I took this picture yesterday (using my mom’s phone: mine can’t offload photos) at the start of the cul de sac, at the bottom of which lies the first job I ever had: washing dishes in a nursing home (in which my uncle now resides).
Who could have guessed I would have moved from there to where I am now?
Certainly not one of my old teachers, who was shocked when told by my parents of my career (such as it is). The teacher was cornered in the back of a grocery store. This same teacher would have taken in stride news that I was just coming up for parole.
This highlights one of the shades of meaning of random. It’s when an event was not just unpredictable, but that it happened almost against the evidence. “That was random,” we say.
This usage acknowledges random is a measure of information, which at least removes some of the mysticism the words has in scientific and mathematical contexts. But maybe not all. We sometimes almost have the idea Nature is working against our desires, though Her actions in this regard are weak.
Mysticism? Did you know that in classic statistical formula if some numbers aren’t imbued—nobody knows how—with randomness, the formula won’t work?
Oh, the formulas will still spit out answers, of course, but you won’t be allowed to use those answers. It’s kind of like sitting down to a feast and discovering the witch doctor didn’t give his prior blessing to the animals cooked, and therefore nobody is allowed to eat.
It’s not just frequentists who believe in magic, but most Bayesians, too. Whenever you hear somebody say, “X is randomly distributed normally” (or some other thing), you have heard an incantation. There is nothing in the world that makes a number “randomly normal” (or whatever). It’s only that our understanding might be quantified by a normal (or whatever).
How X knows it’s supposed to be normal (or whatever) is never specified either. It’s here that the Deadly Sin of Reification mixes with the mysticism of randomness. The formulas become realer than reality, and it’s the power of mysticism which does the deed. But again, nobody knows how. It’s a question which is never asked.
When I’m done with this mini-vacation, I’ll set out more specifically all the shades of meaning of random.