Can the mind generate random numbers?

  • #1
Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
7,213
176

Main Question or Discussion Point

A bit off the wall, but anyone who plays with random number generators quickly learns that it is impossible to make one that is truly random, using software alone. Has anyone ever considered whether people can actually generate random numbers? How does the mind produce a number "randomly"? Do we have any idea?

It is pretty easy to imagine analyzing person-generated random numbers and looking for a pattern.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Borg
Science Advisor
Gold Member
1,877
2,321
I've sometimes wondered about random number generation and have thought that a good one would consist of software that generates numbers starting from user input and the time of the request.
 
  • #3
18,196
7,797
Is asking whether the mind can possibly generate a random number and whether our conscious mind can generate a random number the same or different question?
 
  • #4
2,006
5
Has anyone ever considered whether people can actually generate random numbers?
Yes, they can't. (At least, certainly not deliberately.) See, for example, the http://www.neko.co.il/games4rand.pdf" [Broken] (an article WP cited).
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #5
1,460
1
Our brains really aren't very suited to random ANYTHING. We're designed to look for patterns from the limbic system on up to the frontal lobe. Besides, we don't think in large enough terms to be good generators. I would say that our subconcious is too much a pattern-seeker, and our conscious is far too limited by our daily experiences.

Even someone experience a tonic-clonic seizure isn't havig a "random" storm accross their neurons. I think our dreams say it all: We put disparate elements together, awake or asleep... that is fundamentally non-random.

Anyway, atmospheric noise, or some other complex natural phenomana are much simpler to use. Using a number of such sources and combining them, then slapping that on a one-time-pad is the essence of security, and also emblamatic of fundamental limitations to any encryption which is not utterly random.

EDIT: By "think in large enough terms", lets say you pick random numbers... how big do you go? A 1-100? 0-1million? 0-1sextilion? Are you drawn to primes, or even numbers, or feel a need to artificially distribute your choices over the whole spectrum, when true random could be "10382429, 5, 289, 043734, 5" do you include fractions?

I can't even think of an agnosia or TBI or any condition which would eliminate patterns from emerging.
 
  • #6
Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
7,213
176
. I think our dreams say it all: We put disparate elements together, awake or asleep... that is fundamentally non-random.
What produces the disparate elements in dreams?
 
  • #7
1,460
1
What produces the disparate elements in dreams?
A good question, but one that is clearly NOT random. Dreams are generally not random, but a pastiche of underlying elements which then trigger an internal narrative. It seems to primarily be active in consolidating long term memories, and contain common themes. Dreams are very patterened, and the REM sleep is certainly complex and active, but random?

That said... all of our dreams are subject to the lens of our recall OF them. Our sleep is very cyclical, and the activity during REM doesn't appear random, even on an EEG. The seeming oddity is usually a matter of how our brain forms connections between proximate experiences, thereby trigerring memories which are far older. Understanding those patterns may be impossible, but like the use of the letter "E" in Enlish, themes emerge in dreams which are predictable.
 
  • #8
19
1
Every number we think of has came from an earlier memory. If I were to think of the number 1, it could be how many hot dogs I ate for lunch, an answer to a math problem or something else.

So no number is truly random when it is thought of, but it is far more random than what a program could make. The programs function could be identified, and any number that is supposedly random, could be predicted. Although the same could be said for a human mind. If you were exposed to sequences of numbers all day, and asked to generate a random number, there would be a high probability of you picking one of the numbers that was shown to you.
 
  • #9
1,460
1
Every number we think of has came from an earlier memory. If I were to think of the number 1, it could be how many hot dogs I ate for lunch, an answer to a math problem or something else.

So no number is truly random when it is thought of, but it is far more random than what a program could make. The programs function could be identified, and any number that is supposedly random, could be predicted. Although the same could be said for a human mind. If you were exposed to sequences of numbers all day, and asked to generate a random number, there would be a high probability of you picking one of the numbers that was shown to you.
Yep, and it works the same way with memories... we synthesize, and create new dreams by associating memory "1" with "One" and "Won" and ".1"... etc... suddenly you're dreaming about how one person won the one-on-one by .1 seconds! A good computer with time could crack it.

Michael Shermer has an interesting concept he calls a human tendency towards "Patternicity". A big sophomoric, but still, well taken and a good point. We are pattern seekers, awake, or asleep. To do otherwise would be interesting, but contrary to basic survival.
 
  • #10
63
0
I know of a programmer who, needing cryptographically secure (y'know, if you encode your message with a series of random characters which all go 123.... it might not be hard to decode, so the more random looking the better) had the user click a button a number of times.

The timing in between clicks, measured at the millisecond level, determined randomness. Therefore, I can think humans can generate at least kinda random numbers, if nothing else through imprecision... or would a human trying to click like a metronome look like a bell curve? (Ie, might his the 'miss', the amount of time he's off, look like a bell curve as it fluctuates) How random IS that?

You could just have some subjects try to generate random numbers and then run a statistical study... even if there no random, is the mind so complex it would be difficult to find a pattern?
 
  • #11
Borek
Mentor
28,473
2,871
I know of a programmer who, needing cryptographically secure (y'know, if you encode your message with a series of random characters which all go 123.... it might not be hard to decode, so the more random looking the better) had the user click a button a number of times.
Similar idea (keys, not mouse buttons) was used for generation of random primes in PGP version used in early nineties (BBS, Fido time).

--
Borek AKA Top Secret BBS, 2:480/25
 
  • #12
Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
7,213
176
A good question, but one that is clearly NOT random. Dreams are generally not random, but a pastiche of underlying elements which then trigger an internal narrative. It seems to primarily be active in consolidating long term memories, and contain common themes. Dreams are very patterened, and the REM sleep is certainly complex and active, but random?
Do you have any references for this; that they are indeed not random? I have read just the opposite.
 
  • #13
1,460
1
Do you have any references for this; that they are indeed not random? I have read just the opposite.
Yes. May I ask where you read "just the opposite"? By any chance, here? http://www.medical-hypotheses.com/article/S0306-9877(05)00114-3/abstract

For every "tit" of this there is a "tat" http://www.medical-hypotheses.com/article/S0306-9877(07)00480-X/abstract

Here is one well accepted view which partially agrees with you: "After a brief period of Stage 4 sleep, and to prevent us from falling into a deep coma, our brain partially arouses us: Our brainstem, the most primitive part of our brain, stimulates the higher levels of our brain with random impulses and returns us to Stage 2 sleep, associated with REM’s and dreams. We stay in the REM dream stage for a while and then again return to deeper stages."

The thing is... you COULD try and measure those random impulses, but while they TRIGGER dreams, they have nothing to do with content. Dreams themselves are highly patterned, much as the response to sensory deprivation is. You can predict many aspects of both, and the brain-stem does seem to be... spastic... during that time. That said, the "random" firings do not result in random dreams. Your dreams are formed from what you experience, what you can imagine, and some would say basic archetypes (I don't necessarily agree with that), and even if the trigger is random, that's it.

I'm not pawing through old JAMA archives to find a dozen studies, each contradicting the other. There are endless examples of studies which contradict each other in this field. I should point out that dreams are not exactly a perfectly understood quantity, nor is sleep in general. I can imagine differing points of view, but I'd be interested to see medical evidence of human random number generation. "Listening" to the brain-stem is not arguably more effective than radioactive decay, or atmospheric noise + keystrokes.

It would seem to be contrary to the nature of human decision making, if we experienced random ANYTHING above the level of the brain-stem. I am yet to see a study which proves that random activity (although it is widely accepted). So, again, I'm curious as to what exactly you've been reading.
 
  • #14
6,265
1,277
What is required of a number that it be considered random?
 
  • #15
Borek
Mentor
28,473
2,871
I don't think single number can be considered random, sequence can. For that it must pass statistical tests.
 
  • #16
6,265
1,277
I don't think single number can be considered random, sequence can. For that it must pass statistical tests.
I think a person could come up with a set of numbers that are statistically random, but they wouldn't be logically random in that, in arriving at the set the person would be screening them for fullfillment of the criteria that they be statistically random. In other words, the set would be ultimately non-random in that it had to stick to the rule of being statistically random. Engineered disarray. Intelligently designed pattern deprivation.
 
  • #17
213
1
The solution is quite simple, in my opinion.

Your answer depends on which model is correct. If the ability of the brain to process/generate information is caused by the macro (non-quantum) states of the brain - determined, then your supposed random numbers aren't random.

If something like Penrose's ORCH OR model is correct, then this may allow randomity into the picture when thinking of numbers.

When you answer the question of whether the mind is determined or stochastic (thereby giving you you have "Random will" not no free will), - caused by random quantum events or more macro (potentially) predictable events, you'll have your answer. Until then, you cannot know.
 
  • #18
Q_Goest
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Gold Member
2,974
39
There are no such things as numbers. What number is an apple or an I beam? You'll find ink and paper, and flashing billboards with a pattern in this shape: "1". You might find silicon chips that change physical states. You may find protons, electrons or neutrons. But you won't find numbers because numbers are symbolic representations that quantify something. Numbers are concepts.

If there are no conscious living things, numbers cease to exist because concepts can't exist except where conscious things are around to contemplate them.

You will find things that change state; and these things will be made of mass. The particles or groupings of particles will have measurable positions that interact with each other. You'll find quantities of them. You may even assign a numerical value to how many you find. But you won't find numbers.

The question should be, "can the mind generate random EVENTS?"
 
  • #19
EnumaElish
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
2,304
124
All one needs is a random sequence of 1's and 0's.

One can possibly set a decision rule such as "1 if childhood memory, 0 if adulthood memory" or "1 if concrete thought, 0 if abstract thought" then let one's memories/thoughts flow freely; pressing a button every time one remembers or thinks of a certain memory or thought.

It would be interesting to see if the result would pass randomness tests.
 
  • #20
EnumaElish
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
2,304
124
The following requires a subject and an experimenter. The experimenter asks the subject questions that the subject does not know the answer to, and requests the subject to "guess." Every time the subject guesses correctly, the experimenter records "1," otherwise a "0" is recorded.
 
  • #21
241
0
If I give you a piece of white paper full of little black dots on it and ask you to pick one, would your choice be a random one (like quantum fluctuations is), or could it be predicted/calculated even before you chose it (if we assume our brains obey just firm classical laws and that we are capable to calculate everything since the Big Bang)?
 
  • #22
867
61
The answer might depend on the exact definition of random. If random means that every sequence of numbers is equaly probable then I highly doubt a person could generate random numbers. If random means that the next number in a sequence is unknowable by any knowable algorithm then I would say that a person could generate random numbers.
 
  • #23
Chronos
Science Advisor
Gold Member
11,408
738
A prime number does not yield an integer value when divided by any number other than itself or 2. It is that simple. Random numbers are a little more complicated. Testing whether a series of numbers are truly 'random' is difficult. Probability theory is usually applied in these cases, but, you need an enormous data set to make a claim with any mathematical certainty.
 
Last edited:
  • #24
Borek
Mentor
28,473
2,871
A prime number does not yield an integer value when divided by any number other than itself or 2.
Sounds like a second number, not prime number.
 
  • #25
Bobbywhy
Gold Member
1,722
49
Ivan Seeking, Please see Dr. S. J. F. Philpott in The British Journal of Psychology this article:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2044-8295.1952.tb00339.x/abstract?

The subjects in his study were asked to perform repetitive tasks as regularly as possible. The resultant "work curves" showed a periodicy which seemed to correspond to the subjects’ alpha rhythms. This suggests humans cannot generate random numbers because there are repeating periodic processes in our brains.
 
Last edited:

Related Threads on Can the mind generate random numbers?

Replies
64
Views
31K
Replies
13
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
3
Views
4K
  • Last Post
Replies
10
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
2K
Replies
30
Views
5K
  • Poll
  • Last Post
4
Replies
84
Views
8K
  • Last Post
Replies
5
Views
2K
Replies
18
Views
2K
Replies
31
Views
4K
Top