Random rantings on randomness
I may be a bit black and white here, but I often find that in the question of measurements and estimations there seems to be two clear sides and the battle is tense:
- Measure everything! You get what you measure! If you can’t measure it, don’t do it!
- Measurement leads to people doing what ever to get high scores, not high results! We spend so much time on measurements that we don’t have time to do any changes. Depending on the measurement point and method, you can present any result.
So where am I? I see myself somewhere in the middle and I cannot decide where my heart is. Probably nowhere. So hence I turned to randomness. Or rather, Audible did. I have an Audible subscription and every month I get a new free audio book and since we were on holiday, I took the time to get some new nice reading. I seldom have something special in mind and pick something that sounds interesting. Since this was the way I found Predictably Irrational and Made To Stick, I find this method very good. I find books I would never have selected otherwise and many times I’m very happy with my choice. And this time I found Drunkard’s walk by Leonard Mlodinow. I was directly hooked. Math was never my strongest subject, but here I was drawn into the history and almost magical world of randomness. The book also covers how the workings of our brains clashes with the workings of randomness. We are pattern seeking entities and randomness is random.
To summarize, what is hard for us to grasp is that there is a small chance that something specific improbable will happen to us but very probably that something improbable will happen. As an example, the chance of you dreaming of your aunt the night before she dies probably feels improbable but the chance that someone of her many friends and relative do is not as improbable as one might think.
In the first edition of the Ipod, Apple spent a lot of energy making the random song selector working randomly and they did such a good job that people complaint about it not being random. Again, the chance of The Winner Takes It All being played twice on your morning jog is not that high (if you have that song and loads of other songs on your device) but the chance of any song being played twice is not that low, given that you have that song on your device. With a true random song list, it is not unlikely that one song is played every time you use your device. But when you change the question to what the chances that specifically The Winner Takes It All is played everytime, the chances drop dramatically.
For you math geeks, this is nothing new, but for me so thoughtworthy and there are some aspects of randomness which I will continue bothering you with.
So I leave you with a question to the next time. Imagine that you are participating in a game show. You have three doors in front of you and behind one door, there is a wonderfil sportscar. The game show host tells you to pick a door. The game show host, who knows where the car is, then opens one of the doors you didn’t pick, knowing that he opens a door behind which there is no car. He then asks you if you want to stick to your choice or if you want to change. Should you?