Reason and Random

by Mordecai Plaut

(Page 2)

From the book "At the Center of the Universe".

Another tack he might use is to grant that we should take seriously the assertion that a living room piece is a direct product of chance, at least on logical grounds. Our reluctance to do so, he would argue, is not because of an objection to the claim but because we are unused to such occurrences. Such objections are of a pragmatic nature. They refer to previous experience and expectations about similar cases. In the case of the whole universe, since the event in question is of such a unique and global kind, it is entirely removed from the realm of the pragmatic. Thus he is justified in using pragmatic grounds to reject our friend's claim, while still proposing a similar hypothesis for the whole world.

We maintain that both these replies are merely attempts to avoid the real issue. Whatever is true of the origin of the whole is equally true of the origins of its parts. If the whole universe arose spontaneously from chaos, so did all its parts.

The reluctance on the part of rational beings to take seriously the claim that a part arose spontaneously from chaos is the result of the innate repugnance that the whole idea holds to reason. The attempt to force the discussion into the realm of logical possibility and global, cosmological considerations has as its effects mainly distraction and confusion. We would maintain that the unwillingness to accept the Random Hypothesis comes not from an inherent lack of experience with events such as the origins of the universe but from the mass of experience we do have with the true power of reason.

At best, even if these defenses of the Random Hypothesis do find some favor, all they can hope to show is that the Hypothesis is compatible with reason. When we say a hypothesis is unreasonable, it is because something in it is not compatible -- or at least difficult to reconcile -- with experience or with some generally accepted statements. Although for that hypothesis the conflict may be at its own deepest level, reason itself would usually have no vested interest in either the hypothesis or its opponent, and would be as willing to forgo the opponent as the proffered hypothesis. One who advocates the hypothesis would be called unreasonable only to a relatively superficial degree, since it is only the perspective that happens to prefer the opponent which objects to the hypothesis. Reason, per se, finds nothing particularly objectionable in the hypothesis per se.

When evaluated in this way, the Random Hypothesis does not fare badly. It is not incompatible with experience or inconsistent with itself in any way. It may be difficult to reconcile with common experience -- a bit absurd -- but this is easily explained away by the singularity of the event. These observations are generally through to provide an adequate defense against the charge that the Random Hypothesis is unreasonable.

However, even if the Random Hypothesis cannot be called unreasonable, it is certainly not reasonable: it is fundamentally at odds with reason itself. Though there may be no conflict between Random and reason at superficial levels, there is still a very deep hostility.

The Random Hypothesis of the origin of the universe says that order can, and did, follow from chaos. This is nothing less than a rejection of the idea which we earlier argued is essential to reason itself: that things follow! To say that something followed from chaos is to say that it did not really follow from anything. Chaos by "definition" (though chaos really has no definition) cannot lead to anything. To say, as the Random Hypothesis, that order follows from chaos is to deny to the concept of following the power necessary to support reason.

It is well known that order can lead to chaos. This is the basic idea of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, known as the Principle of Entropy. If it were also true that chaos can "lead" to order, then there is no basis for planning. Why choose a particular course of behavior when there is no saying what will be the actual result? Irrational acts might lead to rational world-states; rational acts may lead to madness. This is not to argue an ethical relativism, that there is no reason to act one way over the other, but to point out that if things were as the Random Hypothesis conjectures they are, then there is no reason, no reasoning, no reason to reason. If the world were founded that way, then our notions that if we plan and evaluate what we do then we are acting rationally, humanly, and in some sense properly, are all exposed as a gigantic fallacy, and a most elementary one: post hoc ergo prompter hoc (after the fact, therefore because of it). Really, we would have no basis for preferring reason to madness.

Hold the Random Hypothesis up to the evaluation of reason, and it may pass. Reason will not find inconsistency or incoherence, and perhaps the Hypothesis may even avoid the appearance of absurdity. However, the compatibility is a facade which masks a deep, subtle attack on the roots of reason.

It is true that the world was once chaos, void, and darkness (tohu, vovohu, vechoshech), but order did not emerge from this spontaneously. Mineral, vegetable, animal, ape and man, nature and all its laws, are all expressions of the spirit from G-d (ruach E-lohim).


1. Chaitin, Gregory J. "Randomness and Mathematical Proof," Scientific American 232 (May 1975).

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