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Is life truly random?

Updated on June 15, 2011

The word of the day

One of my daughter's most-used phrases is "that was random." At 13, she has this amazing sense of humor, filled with oddly conjoined thoughts and phrases - for example, we've often signed off email messages to each other with randomly selected phrases, like "orange penelope third row bus", "cool potato curtain television SUV" or "earthquake taco elephant banana toes."   She and her brother joke and have pretty intelligent random laugh-offs, she wrote a faux newspaper titled "The Randomly", and even wrote a short little limerick/poem, "I am a tictac."  Cupcake that! 

Not only did I use "raNDom ObsERvatIOns" as the name of the online blog I created four years ago, but a very close friend of mine who I did not know at the time selected a very similar title for her own journal.

I used to love only art that was as closely an accurate depiction of reality as possible. Landscape photography, or paintings that so closely resembled the real thing were what drew me the most. Eventually, my tastes gravitated toward impressionism, then cubism, and then abstract art, like Jackson Pollock - it's not the only art style I like. I don't even know why I like it, but I do. It seems so terribly random, and yet really cool.

What is it about our present world that we're suddenly drawn to a word that means "a haphazard course", "without definite aim, direction, rule or method"? Is aimlessness the new vogue?

I don't know what I don't know

I've spent a lot of time reading and reflecting on many great philosophies and religions, many of which attempt, in some degree to address the question of purpose. What are we here for? Where is this all headed? Do I have a destiny and am I fulfilling it? A large part of the debate focuses on how much of the direction of life is what it is, without any input from us (ie: we're just following the plan we were born to carry out), how much of it is more a general schema, with our free will determining variances in the carrying out of that general plan, and how much is completely random and arbitrary.

Sometimes, after all of this reflection, I feel no closer to understanding these fundamental questions than I did when I started. I've often wished I were a simpler person who could more easily accept and surrender to the unpredictability of events.

I know intuitively that true answers are found within - everything else is just a series of external factoids - pieces of information and advice designed to help us access that innate wisdom given to us at birth, with which we're supposed to nurture and grow as we travel along this oddly random path.

Wikipedia does a nice job of discussing randomness and religion, which I don't need to repeat here, but particularly interesting is this concept of Discordianism - and interesting doesn't mean I agree with it, only that I find it intriguing in a manner similar to how I view Pollock paintings!  Basically, it holds that chaos is all there is, contrasting with the harmonious message of most faiths.  Problem is for me there's too much natural evidence of harmonious coexistence - through the natural world for starters - to make the philosophy viable.

Chaos Theory

I am no physicist, but find relevant here the notion of chaos theory, or more commonly known, the butterfly effect. In Gerg terms, this means the idea that a reaction of a certain thing is affected by an initiating condition in ways that appear to be completely random or chaotic. More specifically, the apparantly innocuous displacement of air/molecules, caused by the flapping of a butterfly's wings in one part of the world, has some kind of contributing effect to an occurrence in another part of the world - a tornado, tsunami, etc. Cause and effect. Another research source states the term "butterfly effect" speaks to a meteorologist named Edward Lorenz who simulated weather patterns that, when put on a graph resembled a butterfly's wings (see photo.)

I find the theory fascinating within context. Last night, I played Roulette at a casino and strangely, it was one of the few times where, over time, I continued building more wins than losses. What was fun was just taking my time, betting small and without consciously thinking about why I'd pick one set of numbers to bet over another, I would win about two out of three times. As soon as someone else came to the table, plopped down their huge stack of chips, and I started observing and changing my bets based upon their luck or lack thereof, I started losing. If I ever looked at the history of the last 15 or so spins and tried to predict a pattern, I started losing. Only when I completely emptied my mind of any judgment and allowed my mind to not think did I regularly and consistently win.

Message from the universe?

Destiny...with a push!

So what is this notion of trusting in the universe, or going with the flow? I can't explain it, and yet it's been written about through recorded history - it's a fundamental aspect of the Tao Te Ching, written 2,500 years ago.

We consistently fight the flow, here in western society. Our whole Manifest Destiny-inspired thinking says we can manipulate our world to serve our desires. This reminds me of a book I read over a decade ago by industrialist Bob LeTourneau, titled Mover of Men and Mountains, where, in the early part of the 20th century, he chronicles actually doing that as a heavy machine operator - he essentially invented the tractor we now know as the caterpillar. Before that, they used rubber tire wheels which, understandably, would get stuck in the mud.

Perhaps there's a good analogy in that!

The universe definitely requires our input. Like a giant video game, to a certain extent, it idles, running endless loops of an action sequence, just awaiting our manual manipulation. I'm finding personally that there have been a number of circumstances in my life that seem terribly unpredictable, random and unfair, as if the "universe" was sending me a giant middle finger (see above!)

The housing market, the job market, economic and personal conditions that seemingly fail without my input in ways that make no sense, and are directly the opposite of the positive actions, affirmations and energies I've been sending out into the universe. It's no wonder we question God, Mother Nature, the Higher Power, Destiny or the universe - sometimes it does seem terribly random, doesn't it? And yet, amidst the chaos, in the larger, longer, greater umbrella of life, it does appear to fall into a pattern - where plants bloom, old dies and is replaced by new, where the world keeps spinning, where new, more ingenious technologies emerge that clarify our thinking and illuminate possibilities.

And it makes me realize destiny requires a push. I don't mean intellectually realize this - as if reading it from some book; but deep down, at a fundamentally understood level. And when we push, sometimes that push goes in the right direction, and sometimes the wrong. And in the end, it's just a part of this much larger microcosm and pales in significance with the passage of time and global perspective.

I suppose the lesson is to be relentless in the pursuit of what we need, trust in the hope that circumstances are not purely random, and accept that, in Mick Jagger's words, we can't always have what we want, but we get what we need!


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    • sligobay profile image

      sligobay 5 years ago from east of the equator

      I call 'em like I see 'em. GG

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 5 years ago from California

      Thanks sligobay - I like that: "coherent stream of consciousness", which is exactly what this was. I appreciate your response!


    • sligobay profile image

      sligobay 5 years ago from east of the equator

      Kudos on a coherent stream of consciousness evaluation of a complex subject. My experience at the roulette table is identical to yours. Life sometimes seems like the chance of the spin of the wheel and yet, more purposeful.

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 9 years ago from California

      Thanks Lgali!

    • Lgali profile image

      Lgali 9 years ago

      nice article

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 9 years ago from California

      That is entirely possible, in fact it's probable, MTG. Getting comfortable with the randomness, with the unknown, is a talent - a life skill that I have to continually work on. It speaks to my discussion about fighting the flow - I do it all the time, and wish I wouldn't.

      Some time ago, I wrote about this issue in another venue - the idea that we figuratively walk through life with our eyes closed, hands out in front of us, saying "what's that I feel?" I want to just open my eyes and see what it is. I want that knowledge of what's next - and intellectually I know that's craziness!

      In the end, it comes to a surrendering, and to a trust that there is a greater overarching wisdom to the circumstances in our life. And I agree - I can't accept that it's pure chaos. So, once again, I'm working on loosening my grip on outcomes...

      I appreciate your wise words. ;-)

    • Midtown Girl profile image

      Midtown Girl 9 years ago from Right where I want to be!

      Nicely done, Gerg. Certainly makes one think with depth.

      Life is random perhaps, but brought together so often in moments of fate that you have to wonder if the random acts aren’t merely precursors of what is meant to be.

      Seemingly random acts so often lead to destiny. Take your journal title for instance, and the title of your friend’s. Was it random that you had such closely related thoughts prior to meeting? When you did meet, and realized that similarity, did you still believe you were brought together randomly, or did it feel like you were brought together for a purpose connected to that commonality? Does it have to be one or the other? Random and destine seem to be more synonymous than our human minds can comprehend.

      If you ask the universe for the positive things you want in your life, and that doesn’t happen for you, is it possible that you are asking for the wrong things, and that the universe already knows what it is you need and is waiting for you to invite the appropriate?