Saturday, May 18, 2024

A Clarification on Randomness and Determinism

On some of my posts, I've referred to evolutionary and other processes as random. It is possible that that is correct in a strict sense, but in keeping with my general view of determinism using Robert Sapolsky's model for biological processes, I think that some further explanation is in order. A problem arises because we may not always be able to explain the exact events that cause specific speciation. On a basic Darwinian level of explanation, we can now see how Homo sapiens outcompeted other Homo species. Since we may never know exactly how this was inevitable, and, given the nature of the language that we use to describe biological processes, "random" is probably an acceptable term for describing that evolutionary event. However, if you look at this process through the lens of physics, randomness may apply only to subatomic particles that have no effect on macro biological processes. It is possible that we may never be able to understand exactly why there was never any chance that we would not come into existence.

I think that, because of our cognitive limitations, evolution may always appear directionless, i.e., undetermined. So, going forward, it may be necessary for scientists to discuss evolutionary events with explicit warnings regarding human cognitive limitations in their understanding of complex biological processes over long periods of time. Because of this development, my use of the term "random" may apply primarily to subatomic events. In reference to biological and evolutionary events, "random" may simply mean that we lack the capacity to describe them deterministically. So, when I say "random," that may just mean "we have no way of knowing."

This is a fairly significant distinction. Our languages themselves came about as evolutionary adaptations, so the context for their applicability is somewhat limited and is primarily related to the survival of our ancestors. As I've said, there was no evolutionary advantage to understanding some of the fundamentals of the universe. It is possible that this is one area in which AI may eventually surpass human cognition.

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