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Randomness, numbers and reality



That locomotive you see in this picture isn’t a locomotive, of course.  That smoke you see pouring out of the stack isn’t superheated water under pressure being released while huge pistons turn steel wheels.  The locomotive is just a rock, the smoke is a contrail made by wingtip vortices of a man-made machine flying at high altitude.

That rock’s been standing there in the same position for uncounted millions of years, eroding into the shape you now see.  Prior to a century and a half ago no human would have thought to notice how much it resembled a steam locomotive because locomotives weren’t yet a chunk of the reality created by the human mind.

So what does that have to do with numbers?

Those numbers you see on your radio dial, on your cell phone, on vehicle license tags, on mile markers, currency, clocks, compasses, and at the bottoms of the pages of books are all inventions of the human mind, artifacts.  Ways of converting that rock into a locomotive, representing hundreds of avenues of human experience and trying to nail those experiences down into something measurable, something more easily understandable.

But at the foundations those numbers have little more connection with anything absolute than that giant of a rock has to some other masses of rocks superheated, molded into form, hammered and bolted together to create the artifact this piece of geology now strives to imitate in your mind.

Numbers don’t exist in nature.  They didn’t exist in those barely human creatures we see in museums and anthropology texts, our genetic ancestors.  Numbers are a relatively recent invention of the modern human mind, an artifact created to measure, to record, to guide, to identify. 

And the human mind abhors randomness in much the same way nature abhors a vacuum.  By their very nature numbers are the antithesis of randomness.  They are a system more elaborate in their construction than a locomotive, created with the precise intention of driving randomness from human reality.

If those MM numbers last night appear to the result of non-random forces, energy or events, you might consider asking yourself how it could be otherwise.  Saint Francis once observed, you can’t train a wolf to prefer bread over meat.





Entry #121


ToddComment by Todd - July 6, 2005, 10:35 pm
Very good post, interesting thoughts. As always, amazing picture. Maybe you should think about coming out with a picture book -- "101 uses for con-trails."
Comment by Rip Snorter - July 6, 2005, 10:52 pm
Thanks Todd:
I neglected to mention that's Locomotive Rock, located a few miles south of I40 on the Laguna Rez, south of Dancing Eagle Casino.... amazing piece of rock only half a dozen miles off a major highway that nobody sees. Maybe 10,000 interstate travelers pass within a few miles of it every day.

It's on the back road that runs past Forbidden Mesa on the Acoma Rez, then on to old Acoma Pueblo... the most unfriendliest, ripoffest tourest trap in the US of A.

Yep, I've been pretty lucky with contrails and cameras time to time.

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