Friday, October 07, 2005

Randomness & Unpredictability

"Mathematics is the science of patterns."
~Lynn Arthur Steen

When I began this blog, I posted a quote from Spinoza, who wrote that there is nothing random about nature, and that the things that we perceive as random are only so because we do not understand it. In understanding 'Life: The MMO', it might do us well to distinguish between the ideas of randomness and unpredictability...similar concepts, but we cannot accept both and be consistent when talking about universal automatism.
Main Entry: random
Function: adjective
  1. a : lacking a definite plan, purpose, or pattern b : made, done, or chosen at random
  2. a : relating to, having, or being elements or events with definite probability of occurrence b : being or relating to a set or to an element of a set each of whose elements has equal probability of occurrence ; also : characterized by procedures designed to obtain such sets or elements

The primary definition of random, according to Merriam-Webster, lacks purpose. Were the calculations of life to truly behave in a random fashion, according to this definition, life would not exist. A skin cell might consist of carbon molecules in one instance, aluminum the next, vanish from existence in the next, only to reform as something else afterwards.

No, life doesn't behave that way. We can't really then make use of the term 'randomness' and mean this without being inconsistent.

However, the second definition refers to (albeit not exactly) probability of occurance and procedures designed to obtain sets whose elements are probabilistic. This captures more of the meaning of 'randomness' as referred to in universal automatism....which is more like the idea of 'unpredictable' than the first definition of 'random'.

Calculations behave in a deterministic, yet unpredictable pattern. The series of calculations which produced CC, the cloned cat (referred to earlier), still produced a cat, but not an identical copy of its original....even with the same instructions!

MMOs, even in their simplicity, attempt to create this sense of unpredictability with the use of a random number generator to simulate the idea of luck and chance in the game. The outcome of the random number generator is often modified by things like character skills, experience, difficulty of the task, etc... which is a simplistic model of proficiency that we can still relate to: as good as we've become at walking, we still trip once in a while.

Unpredictability, in this sense, still retains a certain purpose, and still behaves in a particular pattern - although the complexity may currently be beyond our ability to describe with accuracy. Calculations process input from all of the relevant environmental and internal factors, then produce an output which is based upon that input and the operations involved in that particular calculation. While the operatives involved may not always produce identical results, what they do produce is more characteristic of being unpredictable than being completely random.

For the sake of word variety, I may continue to use both the words 'random' and 'unpredictable' when discussing universal automatism; however I use both words to indicate a sort of 'instability with purpose' which describes the laws of the world that we are in.


Blogger Maverician said...

I'm enjoying your blog so far, only got this far and am reading it very slowly.

I would just like to comment that you don't go into the reasons for current unpredictability in our world.

So far, to my knowledge, the only aspect of our universe (read: within our universe) which we currently deem to be truly unpredictable is that of quantum mechanics. (Oh, of course, and the bistromathematical computations that arrive at a restaurant bill.)

The truth of the situation with CC is that we are unsure if the same genes in the same situation will create the same cat, but this is not because we are unsure of the genes predictability, this is because of every single atom (and even deeper than that) having a certain unpredictability to it.

As a note, if you would be happy to comment, I would like to know whether if we were to discover that everything in the universe is predictable (which we almost certainly know not to be true), would that be in the For or Against column for your MMOLife concept?

5:43 PM  

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