for many of the processes in Physics, allowing "virtual" particles to arise and for particles to "borrow" energy among other things.

(Original post by C_B_C)
Not at all.
So far no science, including Thermodynamics (why have you pointed out thermodynamics, by the way? I studied this while I was at University and I'm taking part in Nuclear Engineering subjects next year. Serious question, I'm interestd.), has found anything to be random.
The location of a electrode, for example, can only be predicted through statistics due to the complexity of factors that influence it's movement.
If a million different factors determined a location of something, our best guess would to be that it's movement is random. Though, in reality, it's not at all.

This is the big debate at the moment.

So the existence of randomness is purely down to personal oppinion... which means absolutely nothing in science.
Well systems like those and many in thermodynamics are "chaotic" systems; which emulate random systems. 'Science' has found many things to be random; all within the quantum world. Knowing more information about the quantum mechanical systems doesn't give us any more information about their future outcome, which are truly random, as opposed to chaotic systems.
6. (Original post by dknt)
Well explaining the the uncertainty principle is what it is, isn't really something someone can explain; it's built into the Universe, as unsatisfying an answer as that is.

As already said, it is an absolute fundamental limit to how accurate we can know something. But it is also a requirement for many of the processes in Physics, allowing "virtual" particles to arise and for particles to "borrow" energy among other things.
I know I'm being annoying now, but I really don't understand why it makes the universe random from all perspectives (not just anthropocentric ones). It looks random, sure, and its effects work because that's how they look from our perspective. It's real enough for us, sure, but who's to say that from a quantum scale the mechanism mightn't look deterministic?

I realise the scientific method wouldn't allow for unverifiable speculation like this, but I'm sure you agree the scientific method is (regrettably) limited.

I have trouble with the idea that the universe is not deterministic, I admit - doesn't it make a bit of a mockery of time (entropy arrow) if unpredictable things happen? I know there is a good comeback to this - time is an average like temperature is of heat energy.

But also, if the universe isn't deterministic, and flouts time/causation/entropy, does it actually make any sense to talk about "the universe" as an actual unitary entity, since when we say "the universe", we mean to describe it in all dimensions, space and time?
7. (Original post by dknt)
Well systems like those and many in thermodynamics are "chaotic" systems; which emulate random systems. 'Science' has found many things to be random; all within the quantum world. Knowing more information about the quantum mechanical systems doesn't give us any more information about their future outcome, which are truly random, as opposed to chaotic systems.
I disagree. I believe the fact is that we purposely assume something is random when it's too complex to predict (ie, when it's chaotic, as you rightly point out).

Take a moment to think of the religious, scientific and even philosophical weight of the discovery of something truly random.
It would revolutionize our entire way of looking at the world.
8. (Original post by LeCal)
The way I see it is that random events can and do exist, however nothing can be completely random. It sounds paradoxical in itself, so I'll explain.

For example, imagine there's a hat with a bunch of cards in it, each card has a name on it, and you need to take one out. You close your eyes and put your hand in the hat, and then you pick a name out of the hat. You picked a name at random, because you did not consciously know who the person was when you picked them. However at the same time you consciously put your hand into the hat and someone had consciously put names into the hat. Therefore the event of the card getting picked out of the hat is arguably calculated and not random.

A better example would probably be straws. If you would imagine that there are a set of straws, and one of those straws is shorter than the others, but you don't know which. When you pick a straw, you may think that you're picking a straw at random, but at the same time you're subconsciously picking a straw for a particular reason (whether it be a colour, etc).
We're talking about scientific randomness, almost a philosophical concept.

Picking out a card from a hat has so many factors to it that a human cannot, in any way, predict the result. This way, the person picking out a card has no clue which card he'll grab.
Similarly, when you role a dice, the scientific factors that are involved in which number will be facing upwards when the dice comes to rest are so vast and complex that the human throwing it cannot possible have a clue to which number it will be.
This, for gambling (for example), is enough. All that is needed in gambling is a way of making sure the person involved doesn't (and can't) influence on the result.

But for science, it's far from enough.
9. (Original post by Arekkusu)
I know I'm being annoying now, but I really don't understand why it makes the universe random from all perspectives (not just anthropocentric ones). It looks random, sure, and its effects work because that's how they look from our perspective. It's real enough for us, sure, but who's to say that from a quantum scale the mechanism mightn't look deterministic?

I realise the scientific method wouldn't allow for unverifiable speculation like this, but I'm sure you agree the scientific method is (regrettably) limited.

I have trouble with the idea that the universe is not deterministic, I admit - doesn't it make a bit of a mockery of time (entropy arrow) if unpredictable things happen? I know there is a good comeback to this - time is an average like temperature is of heat energy.

But also, if the universe isn't deterministic, and flouts time/causation/entropy, does it actually make any sense to talk about "the universe" as an actual unitary entity, since when we say "the universe", we mean to describe it in all dimensions, space and time?

(Original post by C_B_C)
I disagree. I believe the fact is that we purposely assume something is random when it's too complex to predict (ie, when it's chaotic, as you rightly point out).

Take a moment to think of the religious, scientific and even philosophical weight of the discovery of something truly random.
It would revolutionize our entire way of looking at the world.

(Original post by C_B_C)
I disagree. I believe the fact is that we purposely assume something is random when it's too complex to predict (ie, when it's chaotic, as you rightly point out).

Take a moment to think of the religious, scientific and even philosophical weight of the discovery of something truly random.
It would revolutionize our entire way of looking at the world.

Okay I Dont really appear to be getting my message across, it has been proven beyond doubt that the uncertainty principle is NOT a consequence of measurment, that is a fact as much as gravity or evolution is, the following two equations

DeltaXDeltaP > h/2pi
DeltaEDeltaT > h/2pi

show this and are proved by experiment, we can measure Extrmely accurately one of these variables such as position by for example firing an extremely high energy laser of say an entity such as an atom, we just cannot measure both position and momentum, at the same time.

The Whole of chemistry is based on a concept called the wavefunction, which literally states that electrons in atoms live in waves of complex probability, i.e there positions are uncertain and random and cannot be determined.

It is completely incorrect to think of the atomic world as newtonian, it completely fails in all respects, for example it will NOT explain the photoelectric effect, or why sodium streetlamps only emit one wavelength of light.

The universe is Not based on a chaotic newtonian model, it is based fundementally on probability, this is a fact and tbh it doesnt matter what the philosophical consequences of this are, its true, and has been shown to be true for at least 80 years.
10. (Original post by C_B_C)
I disagree. I believe the fact is that we purposely assume something is random when it's too complex to predict (ie, when it's chaotic, as you rightly point out).
But why do you believe that? I'll be honest and say that I haven't personally looked at the evidence for it, but it is very strongly believed among the scientific community that the randomness is an actual property of the universe; not simply an apparent result of our inability to understand it properly. As I understand it, if the universe were really just very complex without any real probabilistic events, observed phenomena such as vacuum fluctuations, the photoelectric effect, quantum tunnelling etc. would be impossible.

Again, I'm happy to be corrected on this if I'm wring: I'm usually pretty wary when speaking of QM simply because my academic understanding is not as strong as I would like and I absolutely despise popsci.

(Original post by C_B_C)
Take a moment to think of the religious, scientific and even philosophical weight of the discovery of something truly random.
It would revolutionize our entire way of looking at the world.
But that's exactly how the whole idea of quantum mysticism has developed! The "discovery" has revolutionised the way many people think of the world!
11. (Original post by Implication)
But why do you believe that? I'll be honest and say that I haven't personally looked at the evidence for it, but it is very strongly believed among the scientific community that the randomness is an actual property of the universe; not simply an apparent result of our inability to understand it properly. As I understand it, if the universe were really just very complex without any real probabilistic events, observed phenomena such as vacuum fluctuations, the photoelectric effect, quantum tunnelling etc. would be impossible.

Again, I'm happy to be corrected on this if I'm wring: I'm usually pretty wary when speaking of QM simply because my academic understanding is not as strong as I would like and I absolutely despise popsci.

But that's exactly how the whole idea of quantum mysticism has developed! The "discovery" has revolutionised the way many people think of the world!
I think you're missusing the word "random", or I'm simply being too strict with it.

There is a difference between probability and randomness.
12. (Original post by C_B_C)
I think you're missusing the word "random", or I'm simply being too strict with it.

There is a difference between probability and randomness.
Okay, so how are you defining randomness? If every possible event has an equal chance of occurrence and is not caused by a previous event, then what happens is random? Is that what you mean? Apologies if I misunderstood you in my last post - I thought you were just referring to "determination" by probability distributions rather than prior causes when you spoke of randomness.
13. (Original post by QuantumOverlord)
Everything on the level of Atoms is random, EVERYTHING. Its what the whole field of thermodynamics is based on
Er...not Thermodynamics; Quantum Mechanics. And the randomness is not only at the atomic scale. It's just more easily observed there. That's all.
14. (Original post by Zaki)
Er...not Thermodynamics; Quantum Mechanics. And the randomness is not only at the atomic scale. It's just more easily observed there. That's all.
You are talking to a person who can solve the schroinger equation, and literally forms orthanormal basis sets for FUN, and is called QUANTUMOverlord.

Fail...

ANd lol you think Quantum Mechanics and thermodynamics are not based on randomness. They were the two examples I gave that actually are... Maybe not Classical therodynamics, but that is superseaded anyway by the quantum mechanical intepretation.

You are a fool, dont try to correct someone on physics when you know nothing about it.
15. (Original post by Implication)
Okay, so how are you defining randomness? If every possible event has an equal chance of occurrence and is not caused by a previous event, then what happens is random? Is that what you mean? Apologies if I misunderstood you in my last post - I thought you were just referring to "determination" by probability distributions rather than prior causes when you spoke of randomness.
Nothing has an "equal chance of occurrence", that's the thing.

When we toss a dice, we say "there's a 1 in six chance of it landing on the number 3".
In fact, the number it falls on isn't random: it depends on the strength of the throw, the rotation of the dice, the resistance of the air, the resistance the ground produces, etc etc etc etc.
So, let's imagine that a super computer would be able to calculate these factors, and tell you with certainty which number will come out.
Or, if you believe in Him, say that God could predict it.

The only reason we call rolling a dice "random" is because there is no HUMANLY possible way (the key word being "Human") of knowing how it will land.

If an event is truely RANDOM, there is no physically possible way of knowing what the outcome will be.

This seems to be my understanding of the word.
I understand if you and others use "Random" in terms of probability, but I never have.

On a side-note... I find it kind of sad that most philosophical discussions end up turning back on themselvs and turning into a discussion of what was meant by the original question, and of what exactly do specific words mean.
Definitions aren't too important, in my opinion... what each person MEANS is what matters.
16. (Original post by C_B_C)
When we toss a dice, we say "there's a 1 in six chance of it landing on the number 3".
In fact, the number it falls on isn't random: it depends on the strength of the throw, the rotation of the dice, the resistance of the air, the resistance the ground produces, etc etc etc etc.
So, let's imagine that a super computer would be able to calculate these factors, and tell you with certainty which number will come out.
Or, if you believe in Him, say that God could predict it.

The only reason we call rolling a dice "random" is because there is no HUMANLY possible way (the key word being "Human") of knowing how it will land.
Correct. When we roll a dice, there isn't really a "probability of 1/6 of rolling x"; what we roll is determined by mechanics. With enough information and processing power, the roll could be predicted. The probability doesn't really exist. This I agree with, and I don't consider the roll of a die to be random in any sense of the word.

When I spoke of certain quantum mechanical processes being random, I didn't mean strictly random - i.e. every event has an equal chance of occurrence - but random in the sense that the probability is real. It is really the case that there is y chance of z when considering certain quantum phenomena; the probability distribution is not simply a model as it is when we consider a die. No matter the size or processing power of our computer, it is not possible to calculate or predict the outcome of such events simply because they are not deterministic; they are governed by probability and not entirely by prior events.

(Original post by C_B_C)
If an event is truely RANDOM, there is no physically possible way of knowing what the outcome will be.

This seems to be my understanding of the word.
I understand if you and others use "Random" in terms of probability, but I never have.
In truth, I have never heard the word used precisely in that manner before but, thinking about it, it does tie in pretty closely with a probabilistic or "equal chance" definition. Regardless, certain quantum mechanical processes are random according to either: there is no way of knowing the outcome of certain events before they happen, and some events are governed by probability and not solely prior events.

(Original post by C_B_C)
On a side-note... I find it kind of sad that most philosophical discussions end up turning back on themselvs and turning into a discussion of what was meant by the original question, and of what exactly do specific words mean.
Definitions aren't too important, in my opinion... what each person MEANS is what matters.
Hmm I dunno, I think these sorts of conversations are important... or rather, I think it is important for a person initiating a discussion to make clear what they mean because - you are right - it is what we mean that it is important. So perhaps instead of discussing what we each mean by a word, we should instead seek clarification from OP so that we can better answer the question that he intended to ask. What does OP mean by "completely random"?
17. The actions themselves are random. Therefore a random combination of actions leads to something that is not random, but at the root is random
18. well some sub atomic and quantum phenomena are random, or at least we can't yet determine their cause. like nuclear decay
19. When closely examined, the entity called "Chance" ALWAYS turns out to be Free Will - if the observer accepts that "Chance" is an actually existing entity in itself. The problem is that some people want to use "Chance" to explain all sorts of things - and yet claim that "Chance" does not itself exist! Weird! It's all some sort of sophomoric atheistic/materialistic attempt to avoid recognising the existence of Free Will. Pathetic!
20. (Original post by QuantumOverlord)
You are talking to a person who can solve the schroinger equation, and literally forms orthanormal basis sets for FUN, and is called QUANTUMOverlord.

Fail...

ANd lol you think Quantum Mechanics and thermodynamics are not based on randomness. They were the two examples I gave that actually are... Maybe not Classical therodynamics, but that is superseaded anyway by the quantum mechanical intepretation.

You are a fool, dont try to correct someone on physics when you know nothing about it.
I tell you! Some of the pompous fellows one encounters here! You think you're a "quantum overlord" just because you can solve the schrodinger equation - something you probably just learned to do (if you have) not more than a few weeks or months ago, judging by how proud you seem to be of this feat of yours? What are people who have been TEACHING it to students - and even HIGHER forms of it at that - supposed to do then? Take over the world?

The quantum interpretation of Thermodynamics belongs to Quantum Mechanics. Thermodynamics as originally conceived did not even go as far as Statistical Mechanics - never mind Quantum Mechanics - until the works of people like Boltzmann and Maxwell.

TSR Support Team

We have a brilliant team of more than 60 Support Team members looking after discussions on The Student Room, helping to make it a fun, safe and useful place to hang out.

This forum is supported by:
Updated: March 5, 2012
Today on TSR

### Anxious about my Oxford offer

What should I do?

### Am I doomed because I messed up my mocks?

Discussions on TSR

• Latest
• ## See more of what you like on The Student Room

You can personalise what you see on TSR. Tell us a little about yourself to get started.

• Poll
Useful resources

## Articles:

Debate and current affairs forum guidelines

## Groups associated with this forum:

View associated groups
Discussions on TSR

• Latest
• ## See more of what you like on The Student Room

You can personalise what you see on TSR. Tell us a little about yourself to get started.

• The Student Room, Get Revising and Marked by Teachers are trading names of The Student Room Group Ltd.

Register Number: 04666380 (England and Wales), VAT No. 806 8067 22 Registered Office: International House, Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3XE