How random would this be?
I’m walking along the street, headed toward the train station. This section of the city is directly under a busy flight path that directs planes inbound in a Westerly direction toward LAX. Above, a large Qantas 777, arriving from Sydney, slowly descends in a slow lazy arc toward the airport and as I’m walking, one of the engine mounts cracks, sending tons of pulsating engine in a downwards spiral where it reaches terminal velocity as it heads directly at me. Due to the environmentally unremarkable sound of a jet engine I don’t bother looking up. The engine descends rapidly and before I realize what is happening, it crashes loudly and catastrophically into the sidewalk where I’m walking and pulverizes me into nothingness.
On the surface, we might call this a “random” incident.
It might even elicit canned responses and observations such as “he was in the wrong place at the wrong time!”
In the macro sense of natural reality, yes, perhaps it was random.
However, if we were to parse out each stage of this supposed random event, we would see that it was not “random” in the quantum sense. Each minute element composing this disaster unfolded and assembled to create an entirely explicable and measurable incident resulting in my pancaking.
From the faulty engine mounts which were stressed by the weight of the engine and finally fractured (a very real and understandable phenomena) which was brought on by the speed, vibration and altitude of the aircraft, to the wind currents and drag…a million variables joining to rupture the screws and other fastening elements thus resulting in a loss of strength and engine cargo. And also, the other set of variables in this drama: me. The speed with which I was walking to the train station, the route I took, the fact that I was heading into the train station now as opposed to half an hour ago or ten minutes in the future. An infintite multitude of variables, which, summed up and mathematically calculated by a supernatural or Godly genius, might have foretold the exact space/time intersection of non-random, scientifically ordained incidents leading to the the jet engine landing directly on my spot. In this context, the incident was not quite so random, was it? In our large, macro human world, randomness is an illusion. It is a product of many thousands and millions of individual factors igniting at the same moment and flickering into a sense of action we note and assume is random from our broad perspective. Failing to see the minute chain reactions which launched the event to action, which propelled it with quantum momentum, we measure random in terms of events rather than the more elementary nature of random which eludes our conscious comprehension.
It’s said in quantum physics that subatomic particles theoretically can be anywhere in the universe at any time. Quantum reality is populated by probabilities and the sum of these resolves itself in the apparent appearance of the said particle. There is an elemental randomness which is the subatomic precursor to the big and human-sized bouts of randomness we experience or marvel at in our everyday life. The subatomic world baffles our “big” reality which is nothing more than a uncountable assembly of subatomic constituents, each obeying its subatomic laws which are eventually played out in the large macro host they form. The subatomic world, so infinitesimally small that we can say it constitutes a shadow world of our own in which the same laws of nature exist but on such a remarkably and astoundingly elemental level that they are rather unrecognizable to our human-sized perceptions.
A particle’s random chance of turning up anywhere in the universe is the most elemental incident of “random” we can possibly contemplate at this time. Whereas a random engine may fall off a random wing and land on my random figure, the randomness inherent to this situation is only a wild mathematical sum of millions of minute and disparate instances of random occurrences housed together in a large swath of circumstance we call reality. On the subatomic level, random is composed of many less variables, if any, and the chances of a particle landing in another galaxy or in your bedroom are the random dictates of a deeply incomprehensible natural design. “Random” denotes something quite murky at this level, but in some ways, still represents what it does at our human level.
At which level does the subatomic relinquish its strange and unfamiliar reality to our big natural state of existence?
Where is the point of diminishing subatomic returns to be found?
I truly believe the next physicist who can expound and detail mathematically where and when this point is reached in everyday chains of reality will in effect unveil a portal into understanding the pathways that traverse the subatomic world and its macro counterpart. The scientist who can test and map the continuum between the two. The scientist who can demonstrate a testable model which bridges the two worlds will helps us decipher the common thread joining elemental randomness of a subatomic particle’s placement and the rough approximation of a million random building blocks that form an event in which an engine falls form the sky to the place I stand.