Randomness, Patterns, and an Inconvenient Will to Believe

Approximately a zillion years ago, in another life entirely, I was an industrial designer. Now I am not. Don’t ask.

Anyway, in the early nineties, I used one of AutoCad’s programming languages to create, over several days of lunchtimes, a program (that ran only inside of AutoCad) called kal (these were the eight.three days – remember them? Kaleidoscope was too long). Kal first blanked your screen, then used AutoCad commands to draw a vector from one randomly generated point to another, then reflected the vector to six sectors of the screen, like, um, yeah, like a kaleidoscope! Then it tweaked each of the two original points, drew a new vector, and reflected that one around to all the same sectors. Each vector cycled some number of times (I forget how many – hey, this was a zillion years ago!), and then two new points were chosen. Colors cycled slowly as the points were tweaked, and were chosen fresh at each new pair of points.

In other words, a kaleidoscope. Why? Uh. . . anyway, it was a very hypnotic effect. I proudly showed this to my boss and coworkers. I discovered a very strange phenomenon. Imagine, if you will, a feature that has just been drawn on the screen that resembles, say, a pair of horns. Seconds later, another feature is drawn, this one a tightly curled snail-shape nestled into the hollow of the horns. My coworkers (including the boss) were unanimous in their belief that the program had planned the second feature from the start, and had left room for it while drawing the first feature.

All right, none of them were used to computers yet, but that’s not much of an excuse when you’re talking to the guy that wrote the program you’re watching. I told them it was random, and they told me that it clearly could not be, because just look at that! It totally knew that was there! It totally knew it was going to draw that one when it drew the first one! Just look at it! I must have built something into the program that I didn’t fully understand, because there was no way that was random!

My point? I don’t know – do I need one? Ok, this then: there is a very powerful need, deep within the darkest reaches of the human psyche, to create order out of chaos. Without that need, there would be no poetry, no song, no dance, no Rubic’s Cube, no Legos, none of the finest inventions we’ve created over the years.

Just something to keep in mind.

Levi Montgomery

By the way:
It’s very common to claim that dingoes can’t bark. Don’t you believe it. They don’t, as a rule, but they can, and dingoes kept as pets with other dogs frequently do.

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