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Discussion - Does Randomness Rule Our Lives?

The view that randomness impacts and shapes our lives in profound ways has been gaining traction since 2002 when Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel prize in Economics for his work with Amos Tversky in characterizing our failings when facing uncertainty. Leonard Mlodinow strongly defends the thesis in his 2008 bestseller The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (at Amazon; at Alibris).  We will review and discuss Mlodinow's argument to assess its validity, its implications for philosophy, free will, and determinism, and its implications for economic and social policy.

Inspired, in part, by Mlodinow's book, I wrote an essay Are Randomness and Uncertainty fundamental and pervasive where I explored some of these issues.

I am open to "sponsoring" volunteers to lead future Ben Franklin Thinking Society meetups.  If you have a topic of interest, please send me an e-mail ([masked]) outlining your subject.

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  • CJ F.

    I wrote an essay detailing my thoughts about how Randomness and Pattern or determinism always and only coexist: http://blog.cjfearnley.com/2012/02/21/determinism-and-randomness-always-and-only-coexist/

    Let me know what you think of it. Thanks.

    February 21, 2012

  • Sandy C.

    Excellent discussion of randomness, what it is and isn't, and it's implications for science and engineering. From the advance materials, I had expected we'd focus more on the role of randomness in personal, social, and philosophical contexts. Perhaps another session could address these. I'm especially interested in how randomness creates unpredictable opportunities and how we make decisions under conditions of uncertainty. This was one of the most interesting and stimulation discussion I've participated in. It was my first meeting with this group and I will definitely be back.

    January 11, 2012

  • Tee C.

    This was a fabulous topic. It was very helpful for me to read and watch the suggested material. The only problem was that the topic was too large. We could spend another discussion on this. For instance "degrees of randomness". Good meeting.

    January 10, 2012

  • Edie S.

    The meetup was very interesting and an enjoyable experience. Everyone spoke and listened to what others had to say. The leader was very well-prepared and asked provocative questions to keep the conversation going. I will definitely return to meetings of this group.

    January 9, 2012

  • CJ F.

    I liked that we had several people who understood randomness as well as a few skeptics. Now I want to see if I can develop my thesis that Order or Pattern and Randomness always and only coexist. I suspect that the integrated view of these two seemingly opposite perspectives is most accurate.

    January 8, 2012

  • CJ F.

    The Persi Diaconis lecture "On Coincidences" from 1998 is available in RealVideo format only at http://realserver.princeton.edu:8080/ramgen/lectures/19981119diaconisTV7200K.rm

    Persi Diaconis and Frederick Mosteller presented the 1987 R. A. Fiisher Memorial Lecture "Methods for Studying Coincidences" which can be downloaded from http://www.math.northwestern.edu/~fcale/CCC/DC.pdf

    Both the lecture and paper explain a bit about how to distinguish coincidences.

    January 8, 2012

  • CJ F.

    This article by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman tells the powerful story of his discovery of the "illusion of validity": we tend to confidently believe our analyses even when all evidence points to our profound ignorance and repeated errors. It is a powerful story that confidence and certainty blind us to the power of randomness in our lives.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/magazine/dont-blink-the-hazards-of-confidence.html

    January 6, 2012

  • CJ F.

    Radiolab has a very relevant, very good one hour podcast on "Stochasticity" (I will probably reference some of the stories covered in this program): http://www.radiolab.org/2009/jun/15/

    The direct download link for the podcast is http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/audio.wnyc.org/radiolab/radiolab091109.mp3

    January 5, 2012

  • CJ F.

    The video "The Illusion of Certainty: Risk, Probability, and Chance" (an hour and a half long) from the World Science Festival will give a good flavor of some of the issues to be discussed on Sunday. Video home page: http://worldsciencefestival.com/events/coincidence_randomness

    Video download link: http://wsftv-videos.s3.amazonaws.com/Full_Risk_IllusionOfCertainty-fixed.mov (725 MiB)

    January 3, 2012

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