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Subject: The Random Factor - nothing is random rss

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Paul DeStefano
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A coin flips. 50-50.

No. 50-50 to our limited information. BUT if we knew the weight and wear on the coin, the position on the finger, the speed and angle of the finger flick, the amount of moisture on the thumbnail, the relative humidity of the air, the arc and distance travelled of the elbow and forearm, how heavily the person is breathing and the windspeed, the pressure due to distance from sea level, the ... the ... the ... ad infinitum.

Once all variable are taken into account, there is nothing random and no way that the coin can fall in any matter except in the way it does.

"Random" only means "acted upon by more variables than commonly calculable". A die roll might be different if you had a hot shower in the morning rather than a cold shower, which changes the elasticity of the skin of your fingers, and therefor to us deemed "random". But there was only 1 possible outcome of that die roll - the one that occured under the myriad conditions imposed upon it.

If I can then interpret random simply to mean an element beyond my comprehension, then if I play a pure abstract strategy game with no components we traditionally call random, such as chess, and I lose because I could not forsee a line of play, then did I not lose because it was random to me? Incalculable to my present observation?

Discuss. . .
 
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Well, this is chaos theory in a nutshell, right? The idea that everything -- from the way that plants and animals grow, to the way your creamer dissipates in your coffee -- is ruled by physical and mathematical formulas. The problem that we have, as humans, is that we don't have the perceptive skills to recognize, analyze, and determine those factors. As I understand it, our supercomputers can't even do it.

I have some folks in my gaming group who prefer to roll with plastic dice as opposed to wooden dice, because the wooden dice are susceptible to different densities, which throws off the randomizing effect of the dice.
 
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Simon Hunt
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Chess..
The way I play Chess, you might as well categorize my strategy as random laugh
 
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Eric "Shippy McShipperson" Mowrer
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Just to illustrate the coin-flipping point, I used to know a guy who could flip a coin (trust me, it made at least 20-30 rotations in the air) and get heads every time. It all came down to his skill at flipping, observing, timing, and catching (and who knows what else... I certainly can't do this).
 
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John O'Haver PhoDOGrapher
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felt the wooden blue die in Age of Napoleon was biased toward rolling ones. That's bad in AoN. I replaced the dice with plastic ones.

Regarding chess, I've read that chess (and by extention then, any abstract game) is a game no one wins but somebody loses because one player makes the last mistake of the game that the other can capitalize on.

I suspect this thread is going to get too deep for me later on. Go on without me, I'll catch up.
 
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David Boeren
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Random
The chess game was commonly calculable, you just didn't bother to calculate it out enough. I don't see how you can claim that there was "secret information" in chess because you couldn't read your opponent's mind or didn't bother to think about what would happen if you moved your bishop.
 
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Bernd Wechner
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Nonsense
This reflects the kind of arrogant hubris that was common of 19th and early 20th century science. The latter 20th century brought a certain humility to the scientific community as it became evident that the universe was very probably not, as you've painted, deterministic (thanks in great part to quantum physics).

In short, you can indeed get a lot closer to predicting the fall of a coin by taking into account all of these variables. But both Heisenberg and Schroedinger became fgamous for their acepted demonstrations that full knowledge is at some level inescapably beyond our grasp.

But even if you were to suppose that we could know all these variables, there is still evidence at hand today to suggest that there exist processes which are by their nature probabalistic and not deterministic. That is, even in the face of full knowledge of all variables two possible outcomes exist (are conjectured or observed).

The jury may still be out on some of that, but let's just say it's definitely not vogue to claim randomness does not exist surprise. A good many, very rspectable scientists, philosophers and lay people believe (with good cause) that it does.
 
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Tom T
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Well, first of all there are truly random things in our universe- namely quantum decoherence. And there is evidence that our brains may be wired to allow quantum decoherence to be magnified to macroscopic levels.

But still, even if there is true randomness, we can call this true randomness "information beyond our ken" which is equivalent to our lack of knowledge about the initial velocity of the coin and air pressure at each volume of air the coin spins through.

Now is this information similar to the lack of information you have at the chess table?

No- because in the chess game the information about the other players moves is directly in front of you, if you have the capacity to follow it through. In the coin example some of that information seems simply unavailable to you- both true randomness and the hidden information.

In the chess game there is no hidden information. One could of course in a chess game make a list of every potential move by every potential opponent piece, and follow them ad naseum in a brute force, paper form of deep blue. No one does this of course, but since this is a thought experiment, it must be thought about. Why don't people do this? I don't know- you aren't playing to your full capacity if you don't do this, I guess humans are ultimately failures at really playing games perfectly.

But I like your point of "incalculable to your present observation" they do seem truly very close when you phrase it like this- it is impossible for you to see the outcome. However in the chess game you are failing to see only because you have not been trained well (or were incapable of such training), not because the information is truly beyond your apprehension. Or is it?

Is a failure to follow a route of thought equivalent to a failure to see something which is too small or insignificant to see without special tools or training? One could imagine an idiot savant who could observe coin flipping and tell you with certainty how it would fall. I have myself as a child trained to flip a coin with certainty to fall in a certain way catching it in my palm. On those occassions I would know at the point of the flip if I knew or not- if it "felt right" I knew it would land tails. I knew instinctively the starting angular velocity was correct and it would land with certainty in a specific way. So the point of this is that the information to know a coin flip is actually probably all in front of you for a normal flip, you just don't have the training or perspicacity to see it. Is this different from a novice at chess?

I am not certain they are different after all- but we can certainly say that the person playing the chess game can use special thought processes to achieve better coherence of play- we can not say with certainty about that with the coin flip (unless you know an idiot savant). That set of special thought processes may not be available to all, even though we like to believe in such an idea, there is nothing beyond wishful thinking to indicate we could all be good chess players.

So for an individual- if that set of thought processes is available to them and the coin flipping perception is not- then the two are distinctly different. They are different because the game player is failing to actualize themself in their game. They are failing to live up to their potential.

But this is after all why we play games, is it not? For the moments of epiphany where you go- hello- this is my route to success, to winning, to break through the complex set of relationships set before you on the table and become something greater than the game itself.





 
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Mark Haberman
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A dice boot is neither a dice, nor a boot.

Discuss...
 
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THE mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis. We appreciate them only in their effects. We know of them, among other things, that they are always to their possessor, when inordinately possessed, a source of the liveliest enjoyment. As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles. He derives pleasure from even the most trivial occupations bringing his talents into play. He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension preternatural. His results, brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition. The faculty of re-solution is possibly much invigorated by mathematical study, and especially by that highest branch of it which, unjustly, and merely on account of its retrograde operations, has been called, as if par excellence, analysis. Yet to calculate is not in itself to analyze. A chess-player, for example, does the one without effort at the other. It follows that the game of chess, in its effects upon mental character, is greatly misunderstood. I am not now writing a treatise, but simply prefacing a somewhat peculiar narrative by observations very much at random; I will, therefore, take occasion to assert that the higher powers of the reflective intellect are more decidedly and more usefully tasked by the unostentatious game of draughts than by all the elaborate frivolity of chess. In this latter, where the pieces have different and bizarre motions, with various and variable values, what is only complex is mistaken (a not unusual error) for what is profound. The attention is here called powerfully into play. If it flag for an instant, an oversight is committed, resulting in injury or defeat. The possible moves being not only manifold but involute, the chances of such oversights are multiplied; and in nine cases out of ten it is the more concentrative rather than the more acute player who conquers. In draughts, on the contrary, where the moves are unique and have but little variation, the probabilities of inadvertence are diminished, and the mere attention being left comparatively what advantages are obtained by either party are obtained by superior acumen. To be less abstract --Let us suppose a game of draughts where the pieces are reduced to four kings, and where, of course, no oversight is to be expected. It is obvious that here the victory can be decided (the players being at all equal) only by some recherche movement, the result of some strong exertion of the intellect. Deprived of ordinary resources, the analyst throws himself into the spirit of his opponent, identifies himself therewith, and not unfrequently sees thus, at a glance, the sole methods (sometimes indeed absurdly simple ones) by which he may seduce into error or hurry into miscalculation.

Whist has long been noted for its influence upon what is termed the calculating power; and men of the highest order of intellect have been known to take an apparently unaccountable delight in it, while eschewing chess as frivolous. Beyond doubt there is nothing of a similar nature so greatly tasking the faculty of analysis. The best chess-player in Christendom may be little more than the best player of chess; but proficiency in whist implies capacity for success in all these more important undertakings where mind struggles with mind. When I say proficiency, I mean that perfection in the game which includes a comprehension of all the sources whence legitimate advantage may be derived. These are not only manifold but multiform, and lie frequently among recesses of thought altogether inaccessible to the ordinary understanding. To observe attentively is to remember distinctly; and, so far, the concentrative chess-player will do very well at whist; while the rules of Hoyle (themselves based upon the mere mechanism of the game) are sufficiently and generally comprehensible. Thus to have a retentive memory, and to proceed by "the book," are points commonly regarded as the sum total of good playing. But it is in matters beyond the limits of mere rule that the skill of the analyst is evinced. He makes, in silence, a host of observations and inferences. So, perhaps, do his companions; and the difference in the extent of the information obtained, lies not so much in the validity of the inference as in the quality of the observation. The necessary knowledge is that of what to observe. Our player confines himself not at all; nor, because the game is the object, does he reject deductions from things external to the game. He examines the countenance of his partner, comparing it carefully with that of each of his opponents. He considers the mode of assorting the cards in each hand; often counting trump by trump, and honor by honor, through the glances bestowed by their holders upon each. He notes every variation of face as the play progresses, gathering a fund of thought from the differences in the expression of certainty, of surprise, of triumph, or chagrin. From the manner of gathering up a trick he judges whether the person taking it can make another in the suit. He recognizes what is played through feint, by the air with which it is thrown upon the table. A casual or inadvertent word; the accidental dropping or turning of a card, with the accompanying anxiety or carelessness in regard to its concealment; the counting of the tricks, with the order of their arrangement; embarrassment, hesitation, eagerness or trepidation --all afford, to his apparently intuitive perception, indications of the true state of affairs. The first two or three rounds having been played, he is in full possession of the contents of each hand, and thenceforward puts down his cards with as absolute a precision of purpose as if the rest of the party had turned outward the faces of their own.

The analytical power should not be confounded with simple ingenuity; for while the analyst is necessarily ingenious, the ingenious man often remarkably incapable of analysis. The constructive or combining power, by which ingenuity is usually manifested, and which the phrenologists (I believe erroneously) have assigned a separate organ, supposing it a primitive faculty, has been so frequently seen in those whose intellect bordered otherwise upon idiocy, as to have attracted general observation among writers on morals. Between ingenuity and the analytic ability there exists a difference far greater, indeed, than that between the fancy and the imagination, but of a character very strictly analogous. It will found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.

THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE

by Edgar Allan Poe
(1841)
 
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Justin Fitzgerald
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One time I peed into the wind and it didn't blow back on me. The wind randomly changed.
 
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Jim K.
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Here's an interesting lecture by Stephen Hawking on uncertainty: http://www.hawking.org.uk/lectures/dice.html
 
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Bernd Wechner
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Really?
Well, this is chaos theory in a nutshell, right? The idea that everything -- from the way that plants and animals grow, to the way your creamer dissipates in your coffee -- is ruled by physical and mathematical formulas.

That's not how I understand Chaos theory at all. If anything it focusses on the recognition that there are in some systems a great many variables that contribute highly exaggerated effects to the net outcome - the famous butterly flap in South America affecting the weather her ein Australia for example.

And sure, this relates to what was claimed here, but is not the same thing in a nutshell. I'm not aware of chaos theorists making any claim that if they could know all the variables the outcome would be deterministic. This is very different to the claim I perceive they do make: that given all the variables cannot be known the outcome is probabalistic.

Just to illustrate the coin-flipping point, I used to know a guy who could flip a coin (trust me, it made at least 20-30 rotations in the air) and get heads every time. It all came down to his skill at flipping, observing, timing, and catching (and who knows what else... I certainly can't do this).

This, while impossible to rule out is VERY hard to believe. It smacks more of a parlour trick with strings attached than something any real person could do. If they could do that, I'd be further surprised that they aren't making a living with this skill as a showman, or at least in the spotlight of Ripley's and the Guinness book and other people interested in the barely credible.

Even if I were to swallow that he coudl do this with one particular coin, I find it even less credible that he could do it with any old coin. The variations in coin balance alone would be as significant as anoy otehr variable and not exactly measurable on the spot without some pretty high tech gear.

or are there others out ther ethat find this easier to believe?
 
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Dane Peacock
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Exactly why, when participating in the wagering arts, I tend to follow trends as opposed to probabilities.
 
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Ray
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(this thread looks like a trap)

That's not what I would call random. I would call random to be always non-static or non-uniform. The players are not able to make it give the same results everytime. So baring superhuman skills or a cheat device a (2+ sided) die roll or coin flip is random.

and IMO a game of rock paper scissors is not called random but chaotic as players can collude to control the results everytime (but winning it is another issue)
 
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Gerald McDaniel
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Poe was an ingenius analyst in several areas.

Good job of selecting the piece. Did you type all of that just for this journal?

 
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Eric "Shippy McShipperson" Mowrer
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Bernd,

It had to be an American quarter dollar. I did, however, see it with my own eyes, and it was not a trick quarter or a double-headed quarter or antyhing like that. It was a quarter from my pocket. I supose there is a remote chance that through some sort of trick, he switched quarters, but I do not belive so.
 
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John So-And-So
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If I can then interpret random simply to mean an element beyond my comprehension, then if I play a pure abstract strategy game with no components we traditionally call random, such as chess, and I lose because I could not forsee a line of play, then did I not lose because it was random to me? Incalculable to my present observation?

I believe the answer is an emphatic "no" because of one important word being omitted from this sentence (intentionally perhaps? Geosphere?).

Your words were "I can interpret random simply to mean an element beyond my comprehension"; but I submit that from the example given, what you mean is you can interpret random simply to mean an element POSSIBLY beyond your comprehension.

Any line of play in chess is within your possible comprehension, it's just not realistic to expect that a player would invest such time and effort into the game as to realize all possible lines of play. Whereas it is physically impossible for you to measure and calculate all the possible variable effects on say, a roll of the dice, it is possible (however improbable) for you to measure all possible variable effects on the chessboard.

Therefore, a move you didn't expect an opponent to make is not a "random" move, nor "incalculable"; but rather a failure to calculate as well as possible on your part.
 
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gamesgrandpa: No, I just cut and pasted it. It's one of my my favorite dissertations on the subject of gaming so when the discussion turned to chess it leaped to mind.

P.S. Sorry about the long paragraphs, but you can't edit stuff like that.
 
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Bernd Wechner
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Not
IMO a game of rock paper scissors is not called random but chaotic as players can collude to control the results everytime

If the players cannot communicate with each other in any way (other than to display a rock, paper ro scissors) and have no prior communication then this is in fact a perfect example of a process with a random outcome.

But yes, it would be argued by determinists that even this isn't random as if youtraced every electical impulse in every enuron of every brain participating in the game that you would know the outcome. But there are more people I suspect prepared to accept that decisions like this are indeed not deterministic, that the decision can fall any way, even in full view and knowledge of the nerual state of the participants at the start of the game.


 
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..but this still doesn't help me with my most pressing question: if I'm travelling in an airplane just barely less than the speed of sound, and then I sneeze, and my head jerks forward, does my head break the sound barrier? Will my head explode? wow

But back on topic: I'm not a physicist, but I think I remember from college that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle doesn't declare subatomic randomness, but rather states that precise localization of particles is impossible because even the act of measurement disturbs the system and the measurement becomes unreliable. Which, I believe, could be extrapolated to mean that we don't really know for sure if such things are random or not. I don't know anything else about quantum physics and such, but I'm actually doubtful that any amount of data could convince me that we can be 100% certain of anything so complex and so hard to examine. I'm inclined to believe that there is no such thing as randomness at all in the universe, ever, anytime, and that things only appear random to us because we are unable to know all the factors involved.

Despite all that, I think the guy had a trick quarter.
 
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About Chaos Theory...

I will take exception to one statement above. It does not require 'a great many variables' to produce virually unpredictable behavior. (Well, its easily predictable if you know the rules governing the action.) It takes only a few variables...but their relationship to each other is where the chaos theory comes into play. "Sensitive Dependence Upon Initial Conditions" is what Chaos is about.

For example....take a simple straight wooden stick with a weight at the end, and attach it at the upper pole in such a way so that it can swing freely in all directions (like a pendulum). If you start the pendulum in motion, there are only two possible eventual outcomes or critical points. The obvious one is that it will eventually come to rest hanging straight down. It may rock around a while first, but eventually gravity and dissipating energy will dictate that.

But the 2nd possible outcome is for the pendulum to become precisely oriented straight UP. Its perfectly balanced. However, if the pendulum were moved AT ALL IN ANY DIRECTION the outcome would change dramatically. You start the system in virtually identical starting points...just off by the tiniest possible fraction. But the final resting position is dramatically different. This is 'sensitive dependence upon initial conditions'.

The great hubbub about chaos theory is that relatively simple equations WITHOUT many variables are used to describe these systems. Imagine that EVERY SINGLE POINT is as critical as that straight up and down position for the pendulum. Every single point....if you moved the starting conditions one iota, would yield a dramatically different outcome. On the surface, the outcome is unpredictable. But chaos theory provides the tools to describe some of these systems and correctly predict the outcomes.

Anyway, that's how I understand it.
 
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Regarding the guy who could flip a coin heads every time . . . this IS a skill that you can develop with practice. It involves no trickery, just training yourself to make the same exact movement every time.
 
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I will take exception to one statement above. It does not require 'a great many variables' to produce virually unpredictable behavior. (Well, its easily predictable if you know the rules governing the action.) It takes only a few variables..

True ... I can swallow that.

Regarding the guy who could flip a coin heads every time . . . this IS a skill that you can develop with practice.

That, I can halfway believe provided you're talking the very same coin all the time, or near identical coins (that is, the skill owuld be specific to the type of coin at least hat you trained on). This could become an olympic sport even

I'm not a physicist, but I think I remember from college that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle doesn't declare subatomic randomness, but rather states that precise localization of particles is impossible because...

Very true, this is just what I said shake. I'll repeat: "... both Heisenberg and Schroedinger became famous for their acepted demonstrations that full knowledge is at some level inescapably beyond our grasp. But even if you were to suppose that we could know all these variables, ..."

... does my head break the sound barrier? Will my head explode?

I'm not sure why our head breaking the sound barrier would make your head explode. Concorde passengers and pilots would have had a low survival rate if that were the case, never mind fighter pilots laugh

 
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I feel obligated to point out that this may or may not be my belief, but as someone who used to teach philosophy, its a great argument.
 
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