Beginning with the dawn of understanding literacy, circa my pre-kindergarten years, there has been a constant bombardment of information knocking at the metaphorical front doors of my mind. The knocking is persistent and grows louder each day as new information continues to pile up, waiting to be let in. Like girl-scouts, an overwhelming number of facts and information fill our world, drizzled with caramel and sugar-coated in efforts of helping its consumers stomach the toothache that is life’s inevitable unpredictability. With the aid of Leonard Mlodinow’s novel, The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, an individual can strengthen their ability to filter data and recognize human error; leading to a wider apprehension of reality through mathematical terms, studying the essence of randomness opens doors of consciousness that allow a person to see beyond the tangible. I still recall the sheer astonishment I discovered on a random day in some random classroom in year 19-whatever, when that random teacher’s assistant taught me how to write my name. From that point on, there was a certain seed of awareness planted inside me, and amidst the big and clumsy, barbaric movements of my arms and wrists, I unveiled a side of me that words cannot describe. I had written my own name, and I knew through the process of placing seamlessly random letters next to one another that I could create small things that would eventually lead to bigger endeavors.
No, I am not claiming that as a toddler I already had an existential understanding of the awareness of my being. In fact, I still do not have the slightest clue of why-in-the-world I live but I do, and I cannot seem to escape questioning my own existence. I contemplate whether there is a structured backbone that outlines life’s form, context, and irritating elusiveness, or if the human mind is simply too busy or mentally feeble to dip more than a toe into the fountain of the knowledge of all possibilities. A key facet, according to The Drunkard’s Walk, in understanding the theory of randomness is the recognition of the human intuition’s interference when making “assessments and choices in uncertain situations” (Mlodinow, 4). Emotions can give way to irrational thinking, because emotions have enough power to cloud a person’s logical thought process. The process of living is constantly under construction. Each and everyday, “the outline of our lives… is continuously coaxed in new directions by a variety of random events that, along with our responses to them, determine our fate. As a result, life is both hard to predict and hard to interpret” (Mlodinow, 4).
Following in this same line of thought, if humanity were to acquire all possible cognitive wisdom that is present on Earth, there would still be things unknown. Due to the complexity of the world’s randomness, even if a mathematician or scientist had in their possession a book containing every fact that is true, there would still be out of the ordinary occurrences that cannot be explained merely through factual statements. Here come some random examples regarding how unpredictable factors affect us in our day to day living: gambling with a broken roulette table, a misreading of a diagnosis, new construction blockades and detours, car accidents, mistakes made in a lab handling DNA for a murder case, winning a game show, winning the lottery, someone else’s dog eating your homework on the way to school, etc. The point here being that there are probable and logical ways to formulate and outline the future events that will happen to us, but there is no exact way to factor in the probability of a random occurrence happening, like your car breaking down on the way to a math test. Mlodinow describes “The Theory of Randomness” as “fundamentally a codification of common sense” (Mlodinow, 21). To “overcome our misconceptions” regarding randomness, it takes “both experience and a lot of careful thinking” (Mlodinow, 21).
The complexity of the world’s randomness is a beast we must reckon with, for if we stay in hiding, we are not progressing towards a more rational truth. According to Moshe, a statistician, “truly random numbers do not exist” (Mlodinow, 82). He goes on to talk about past attempts at generating random numerical sequences [for example, through algorithms in a computer program]. These random sequences do not exist though; he claims that these researchers are just fooling themselves, or at least trying to. Moshe proposes that a person may as well use a die when trying to find random numbers, one of the oldest methods that inspired and pioneered the study of probability; this remark seems to ring with a sarcastic tone. Meaning, Moshe finds just as many issues with a pair of dice as with a computer generated program. He says, “any artificial device is bound to suffer from [some] flaw, because human beings do not have access to perfection” (Mladinow, 82). This theory also applies to a pair of dice– the measurements could be off, the die could be unequally weighted, etc.
Through the discovery of imperfections present in the probability of rolling snake-eyes, the idea of frequency of a die landing on one face versus one of the other five faces is brought to light. Moshe emphasizes that we cannot prove that there is an existing die that lands on each of its faces with equal frequency. Although chance and probability are relevant to each die and to each human’s daily existence, it remains difficult to proceed with the study of randomness due to earthly limitations. In a perfect world, the probability of rolling any given face of a die would be 1/6. Unfortunately, our world is filled with chaotic imperfections, but that is the motivation to keep discovering, learning, and teaching the basis of mathematical processes present in the routine life of an individual. Moshe does offer a bit of positivity regarding the mess that is existing; he says, “Complete chaos is ironically a kind of perfection” (Mlodinow, 85).
for Math 120, by: K.E. Muecke