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by ZweiBieren Randomness pens in a mug

Since particles are waves, we can't really be sure where they are and how fast they are going. In the time it takes to see where the particle is, it moves. Do we measure the crests of the waves? When do we take the measurement? These measurement difficulties were incorporated by Heissenberg into his Uncertainty Principle.

One curious consequence of the Uncertainty Principle is "virtual particles." For every type of particle there is an anti-particle. When one meets the other, they destroy each other and give off energy. Behind the screen of uncertainty, empty space may divide into such a pair of particles, provided that they then recombine and vanish before the curtain lifts. Nor must they recombine with each other. Each may recombine with a different previously existing particle, as long as we cannot see what has happened. All this is strange and can be easily pooh-poohed. However, there are calculations that do not produce accurate results unless these virtual pairs are taken into account.

From the Uncertainty Principle, we find that the universe is completely unknowable. It was once possible to think that the universe was unknowable because we could not know about every bit of matter. Now, however, we understand that not even complete knowledge of all present particles would be enough to predict the future. Random events can  occur at any time and place.

To my mind, the possibility of random events makes the world a  Scary Place. We can never know for certain what the future may hold. One day I may be walking down a sunny beach and have a massive tsunami batter me. Another day a car's brake line may snap, sending a two-ton vehicle crashing into mine.

What are our human defenses against random events? We respond in various ways.
Some embrace randomness in the gambling halls. Many celebrate randomness and those who can control it. Think of sports fans. The behavior of a batted ball is dependent on so many variables that a batter is a herro who succeeds only one-third of the time. The ball spin may put the seam in the way of a hit; the bat may be too low or high; the swing may be too early or late. These are random variables and those who control them best are well-paid. Or consider music. A violinist must place a finger to within a few hundred-thousands of a meter of the correct position and move the bow within a few microseconds of the correct time. Otherwise cacaphony results. Only the best players control these random factors and thrill the listener.

Others band together in churches to manage randomness. There is some "safety in numbers." More to the point, church members can aid each other on those occasions when random events overtake one or the other or even all of the members.

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