Word of the week…Randomness

I know I am treading in unfamiliar territory (at least to me) on this one…but it has been something that has been puzzleing me for some time.

In the observable universe, an event which has more than one outcome (eg. a coin toss) is random if the probability of the outcomes are equal. Basically I would agree with this, however the thing that puzzless me, is the assumption that there can be an event where more than one outcome is equally probable.

Going back to the coin toss for example, on any given toss the chances that the coin will land heads- or tails-up is determined by a number of variables…how many times the coin flips, the number of bounces it takes when it hits the ground, etc… If one could reproduce these variables (and people have been able to do it) the coin would land the same side up every time, ie. the outcome of the toss is not completely random it is predetermined by the “path” the coin takes before coming to rest on the ground. The coin toss only “appears” to be random since there are a large number of uncontrollable variables.

This leads to me to wonder about the whoel concept of randomness. Is there anything truley random in the observable universe, or do things just appear to be random?


3 Responses to “Word of the week…Randomness”

  1. Jim Says:

    Granted I haven’t thought about this as much as our good blogging friend here, but it seems to me that racemic reactions are random. If you add, say methyl grignard to benzaldehyde you get racemic product. But you could imagine getting enantioenrichment, if the addition weren’t random. Doesn’t this qualify?

  2. walkerma Says:

    I am not exactly certain this qualifies…

    I would describe this as two separate events (two pathways) yielding two different results. For example, a nucleophile which approaches a carbonyl from the Re-face produces the R-stereoismer. In order to produce the S-isomer the nucleophile must take a different pathway. If the enantiomeric outcome a reaction were random, it would be impossible to make it selective for one enantiomer.

    Another way to think of this…picture two objects colliding. If you could reproduce all the variables involved, the two objects will collide at the same place and in the same way every time.

  3. mark leach Says:

    The word ‘random’ has changed meaning in the age of complexity theory.

    Here is a page (actually 3 pages) about Chemistry & Complexity that deals with these very issues:



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