How does the Random number generator works?

  1. Unfortunately I did not find suitable section to post this topic, if there is suitable one you may move it there.

    It is shown in the science documentary film “Through the Wormhole” (Season 2, episode 5 called "Is There a Sixth Sense?") how the consciousness acts on the Random number generator and causes to appear the non-random numbers:
    But this phenomenon is not explained yet. What else is it known about it? How exactly this generator works? There is an article in Wikipedia about such generators, but as I see there are a lot of types of them. Does anybody know how exactly worked the generator used in those experiments shown in this episode? Can the consciousness really affect on the electronic devices (I am not sure, but from the picture I think that exactly electronic devices was used in those experiments)? :rolleyes:
  2. jcsd
  3. mfb

    Staff: Mentor

    I doubt the film is showing that because that does not happen.
    Our brain often thinks to see patterns in perfect random numbers, but that is a "flaw" of our brain, not one of the RNGs.

    No. You could use brain data (read out with electrodes attached to the brain) in the generation of random numbers, but that would be pointless, and probably not what you are asking for.
  4. jtbell

    Staff: Mentor

    There have been claims that people can influence the output of a true random number generator by using their minds, i.e. via psychic influences. By "true random number generator" I mean one driven by a random physical process such as radioactive decay, not a "pseudo random number generator" such as a computer program which generates numbers that appear to be random but are actually generated by a deterministic algorithm.

    As far as I know, all such claims have involved small apparent changes in the random output which could be revealed only by statistical analysis, and which turned out to be due to subtle biases in the apparatus itself.

    Anyone who wants to argue otherwise here needs to provide a reference to an article published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal, not a pop-sci TV documentary or someone's web page.

    If anyone has details of the operation of the random number generators that were used in these experiments, then that would be appropriate information here. That is, did they use radioactive sources and a counter, or some kind of "chaotic" electronic circuit, or whatever?

    It would help if you could tell us where these experiments were performed, then someone here who hasn't seen this particular TV show might recognize them.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2014
  5. The subject referred to in the "documentary" is called the Global Consciousness Project, sponsored by the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Princton ( but not affiliated with the University ). It consists of random number generators located around the world, with the desire to detect anomalies in the data output of the generators, and correlate this with world events, and in some unknown way ( ie you see what you want to see ) with the reaction of humans with the event, or even before the event.

    Main character Roger Nelson,
    experimental psychology and psychophysiology
    coordinator of experimental work in the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab,
    director of the CGP, parapsychology experiment begun in 1998

    You may read about the CGP at

    Most criticism of the project is that the data obtained is not statistically analyzed correctly.
    In fact,
    The documentary is available on the internet.
    One address is,

    WARNING: Gag factor: High
  6. mfb
    And why the creators of this film did not take this circumstance into consideration? :rolleyes:

    This is what I want to know :smile:

    Ok, but what kind of generator are they using? Are they using the “one driven by a random physical process such as radioactive decay” or “a "pseudo random number generator" such as a computer program which generates numbers”?

    Very bad :confused: as I guess there no mystic effect and all these is the result of misunderstanding the facts and especially wrongly analyzed the statistical data.
  7. mfb

    Staff: Mentor

    I didn't see this specific film, but the fraction of good science documentaries is very small.
  8. And this is very bad :mad:
  9. Related question: Is there such thing as a "random" number generator? I remember reading somewhere that computers can't generate random numbers and that the sequence would have been programmed by someone (something along those lines).
    For example on a scientific calculator, is it truly generating a completely random number by itself or did someone have to programme the sequence of numbers?
  10. A.T.

    A.T. 5,240
    Gold Member

    It seems to me, that If they ever find a correlation, their generators are not truly random.
  11. A.T.

    A.T. 5,240
    Gold Member

    We assume that some processes are random. But you can never be sure.
    1 person likes this.
  12. mfb

    Staff: Mentor

    Computers can generate truly random numbers, but they need special hardware for it to record some physical random process, like random motion of particles in the atmosphere or in a resistor or even quantum mechanics.

    A scientific calculator doesn't have that. This does not mean the sequence would be programmed in an explicit way, however, see the video for details.
  13. NascentOxygen

    Staff: Mentor

    Yes, and no. It depends on your definition of "random". Now you might think there surely can be only one definition of "random", but in reality there are many, depending on the field of endeavour you are involved in.

    There is the difference between a pseudo-random number generator and a random number generator, but in practice* that is not so relevant as you might think. (I believe the basic distinction is that at some point, the PRNG will inevitably start to repeat a sequence of previously seen numbers.)

    For most practical applications, a number sequence is considered random if it passes the necessary statistical tests for randomness, regardless of how the sequence was generated. I remember in high school maths class being incredulous on hearing that you could buy tables (i.e., books) of random numbers. I thought, "How can those be random! They are the same every time, and you don't even shuffle the pages?!"

    A favourite saying of a psychology lecturer I worked with was: "Random is as random does." This neatly sums up the fact that if the numbers pass all your tests of randomness, then they are random. The basic definition is they are random if they pass the tests of statistical randomness.
  14. for this experiment,
    To some extent it does not really matter which is used, as long as one knows the deviation from purely random the pseudo random generator is performing, and one knows how to statistically determine the probability of the deviation.

    I will attempt to explain that in an upcoming post, but it involves sequences and large numbers.
  15. Or the correlation is skewed towards a bias. If I have a dog that randomly barks at nothing, and at this one time he barks and I look out the window to see a tornado taking the roof off my neigbour's house, is that then a valid correlation and should I then tell everyone that Rusty's bark warned me of danger and saved my life.
  16. One distinction with cryptography is that a pseudo-random number generator can be used to generate (sometimes very indirectly with salts for hashing or other entropy sources) the same sequence of 'random' numbers when the sequence start 'key' is the same. The sequence 'key' usually can be generated from a true hardware random number generator to product a unique number of bits. To be secure the generator (CSPRNG) has several requirements.
  17. Recent CPUs have random generators based on what their designers believe are truly random physical processes. An example of one typical implementation is described in details here:

    The document is pretty long; skip to section 2.2, which describes the heart of the generator, the circuit that creates random 0-1 states influenced by thermal noise in the chip.
  18. Would I be right in thinking that if these "mystical" forces existed and RNGs just "placed around the world" could pick them up, that would render RNGs useless for setups where strict randomness is important and we'd have discovered the bias showing up in RNGs which are being used for other purposes?

    Though I suppose the "researchers" can argue that "well, you're not FOCUSING your thoughts on the RNG so it doesn't change" -- but according to the one poster here they sounded like they were claiming you could just set up an RNG somewhere and it would "receive" "mystical" power from "events in the world" ... which sounds like a totally passive process.
  19. phinds

    phinds 8,082
    Gold Member

    It doesn't matter what the rest of this sentence is because it is of the form "If the laws of physics didn't apply, what would the laws of physics say about <insert any nonsense you like>".
  20. A.T.
    Why are you so sure? Maybe there really is an unknown reason which can allow the consciousness to affect the laws of Physics?

    But what kind of generators did those scientists (Roger D. Nelson or others) use?

    Well, actually what I want is to find out if the consciousness can affect on performance of various devices (or even-on laws or Physics) or not? Or what it was shown in this movie is simply flim-flam? :rolleyes:
  21. berkeman

    Staff: Mentor

    Thread closed for Moderation...
Know someone interested in this topic? Share a link to this question via email, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook