What is randomness? We take it to mean something like "without physical cause or mechanical explanation". We say, for example, that tossing a coin or rolling dice shows randomness, but it actually doesn't. Because, as Jack knows, the coin lands one way or the other depending on physical reasons. Just because we can't see them, doesn't mean they're not there.
When I was at university I was a member of the Psychic Research Society, and our aim was to set out to try to prove or disprove, find evidence for or against, various supernatural phenomena, such as ghosts or clairvoyance. We even tried to test a ouija board. "Amazingly", we did get some actual answers from the ouija board - the glass really did move around and spell out letters.
Erm, actually it wasn't that amazing. I know perfectly well that someone round that table was making it move. How do I know? Well, it was me. I just couldn't help myself. (Which you might call being possessed but I'd call just being a trouble-maker.) And if it hadn't been me it would have been someone else.
Anyway, forget ouija boards. And don't mess around with them - either there'll be some idiot like me trying to freak everyone out, or nothing will happen, or something will happen which you won't be able to explain.
So, what's this got to do with randomness? For various bits of scientific research we had to find a way to generate random numbers. So that we could make sure psychology didn't come into it and it was pure unbiased science. Now, I am no mathematician - trust me - and I thought it would be easy: you could maybe stick a pin in a list, blind-folded; or you could ask a computer to generate "any old numbers"; or you could write numbers on bits of paper, throw them in the air and see which landed face up. Or something.
But the clever people explained to me that those methods would not create true randomness. All those things are like tossing a coin: they depend on physical cuases, not randomness. Unless we redefine randomness to include quantum uncertainty, but I don't know how that would work and I certainly didn't know about quantum mechanics then. (Not much new there.)
Now, frankly, I became very bored with this and pretty much gave up and left the Psychic Research Soc. But it did get me thinking about randomness, in a vaguely interested way. I never came to any conclusions and I'd quite like to know what you clever mathsy people think.
Meanwhile, let's apply some pseudo-randomness and let's have a competition. If you'd like to win a signed copy of one of my books (sent anywhere in the world because I've had a good day and am feeling happy), simply add a comment below, with your name. Then, suggest how I will apply some kind of randomness to picking a winner. There's no prize for the person who gives me the best suggestion but I will then apply it and we'll see whose name wins the book!
Deadline 30th May.