Daily Archives: January 27, 2021

Randomness, numbers and reality

Jack wrote this in July, 2005:

3.22.03 and back ups 783

That locomotive you see in this picture isn’t a locomotive, of course.  That smoke you see pouring out of the stack isn’t superheated water under pressure being released while huge pistons turn steel wheels.  The locomotive is just a rock, the smoke is a contrail made by wingtip vortices of a man-made machine flying at high altitude.

That rock’s been standing there in the same position for uncounted millions of years, eroding into the shape you now see.  Prior to a century and a half ago no human would have thought to notice how much it resembled a steam locomotive because locomotives weren’t yet a chunk of the reality created by the human mind.

So what does that have to do with numbers?

Those numbers you see on your radio dial, on your cell phone, on vehicle license tags, on mile markers, currency, clocks, compasses, and at the bottoms of the pages of books are all inventions of the human mind, artifacts.  Ways of converting that rock into a locomotive, representing hundreds of avenues of human experience and trying to nail those experiences down into something measurable, something more easily understandable.

But at the foundations those numbers have little more connection with anything absolute than that giant of a rock has to some other masses of rocks superheated, molded into form, hammered and bolted together to create the artifact this piece of geology now strives to imitate in your mind.

Numbers don’t exist in nature.  They didn’t exist in those barely human creatures we see in museums and anthropology texts, our genetic ancestors.  Numbers are a relatively recent invention of the modern human mind, an artifact created to measure, to record, to guide, to identify.

And the human mind abhors randomness in much the same way nature abhors a vacuum.  By their very nature numbers are the antithesis of randomness.  They are a system more elaborate in their construction than a locomotive, created with the precise intention of driving randomness from human reality.

If those MM numbers last night appear to the result of non-random forces, energy or events, you might consider asking yourself how it could be otherwise.  Saint Francis once observed, you can’t train a wolf to prefer bread over meat.

Jack