Tag Archives: Randomness

Portugese Surfers

Organized Randomness

So the other day I was out riding my bike, and I took a wrong turn. I was in my old neighborhood, but it had been a while, so I was busy kind of looking around and not really paying attention to where I was going. I saw these kids jumping rope, and they stopped and looked at me when I rode past, so I slowed down to get a look at them. They acted as if they’d seen me before, or knew me from somewhere, but I didn’t recognize them at all. I waited for them to say something to indicate why they were looking at me with such familiarity. That’s when I heard that creepy voice from behind me. I almost fell off my bike when I made out the words, he/she didn’t really mean that, did they?

It was like the other day when I was sitting in one of those government offices to get some government paperwork down. You can always tell you are in a government office (in case you happen to suddenly appear inside of one and you aren’t sure where you are) because the people seem to have a certain “aura” about them, and the office furniture and equipment is usually a couple steps behind the times.

If you strolled into some modern research facility, or the office of a successful construction company, you’d likely find plenty of modern up to date people wearing modern, up to date clothes using modern, up to date equipment. But government office building people and equipment look like they only get upgraded once a decade or so.

So there I was, looking at all the government office people with all the forms scattered about their desks. I zeroed in on this one guy (I was waiting for my number to be called, like it I was a deli or something) and I watched him work for a bit. He’d pick up a piece of paper, read over it for a minute or so, check something on his computer screen, then scribble something on the paper, then put the paper off to one side. Then he’d pick up another piece and do the same thing. He didn’t appear to be doing this in any sort of predetermined order, it seemed completely random. And the place the put the papers down were never the exact same place from where he picked it up. There didn’t seem to be any progression of movement, either. It wasn’t like the finished papers were somehow migrating to some predestined spot on his desk. It seemed to be a pile of randomness that was turning into more randomness.

Of course I’m sure he knew exactly what he was doing, and exactly where everything was, and exactly how far he’d progressed on all of his various tasks that were scattered about his desk. One thing that is always satisfying is having a heap of randomness, and being accused of not having any idea where anything is, and then pulling out exactly what somebody asked for without even a second thought. That’s always a good trick.

Scientists that study randomness tell us that everything is random, and only because we live inside of familiarity do we convince ourselves that there is some order. Of course, everything in the universe follows certain laws (though not of course to some) and everything that exists now, however it exists, from your desk to your brainwaves are due only to what happened before.

The problem is that many times the “what happened before” is sometimes so complex and unknowable that things can appear to happen for no reason at all. Mathematical chaos theory tries to explain this. If you knew everything about the current state of affairs (down to every last movement of every last molecule) you could theoretically predict exactly what would unfold. But knowing everything of the current state of affairs is absolutely impossible. So when things happen, things we don’t expect, it can seem like they just popped out of nowhere.

I read some book once that talked about planning for randomness like a skilled surfer can handle any wave that comes in. If you are expecting a certain wave that will break a certain way, you aren’t likely to have much fun. But if you stay flexible, and learn enough skills to ride whatever wave comes in, for as long as it lasts, you can maximize your enjoyment, and minimize any frustration of wiping out.

This requires knowing what the bottom looks like, so you know exactly when you bail out. It’s probably a better idea to bail out before you get to the jagged coral on the bottom, lest you bash your skull in and suddenly wake up in some government office in a parallel universe.

Many frustrations occur because people try and ride a wave longer than they should. They have a couple of good moves, a few moments of bliss, and stay on too long. While they seldom wipe out from staying on too long, it just takes a long time to paddle out to where the waves are breaking, wasting valuable time. If you only have a couple hours of surfing time, it’s best to make the most of it.

Finally my number was called, and luckily I had all the paperwork filled out in the correct way. Sometimes, especially in government offices, they make you fill out all the paperwork again if you make even one mistake.

“I told you, I can’t eat the spicy stuff. My doctor says I have ulcers.”

I had to stop and process that before I turned around. The old man that was behind me (it was thought to tell from his voice) started telling me that the last time I brought him a pizza, there was too much Portuguese sausage on it. I guess that’s why those kids had stopped jumping rope and were looking at me funny. Just as I was about to respond to he strange old guy, the pizza delivery guy showed up. He looked a lot like me, and he waved at everybody like he knew them. He then proceeded to tell the old guy that he went easy on the sausage this time.

So, he’s got that going for him, which is nice.


To rise above randomness and make sense of it all for fun, and profit, click the link below:

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Success with NLP

Coefficient Of Correlation

Pure Randomness

I used to have this neighbor that was quite eccentric. She had all these different hats that she would wear for all different kinds of occasions. I don’t think I ever saw her wear the same hat twice. I never saw the inside of her apartment, but I suspect that it was filled with hats. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever bought hat before. Maybe a couple baseball hats, and some ski hats for skiing, hiking, and robbing banks, but those don’t really count.

These were hardcore, fashion-oriented hats. The kind that you would see on some French aristocrat at a horserace. Assuming of course that French aristocrats have horses races. I’m not sure that they do, but it would seem logical. I never really thought about the psychology of hats until I lived next door to this lady. I never saw any kids or grandkids, so I assumed she lived alone.

I remember reading an essay once that destroyed the urban legend and often repeated myth that Americans stopped wearing hats when JFK was president. The common belief is that before he was president, everybody wore hats. Then when he, as president, went everywhere without a hat, the trend quickly caught on.

The truth of the matter, however, is far less interesting. Hats, gloves, other clothing items that are purely ornamental had been falling out of fashion steadily since the turn of the century. Hats were just another example of this. When Kennedy was not wearing his hat, he was just one example of the growing trend of hatless men.

Of course, the human brain comes pre wired to find cause effect relationships. Something like suddenly noticing people aren’t wearing hats, and then noticing a prominent figure like JFK isn’t wearing one, the easiest conclusion is that one thing caused the other. More often than not, they are merely related, and some other factor is causing them both.

Now I’m not particularly qualified nor well read enough to comment on the reason for the decline in hats, gloves etc. There are several theories, some make sense, and some don’t, depending on your social philosophy. Whatever that means.

They’ve done some pretty interesting experiments to study the brains propensity to find cause and effect relationships between random objects. They show random objects moving around on a computer screen to a baby, and the baby quickly assumes that one “shape” is chasing the other. They suspect this because they show one shape moving around by itself, and then stop it. They babies interest doesn’t change much. One object stopping and starting by itself is no big deal.

But then they show two objects moving around, and pretty soon the baby assumes there is a cause/effect relationship between the two objects. They stop one of the objects from moving, and the baby gets confused and looks back and forth between the stopped object and the moving object as if something is wrong. Why did one stop and the other didn’t? They suppose that if there weren’t any assumed cause/effect relationship between the shapes, then the reaction of two moving objects with one stopping would be the same as one moving object and then stopping. It isn’t.

One explanation for this is that back in the old days, when daily living was a life and death struggle against the environment, humans didn’t have time to sit around and do double blind studies every time they saw a tiger coming at them.

The cause/effect relationship was simple:

Tiger = Danger

Those who needed to learn that every time didn’t live long enough to pass on the need to scrutinize every decision. Those that had the capability to make snap cause/effect judgments on the world around them lived long enough to reproduce.

So here we are, thousands of years later, with that circuitry still firmly wired into our brains. We see two events, and immediately come to the conclusion that one is causing the other, or one has an impact on the other.

In the book “Fooled By Randomness,” by Taleb, he shows how often completely random events with no statistical causal relationships are often mistaken to be linked somehow.

In the book “Mind Lines,” Dr. Hall illustrates how we have a capacity to witness or experience an event, and quickly give it meaning. That event causes this, or this event means that. We then react not to the event itself, but the meaning we give it. In the language of NLP, that’s called a complex equivalent. Something that we think is a simple cause/effect relationship, but in reality has several layers of subconscious thought and judgment between the event (the cause) and the perceived outcome (the effect).

So what does this all mean? Just be careful when you assume any cause/effect relationship. We live in big cities now, and we don’t have to hunt for our food anymore. It’s ok to take a few moments to use your brain to make a decision, instead of reacting right away.

And if you bump into some lady that is wearing a different hat every time you see her, tell her I want my can opener back.