Tuesday, September 30, 2008

There Is No Random

I mentioned before that I'm enrolled in two classes that use probability and statistics. Many of the ways we model events assume randomness (e.g. it is as likely in earthquake models for an earthquake one year as the next—regardless of recent events. Therefore, the concept of being due for an earthquake because one hasn't occurred in so many years at a seismic fault is incorrect, considering the model.). Nevertheless, one of my questions elicited the following response from my professor yesterday:

There is no 'random.' What we perceive as randomness is the result of our inability to understand what is going on. We simply don't have a good enough model yet to understand the event in question.

Now, you may expect such a response from an experienced university professor (and possibly the best school instructor I've had), but do you agree with the claim that there is no random?

Many throw the word "random" around attempting to describe things, thoughts, people, and occurrences. We may say, "I had the most random thought...", or "It is so random seeing you here."

Was the thought really the most random? Was it even random at all? Was it really random running into a friend somewhere unexpected?

I was thinking on random (not to be confused with having random thoughts) and the application of its claimed nonexistence from my viewpoint. I wonder how often I maintain that a life-changing event stemmed from a seemingly random occurrence or encounter. I know I've heard many others say things like "I didn't understand why at the time, but looking back I can definitely see how the overall course of events played out to benefit me. I've been guided by the hand of the Lord."

The retrospective look at life seems to erase many "random" events, especially when viewed through the lens of faith. What at first appeared random, is reclassified to divine as we see the grand design in the minutia, or random.

Returning to the professor's idea: We classify things as random because we don't yet have a model sophisticated enough. While we may not have models that predict life's events, particularly the life-changing seemingly random occurrences, we do have a philosophy for living that helps us see the divine through the random. It's an old concept, but it is tried and true:

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths (Prov. 3:5-6).

After this seemingly random discussion, I hope to look at things that I would have classified as random with new eyes to see the hand of the Lord in my life as I'm led, guided, and directed to better paths.

1 thought:

Maryann said...

That is profound! I like the comment your professor made. He probably didn't even think about it in a religious way but that is exactly what stood out in my mind. Things that seem random are just a result that we don't yet see the way God is forming the situation. I like that thought.