Philosophy Cafe kicks off its third year of themed explorations by asking what we mean by calling something "random". What kinds of things can be random? Does randomness have a good, bad, or indifferent connotation? Why has random become such a hip word recently, and in what does its hipness consist? How does it compare to the "unknown" or "unknowable"? What does the concept of randomness reveal about how we conceive the world?
"Anyone who considers arithmetical methods of producing random digits is, of course, in a state of sin." ― John von Neumann
Some will be interested in the scientific-mathematical sense of randomness. Random.org is a site that generates "true random numbers" using atmospheric noise: does that seem mathematical to you?
“For what are myths if not the imposing of order on phenomena that do not possess order in themselves? And all myths, however they differ from philosophical systems and scientific theories, share this with them, that they negate the principle of randomness in the world.” ― Stanisław Lem, Highcastle: A Remembrance
We seems to have a love/hate relationship with randomness: one minute we swear that everything has a reason, and the next we affirm our free will by pointing to quantum mechanics. The story we read last summer by Borges highlighted this paradox, with the poor begging to be subjected to a lottery of punishments. The forms that embody randomness have to be taken into account....
“Importance of the random: keep brushing up against people, books, experiences we don't yet know what to do with.” ― Alain de Botton
Some composers and poets, like John Cage, use aleatoric methods to pull themselves out of habitual associations. By giving up "choosing", they defy the militarism of language, whose very understandability makes it a tool of manipulation (so they say). Yet the products of this method strike many lovers of poetry as an "in" joke, or worse, an inversion of values regarding expertise.
I could go on: climate perception, stock markets, shuffle mode on your iPod. As always, you are invited to contribute quotes, anecdotes, props, etc. that help expand and focus our discussion. Probably there will be additional chance components to spice up the proceedings; however, the title is "Inquiry into Randomness" because we DO aim to make some sense of it. Seems like nice, wide-open way to launch the year, anyway. Hope to see you there!