Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Statistically Probable Thought #1

Statistically Probable Thoughts is a new feature I'm going to start including. It's tempting to call it Random Thoughts, but the more I think about the word 'random' the less appealing it becomes. The word random is often misused, especially in the blogging world. True randomness is often seen in natural situations, like molecular collisions or raindrops falling from the sky. However, any thought from a human being is unlikely to be truly random, due to the nature of thought itself. Babies might have random thoughts, but the older we get, the more our seemingly spontaneous thoughts are actually the cumulative result of previous mental experiences that were bound to happen. Thus, it would be more accurate to describe them as Statistically Probable Thoughts.

This feature is an outlet for thoughts that I come across from time to time. I sometimes have some quite interesting, but utterly useless thoughts in the shower, and occasionally on the bus. If I don't write them down, I'm likely to forget them. For example, I'm well aware that I've had such thoughts before, but can't remember any right now.

Except for this one that I had today when talking to my friend Kumar Sharma, a Nepali student at Sejong University. During a conversation about life he said "Everything happens for a reason".
This is a perfectly well-meaning and nice statement, but my habitual overanalysis clung to it like a periwinkle on a rock. Stating that everything happens for a reason is hard to scientifically disprove, with the exception of perhaps, the Big Bang. However this quote implies that everything happens for a singular reason, which we may like to think of as being a good one.

This is nice, but can be improved to be more scientifically sound (at the expense of aesthetic value). It's easy to assign a reason to everything that happens, especially in retrospect. For example we can say that an orange suddenly fell off the tree because it had matured to the stage at which oranges are statistically likely to fall off. We could also say that it fell off to remind us of the value of fruit in our lives. But the more you think about it, the more reasons you can come up with. You could say that it fell off to impart momentum through collision with the fourth nearest water molecule in the air at the time. In fact, we can imagine an infinite number of reasons why the orange fell off the tree.

Therefore the quote "Everything happens for a reason" is a gross understatement. A more scientifically sound quote would be "Everything happens for reasons."


bill said...

I hear that often, "Everything happens for a reason." Usually my first thought is 'no it doesn't'. Example: "He's sent in his resume and made a follow up call. He done all he can do. He'll either get the job or he won't. I believe everything happens for a reason." What are we really implying here? Are we saying everything works out for the best? Are we implying some divine intervention? Or are we saying it's out of our hands now?
Any followup thoughts, Lee? Is there always a reason? Just some thoughts. Perhaps not valid.

Lee Farrand said...

Yes Bill, you've struck the nail on the head, old friend. The sentence is implying some kind of fate/divine intervention at work to teach us life lessons, perhaps.
But that implication is quite subtle and therefore optional. If you take the sentence in its literal and objective meaning, it becomes just a boring blank truth. So we would just be making the simple statement of 'cause and effect' or 'reason and result'. Every effect is the result of multiple causes, just as we can imagine every result being caused by multiple reasons. The number of so-called reasons is limited only by the number of excuses we can come up with. The large majority of which, are entirely trivial.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lee.

I suddenly feel sorry that I could not more helpful for you at everything... Even though I was not that capable to assist you, I wish I can do more and better for your SNU life after reading this story. Since I have no experience to study abroad, I can not say that I understand your difficulties to study in foreign country, follow the custom which is not familiar. However I just believe you can get over everything behind you with your great supporters. People hurt others but always it is cured by good people and taking time to forget it.

I hesitated to leave a message here for few minutes, but I will meet you frequently at the lab and I don't want to feel like hiding something that I know about you in front of you. I would like to say I wish you my best luck, I believe there only remains to meet good people in SNU from now on.

Honestly, after reading particularly this page... what a shame... Yes, I had no idea when you come to my office for the first time and nobody knows what to do (including me). With your few month experience in Biomodulation, you probably catched that all of the things such as environment, regulation, people and more in our major are JUST NEW. You might not know that I am also pretty new :) My motivation in Biomodulation is exproling new things and establishing my own way in my work. Alway the first step is tough but at the same time it brings me more satisfaction. I hope this chance you have taken is going to be enjoyable for you.

I was very pleased to meet you through the internet. I am expecting more interesting and exciting stories.

P.S. You have to excuse my poor English. I wish I become an Austrailian! :)