Friday, April 27, 2012

Thoughts on randomness

Random: now there's a loaded term.  Can you think of a better word for aggravating hardcore determinists, theist and atheist alike?

On the one hand are those who would have you believe that everything is purposefully determined by Divine Will. 

On the other hand are those who would have you believe that everythng is algorithmically determined by Physical Law. 

If something is random, it is 'uncaused', or 'not influenced by prior bias or disposition'.

The determinists hold that nothing is uncaused; that randomness signifies nothing more than a lack of knowledge: what appears uncaused is not really that; it's just that we don't know enough to ascertain what the cause is.  That is, randomness is entirely epistemological.

But so what?  There is nothing wrong with the idea that everything is caused by something.  But it is impossible to know enough about all the relevant somethings to completely eliminate randomness from experience.  No one will ever know enough about the forces and contingencies influencing the trajectory of a tossed coin to predict the outcome with certainty.  So if you choose to believe that randomness has no objective reality, you are still left with nothing but faith to support that belief--be it faith in a supernatural deity, or faith in physical determinism. 

Which leads me to ask: does it matter whether randomness is ontological or epistemological?  Seems to me that the one amounts to six, the other a half a dozen.

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