Random Decision-Making in a Random Universe

Is the universe random or determined? Does free will exist?

This is not a post on theology or physics, and an in-depth discussion on these topics doesn’t gel with the aesthetics of this website.

However, in this article, we are going to look at what randomness really is.

Randomness is a concept that many simply cannot define. In its basic sense, any sequence that cannot be predicted or any pattern that cannot be discerned is defined as ‘random’. But while with time you can decipher patterns in a sequence where they were previously not apparent, we usually downplay the frequency in which random events occur.

Consider the simple example of gambling (or any board game that involves the roll of a dice). Casinos bank upon our misconception of randomness. For example, when you win a couple of rounds in a row, you think you are on a ‘streak’, and if you repeat the same action again, you will win one more time.

This is fallacious thinking. For example, if a coin is flipped 5 times and shows ‘tails’ each time, which side do you think will come up in the next toss? Heads (because it is due), or tails, because you are on a streak?

The answer is: ‘you don’t know’. You can never know. A coin doesn’t remember past events. The same is true of a roulette wheel. You hit 5 reds in a row, but it is wrong to think that choosing red for the 6th time because you are on a roll or choosing black because it is due ignores the same fundamental fact that the roulette wheel has no memory. The same goes for sports betting.

Moving on, if you have ever seen a magic trick that involves playing cards, then you would better understand how randomness and patterns are confusingly intertwined. There is something known as a ‘false shuffle’, whereby the magician seems to shuffle a deck of 52 cards, but he manages to keep his secret card in the same location.

Also consider the example of hacking. Personal and financial information is protected online via cryptography, a system that uses random numbers. However, sooner or later, someone deciphers a pattern and gains unauthorized access to the information.

As famous science writer Michael Shermer notes:

Extraordinary events do not always require extraordinary causes. Given enough time, they can happen by chance. Knowing this, Mlodinow says, “we can improve our skill at decision making and tame some of the biases that lead us to make poor judgments and poor choices … and we can learn to judge decisions by the spectrum of potential outcomes they might have produced rather than by the particular result that actually occurred.” Embrace the random. Find the pattern. Know the difference.’

This is your blueprint for moving around in this random universe. All decisions, in the ultimate analysis, are random. But with the techniques and apps provided on this website, you will learn to make more good decisions than bad ones in the long run.