# Random is

09 Oct 2023

“Random” is the word we often use for events we can’t explain.

Then, we try to explain them. We try to figure “why.”

The reality is that for most things, the precise confluence of causal events that gave rise to what happened is usually unknowable by us.

What we can know, however, is that things can happen.

Randomness is actually less about “it just happened out of the blue” and more about “this thing, which doesn’t happen often, but does happen with some regularity, just happened.”

Randomness can be measured. We can know the likely frequency of an event, while still not being able to specifically predict it. One classic example: if you were to flip a coin (heads/tails), what is the expected frequency of getting two heads in a row? The math is simple: each flip has a 50/50 (1/2) chance of coming up heads. Therefore, the chance of two heads in a row is 0.5 X 0.5 = 0.25. Flip a coin 4 times, and you have a good chance of at least two of them being HH.

What’s the chance of getting a string of 5 heads in a row? That would be 0.5 X 0.5 X 0.5 X 0.5 X 0.5, or a 3% chance. I created a spreadsheet with a 10 strings of 100 heads/tails flips, and got the following occurrences of a 5 heads in a row:

Randomness says that any given event has a frequency. A “thousand year storm” means there’s a 0.1% chance of it happening in any given year. This is “extremely rare” but not impossible. I did a similar test: 10 sequences of 100 “flips of the coin”, where the chance of getting “heads” was 0.1%. The result:

The very first string of 100 flips, there was a 1-in-1,000 flip. (It makes sense that it should show up somewhere, because 10 X 100 = 1,000 flips.) It’s rare, but it happens, given enough time.

Because we often have an idea of the frequency, but different causes can give rise to an event, we can’t see causal effects and thus predict it. Often, for many events, we don’t know the frequency, or we don’t know that a string of events is running. But—eventually—we’ll see 5 heads flipped. Eventually, there will be a war, or a pandemic disease, or a major earthquake, or whatever.

We’d like to be able to predict these things. Sometimes we can—we can sort of “see the likelihood” coming over the horizon, like a cloud. But we can’t know it perfectly. Sometimes the storm clouds dissipate.

The best we can do is be prepared—especially for events of which we know the frequency—and then boldly respond when something does happen.

08 Oct 2023

10 Oct 2023

2024

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