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February 13, 2005

There is more in heaven and earth

...than is dreamt of in your philosophy, to quote Shakespeare.

But this article takes it to a new level:

Deep in the basement of a dusty university library in Edinburgh lies a small black box, roughly the size of two cigarette packets side by side, that churns out random numbers in an endless stream.

At first glance it is an unremarkable piece of equipment. Encased in metal, it contains at its heart a microchip no more complex than the ones found in modern pocket calculators.

But, according to a growing band of top scientists, this box has quite extraordinary powers. It is, they claim, the 'eye' of a machine that appears capable of peering into the future and predicting major world events.

Posted by jay at February 13, 2005 08:21 PM | TrackBack
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Any random system can generate seemingly non-random deviations from time to time; they are still random. And when they happen, there's bound to be a "big" event in the world that day or the next day (big events happen all the time). I'm sure there were plenty of "big" events that weren't proceeded by some random flux in that random number generator (say, last November for example). It's human nature to try to see patterns where there are none, to draw connections when there aren't any. For example, people are now seeing their IPod random shuffle as having an agenda:

Then again...maybe Steve Job IS behind both these little black boxes AND the little white boxes: it's all part of his plan of world domination ;)

Posted by: Erik on February 14, 2005 10:23 AM

I want to read more, but I've been following the efforts of this group for some time. If you read the whole article, the serious scientists who have studied this phenomenon feel that they have accounted for this "rationalizing bias." I am fine with healthy skepticism, and this should be studied a LOT more-- but at what point does Occam's Razor get applied to straightfoward explanations that point to causality that is outside the current expectations of science?

Posted by: jay on February 14, 2005 10:32 AM

This skeptic's response is interesting reading. It's a valid scientific question why these black boxes (or Eggs, as they are called) "spike" from time to time, but it does appear that there are more spikes than there are significant events to "explain" them. From the article:

Another serious problem with the September 11 result was that during the days before the attacks, there were several instances of the eggs picking up data that showed the same fluctuation as on September 11th. When I asked Radin what had happened on those days, the answer was: "I don't know."

Given enough random events and significant occurences to "explain" them, the human mind excels at picking out those that match while bing unfazed by those that don't. It reminds me of this article from Slate which shows that given enough investment advisors making decisions by tossing coins, it's easy to crown one of them a superstar prognosticator by matching their random decisions with market actions.

I'm not saying there's nothing worth investigating here -- we still don't know why the Egg's behavior changes from time to time -- but it looks like the hypothesis that it's due to worldwide events taking place in the near future doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Posted by: David on February 14, 2005 01:57 PM
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