I’ve always been fascinated by games of “chance,” which may explain why I moved to Las Vegas; and maybe that is also why I should not be living there.
But great writers have also been consumed with the idea of luck, from Dostoevsky and Jorge Luis Borges, author of the Lottery of Babylon, to Hermann Hesse, author of The Bead Game.
Besides the obvious motivation of greed there is the seductive aspect of getting a glimpse of a higher reality, where what seems like chance is actually decided by a greater mind. (And if we could just “understand”… everything would be known).
Or alternatively, what if chance is really just that, and there is NO order out of which things come and everything is chaotic — or “random?”
In the nondual teaching, for example, there is the notion that there is ONLY consciousness and things happen but there is no direct prior cause to any effect. This has been gristle for philosophical debate probably since early human history. The ultimate variable (in computer terms) that has always been used to describe such “causes” was God. Now we try to rely on science.
So it was that with my life in Vegas I began to think about how the electronic versions of gaming function; without a human dealer who shuffles the cards or rolls the ball or tosses the dice. Unless it is rigged, “the universe decides.” So I began to wonder how we use computers to accurately simulate (or actually encounter) “chance.”
Here is what I gleaned from an online site dedicated to Videopoker.com:
“There is no ‘pattern’ and no strategy for how it works—it just constantly cycles random card combinations around until you hit ‘draw’ and ‘deal.’ It is one of the keys to legalized gambling: It assures the regulatory bodies that casinos are offering fair games and assures you that you are playing a ‘legit’ game.”
How Randomness Works
So how is this done?
“The key to understanding how legitimate, traditional Class III* video poker games work is understanding the role and function of an RNG. This refers to games like IGT’s Game King (www.igt.com) and Triple-Play Poker (www.actiongaming.com).
The RNG is the hardest working device known, and it ensures a fair game every time. Its sole responsibility is to constantly shuffle the deck of 52 cards (or 53 in Joker Poker). This manic activity goes on and on UNTIL you hit the ‘deal’ button.”
Okay so somehow programmers have devised an “algorithm” (buzzword for program) to simulate randomness. But clearly this needed to be “programmed” (designed intelligently), which would suggest that somewhere among the zeroes and ones of the program there is a way this happens (order) that can be discerned.
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And then presumably if one understood the program completely, the results could be predicted — no longer random.
Of course they would appear random to the person pulling the lever who is far removed from the program, and for her the results would actually be, for better or worse, random.
But this is sort of a cheat in terms of the reality of randomness. Let me explain….
I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas R. Hofstadter is a wonderful book, a follow-up to a Pulitzer prize winning best-seller called Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid that seeks to demonstrate the unique qualities of a mind that expresses itself in language, along with the inevitable gaps and paradoxes that result in believing too much in the logic of our spoken and written descriptions of “what is real.”
As a mathematician, neuroscientist, and philosopher, Hofstadter begins with the primacy of number because regardless of whatever symbols you use to represent “number,” certain truths persist.
If I understand Hofstadter’s key point, it is that the idea of such a sequence of numbers is primary and causal, and can be described in a different set of symbols, namely the English language, as a sequence of numbers, such that each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two — the well-known Fibonacci sequence.
What Hofstadter points out, however, is the discovery of mathematician Kurt Gödel, that when one goes from the primary set of symbols (numbers) to our “understanding” of them represented by language, very weird anomalies of logic come up that result in “strange loops” — infinite progressions without resolutions or perhaps paradoxes.
Here is a “prime” example of another such a paradox or anomaly:
The sentence “This sentence has ten words” has ten words (I am a Strange Loop, p. 140).
What this illustrates dramatically is that our idealistic or linguistic ability to describe things does not adequately define or explain reality.
In the blog post I originally wrote about this I also pointed out that verbally we can always posit something like, there must always be a greater prime number. Earlier this year, the largest known prime number was “discovered” (BBC) through the use of a supercomputer.
Rationally we know numbers are “infinite,” but just as the word infinite is merely a description of something we cannot comprehend, so too is the notion of “random.”
But returning to the RNG, random number generator, perhaps that will give us a clue as to whether randomness can “really” exist.
A web search reveals that there are innumerable examples: This one generates a random number between any two numbers.
But how does it do this? I remember from my bit of programming that there is a random function in programming but that sort of begs the question, how does something programmed in any way actually generate chance? And if in fact Consciousness is All, is there such a thing as randomness?
In Microsoft Excel such a function is built in:
The RAND function generates a random decimal number between 0 and 1.
- Select cell A1.
- Type RAND() and press Enter. The RAND function takes no arguments.”
So by typing that “function” and pressing Enter, the program generates a random number within a cell. But how is it random? It was generated by a program.
It is hilarious to consider that the “RAND function takes no arguments” in programming “arguments” means parameters that influence the outcome of the function. Funny word to use here.
And keep in mind that within this example the result is still mathematically programmed. But the question remains: can chance exist within mathematics?
It would seem that even irrational numbers (22/7 or Pi) can be calculated mathematically and rationally via the mind.
For most of human history, so much that was unknown appeared to be random and was attributed to “God.” But the question is, with all that we have discovered in science, as we “explain” more and more phenomena, will randomness ultimately be eliminated because we know EVERYTHING, or is there an aspect of chaos inherent within reality?
Of course this entire paradox points us to quantum physics and the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle, which places randomness squarely into reality because of the presence of an observer, and results in the determination that nothing can be known for sure in space/time but only predicted in terms of probability.
And this brings us back to gaming. If you consider craps it is easy to understand with two dice that are thrown that there are more combinations that result in 7 than in, let’s say, 4, so the casino pays more if a 4 comes up than if 7 appears.
Similarly it seems more likely for any given roll that there will be a 7, but is that true or counterintuitive?
Just as Heisenberg’s theory does not predict possible outcomes but only is determinative in an actual event (with a conscious observer), doesn’t the same apply when you roll the dice one time?
Don’t you have as good a ‘chance’ as any of winning the lottery? Of course that is the psychology that leads to gambling addiction — rooted in narcissism and delusion. Or is it?
I love the idea that “geometry was not invented — it was discovered,” because the primacy of number becomes more and more obvious as one examines experience and reality.
Indeed more and more physicists and other scientists are coming to the conclusion that “everything is (ultimately) information.”
But our only real access to the more extreme truths regarding number comes through an abstraction — our language — which is forced to use terms that are woefully inadequate, like infinite or random.
Or indeed where all of science is heading through this maddening paradox —the word Consciousness — without which none of this can really be discussed sincerely.
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